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Excerpt: 'Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex'

Book cover for 'Bonk'

Chapter 13

What Would Allah Say?

The Strange, Brave Career of Ahmed Shafik

Dr. Ahmed Shafik wears three-piece suits with gold watch fobs and a diamond stick pin in the lapel. His glasses are the thick, black rectangular style of the Nasser era. He owns a Cairo hospital and lives in a mansion with marble walls. He was nominated for a Nobel Prize. I don't care about any of this. Shafik won my heart by publishing a paper in European Urology in which he investigated the effects of polyester on sexual activity. Ahmed Shafik dressed lab rats in polyester pants.

There were seventy-five rats. They wore their pants for one year. Shafik found that over time the ones dressed in polyester or poly-cotton blend had sex significantly less often than the rats whose slacks were cotton or wool. (Shafik thinks the reason is that polyester sets up troublesome electrostatic fields in and around the genitals. Having seen an illustration of a rat wearing the pants, I would say there's an equal possibility that it's simply harder to get a date when you dress funny.)

Dr. Shafik published five studies on the effects of wearing polyester, and then moved on to something else. If you print out a list of Shafik's journal articles—and you will need a roll of butcher paper, because there are 1,016 so far—it is hard to say what his specialty is. He has wandered through urology, andrology, sexology, proctology. If you ask him what he is, what he writes under "Occupation" on his tax form, he will smile broadly and exclaim, "I am Ahmed Shafik!"

It is a full-time job. Though Shafik, now seventy-three, is retired from teaching, he continues a heavy schedule of surgery and research, the former funding the latter. (His surgical specialty, as best I can gather, is despots with colorectal issues. He says he has worked on Castro's plumbing, though not recently, and that of the late Mobuto Sese Seko.) Self-funding affords Shafik the freedom to indulge his more esoteric interests —research projects with no obvious practical ramifications or corporate appeal. In this way he is, as his office manager Margot Yehia has pointed out, a holdover from the nineteenth century, when science was undertaken simply for the sake of understanding the world.

Excerpted from Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach. Copyright 2008 by Mary Roach. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton and Co. Inc.

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Mary Roach