Thursday, January 28, 2021

Book Review: Strange Bedfellows: Adventures in the Science, History, and Surprising Secrets of STDs by Ina Park

This book was compared to Mary Roach and that always gets me simultaneously excited and skeptical. But the subject matter just had too much potential to pass up. So glad I read it! It was much fun!

Dr. Park specializes in sexually transmitted infections, and over the years it's been a constant in her house, so much that her son was excited when he was told the wart on his knee was HPV and he fights with his sibling over who gets to play with the stuffed animal of chlamydia. But Dr. Park noticed very few people actually talk about STIs and she wants to change that. She's certainly got me talking about them! I was thrilled to learn that crabs are pretty much gone (although sadly, she notes, never appeared on the endangered species list.) And thanks to the new vaccine, HPV is quickly on its way from being the most prevalent STI to the least (and taking cervical cancer along with it!) But of course, the fun stuff was what I was here for. Did you know the merkin first appeared around 1450? And if you don't know what a merkin is, picture a toupee, for your nether regions. Over 3000 people go to the ER every year for pubic grooming injuries. That seems overly high. And there's a terrific story about STD contact tracers in the 1970s getting invited to a swingers party, where it was initially difficult for them to do their work of interviewing the participants, until they too discarded their clothes. At the end of their work, they joined the swingers in the hot tub (nude.)

Naturally, the chapters in the middle of the book on antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV were not funny at all. However, sandwiched around those were delightfully amusing anecdotes about the latest version of the female condom, getting a Brazilian in Brazil (along with the fun side topic of vajazzling), douches (the original was Lysol. Yep, you could smell pine fresh!), and a researcher gripping a tank of half-frozen gonorrhea samples between his knees on on a harrowing flight from Manila to Hawaii.

If you like armchair science, aren't too easily grossed out, and think we all could do with more frank talk about sexuality and the medical issues that come along with it, this book is for you! Your friends and family should be prepared for some eye brow-raising fun facts along the way.

This book is published by Flatiron Books, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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