Masters of Sex, What the TV Show Doesn't Tell Us
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The new Showtime series (which aired on Sept 29), Masters of Sex is based on the book of the same name by Thomas Maier. It chronicles the life and work of pioneering sex researchers William Masters and Virgina Johnson. The series has been panned by some critics for dramatizing or romanticizing where it need not, since the simple facts in the life and work of these seminal researches speaks volumes on its own. Although with most series, you have to get to at least the 3rd or 4th episode before it picks up.
If anything the show may bring viewers to the book which will give readers a far more interesting and informative account of the couples life and work. Dr. William Masters started his work on human sexuality as a young gyno in St. Louis. Early in his research a grad student/sex-worker advised him to get a female researcher because there were clearly things he would not understand as a man, such as faking an orgasm. Shortly there after Masters hired Virginia Johnson who was originally hired as his secretary. The couple went on to document and study hundreds of couples—gay and straight—published six volumes.
While Masters seems to have been your type mad-man-esque alpha male, he willing shared credit with Johnson who never herself earned a medical degree. It would have been quit easy and acceptable in the day to have taken the credit for their work on his own.
photo. Virgina Johnson
One of the controversies for the Queer community regarding their work was the belief that homosexuals could be cured of their orientation. Masters did not see himself as a mere researcher but a doctor, intent on curing patients of sexual dysfunction. So while Masters and Johnson documented important and positive aspects in same-sex coupling, they came up with treatments for varying sexual dysfunctions of which homosexuality was considered. At the time homosexuality had just recently been declassified as an illness by the APA. Ironically Masters was one of the doctors who voted that homosexuality be declassified, so it remains a mystery why he invented conversion therapy. It is documented in Maier's book that Johnson remained opposed to the treatment.
Masters and Johnson's career was marked by their complicated sexual and eventual romantic relationship. They worked through marriages, families, and divorce to other partners and each other. Masters died in 2001 in one and Johnson just died earlier this year.
Biographer, Thomas Maier is a consultant on the Showtime series. Listen to the Fresh Air interview with Maier, which debunks a few assumptions of the couple and their research. (click player below or Click link to NPR sites)