November 14, 2020

Masters & Johnson’s Research 50 Years Later

Fifty years after the publication of Master’s & Johnson’s years long laboratory research detailing EXACTLY what happens in the human body during sex, we gathered at the Annual meeting of The American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists in Las Vegas in 2017 to honor them. The talk was entitled “50 Years of Masters & Johnson: Past Stories, Present Influences and Future Directions” and it detailed their pioneering contributions to understanding how bodies and minds WORK when they work well, in order to apply those principles to create a therapy to resolve sexual difficulties like rapid ejaculation and inability to have an orgasm.  You have to know how the pen is fit together in order to refit it if it comes apart in transit.

At any rate, since it was a celebration, the presenters, Linda Weiner and Constance Avery-Clark decided to DRESS IN PERIOD CLOTHING (any excuse for a dress up). It seriously took us back to a time in which sexual repression and appropriate “ladies” behavior was circumscribed, making their daring research all the more appreciated.

Why does their research and treatment method still matter?

They did a lot of myth busting that benefits us today. Did you know they were the first ones to detail that a “vaginal orgasm” and a clitoral orgasm were not that different except that many more women were orgasmic with clitoral stimulation (Freud had said that REAL women were orgasmic with a “look ma” no hands” orgasm achieved through penetration alone).

They invented Sensate Focus Touching which forms the basis of modern sex therapy and is used today as a mindfulness practice and reconnection strategy for couples who have disconnected from themselves and each other sensually and sexually.

Bill and Gini had a remarkable synergy of personalities. He was single-minded, and she was gregarious. He was a man of few words and she savored interpersonal interchange. He was concerned with the science of their project while she emphasized the humanity of their endeavor. As he was perfecting the sex therapy aimed at honoring sex as natural, physiological phenomenon, she was addressing the verbal and non-verbal communication skills to be used between the partners.

What they had in common was a mixture of tremendous ambition, absolute determination, and indomitable grit. They found and accepted insightful input from their colleagues and each other. They both had a tolerance for rule breaking and an intuitive feel for the changing times in the mid-60’s that facilitated their research and therapy’s moving forward. Riding the tide of Rock ‘n Roll, Playboy magazine, and the Sexual Revolution, they knew the time was right.

So who was Masters & Johnson and why do we honor them?

Some of you are old enough to remember or have read about the daring experiments conducted by Masters & Johnson in the 50’s in which volunteers were monitored in the laboratory while having solo sex, or sex with their partners, or sex with previously unknown partners, or sex with a dildo made of a new space age material (lucite plastic) which allowed a camera to record the “goings on” deep within the vagina during arousal and orgasm. Oh my!

Well, maybe you weren’t around in the mid-century to learn of their daring experiments and data. But maybe you caught the recent HBO special, “Masters of Sex” series based on the superb biography of Masters and Johnson by Thomas Maier. In the book, Maier details their hope to create a short term science based therapy to treat sexual problems.

In order to collect scientific information on how the human body actually functioned during sex, Masters & Johnson pulled a “William Harvey” of blood circulation fame. While they didn’t pay for cadavers and dig up bodies for experimentation considered heresy, they certainly did, like Harvey, run the risk of losing everything by violating norms and skirting laws to collect information. It’s thanks to their research that sex therapy based in part on the science of sex came to be.

In any event, the deal is this, before Masters & Johnson, the treatment for sexual dysfunctions like erectile dysfunction or inability to orgasm were cock rings and psychoanalysis.

We thank them for adding to our knowledge and choices.

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