Sex, Drugs and Chocolate: the Science of Pleasure

Anthony Holden reviews Sex, Drugs and Chocolate: the Science of Pleasure by Paul Martin in The Telegraph:

Pleasure-Pic_1248379c We Brits have a way of feeling guilty about our pleasures, as if there were something morally dubious, or beyond the merely vulgar, in the pursuit of happiness enshrined in the constitution of our more overtly fun‑loving American cousins. This is not an issue addressed by Paul Martin in his extensive survey of the pros and cons of pleasure, and its bittersweet role in all our lives. Mercifully, however, he does seem to conclude that pleasure-seeking is, on balance, a good thing, for all the efforts of religious and (often) socio-political forces to persuade us otherwise.

But pleasure is also, as he insists from the outset, “a slippery beast”. Plato argued that it was “the greatest incentive to evil”, Aristotle the opposite, and so it has confusingly continued ever since, via the likes of Nero and Casanova to Schopenhauer, Freud and beyond. For Martin, a behavioural biologist, the “holy trinity” of pleasures that can inevitably lead to pain, not least in the shape of potentially lethal addiction, are those of his title – sex, drugs and chocolate.

Sex is discussed in blindingly obvious, at times somewhat alarming, detail and is generally recommended, “preferably with someone else”. In this, as in most of the other pleasures on his menu, Martin is commendably non-judgmental, short of pornography and paedophilia, even when discussing the more exotic sexual variants to which some societies have seen fit to attach a death sentence. Recreational drugs don’t get off so lightly; however tantalising readers might find his evidence that some can apparently evoke sensations 20 times as pleasurable as an orgasm, these kinds of drug can also kill you – which is deemed, on balance, not such a good thing.

More here.