"Pleasure", wrote Oscar Wilde, "is the only thing worth having a theory about". What is pleasure? When is it good? When is it bad? What are the best ways to get it? And why does the quest for pleasure sometimes suck us into the quagmire of self-loathing and addiction? This is a book about the lengths people go to for pleasure, and the scientific reasons behind those impulses. Packed with extraordinary insights from science, history and literature, it will inform and amuse in equal measure.
In Sex, Drugs & Chocolate, Paul Martin looks at the biological and psychological drivers behind our hedonistic impulses. He considers the changing cultural attitudes to pleasure over the centuries, including religious and legal attempts to control it. A key theme is the crucial distinction between pleasure and desire – that is, between liking things and wanting them. Martin describes the lives of sensation-seekers from Nero and Lord Rochester to Janis Joplin and Elvis, before turning the spotlight on pleasure’s less attractive relations – boredom, unhappiness and pain. Addiction, the darkest side of pleasure’s many moons, is explored. So too are sex in all its many forms, both social and solitary; the mysteries of the orgasm; shopping, eating, gambling and other behavioural pleasures; the delights and health-giving benefits of real chocolate; and the many chemical sources of pleasure, from caffeine and cannabis to ecstasy and alcohol. Finally, Martin explores the modest and often undervalued pleasures of everyday life, such as gardening, napping and, of course, chocolate. Along the way we encounter, among other things, the psychoactive properties of Siberian urine, the self-pleasuring exploits of dolphins, the happiness-inducing properties of pencils, Errol Flynn’s novel usage of cocaine, Sigmund Freud’s love affair with the same drug, the workings of the anal violin, the joys of trusting, the rich sex lives of pygmy chimpanzees, the origins of the vibrator, the role of genes in orgasms and addiction, the Marquis de Sade’s obsession with chocolate, why the true aficionado sucks but does not chew, the hazards of ether-drinking and why the well-informed pleasure-seeker adopts a strategy of little but often.
Dr Paul Martin was educated at Cambridge and Stanford universities. He was a lecturer and researcher in behavioural biology at Cambridge University and a Fellow of Wolfson College Cambridge, before leaving academia to pursue other interests including science writing. His previous books include the highly acclaimed Counting Sheep and The Sickening Mind, both of which have been hailed by reviewers as masterpieces of popular science writing.