Sex and the Married Couple

Sex is very much OK at 4910 Forest Park Boulevard in St. Louis, where Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson preside over their much publicized do-it-yourself therapy for couples with problems in bed.

"Hey, mister, what floor ya goin' to in there?" the cabdriver asked, straining his neck to gain a good look at his rider.

The cabbie's question finally registered with the rider, who was fumbling in his pocket, already moist with perspiration from the muggy St. Louis summer day.

"Uh, I think it's the first . . . no it's the third floor."

He smiled so knowingly. "Going in there alone, are ya, mister?"

"Yeh, you see, I'm, going in there..."

"You don't have to explain to me, mister. You just have a good time, because if you can't make it that way, life ain't worth much."

The cabbie was still smiling, smiling sympathetically, which is not the way of most cabbies, as he slipped back into traffic in front of the building on Forest Park Boulevard. Made of prepoured marbled beige slabs supported by White pillars, and with all its venetian blinds closed, 4910 is as nondescript and conservative as its name: Central Medical Building. It is only when those who have been referred to 4910 for special difficulties—one of which the cabbie knew about—come into the lobby and look up at the directory that they know they are in the right building. There it is: Reproductive Biology Research Foundation. There they are: Masters, W. H., Johnson, V. E.

William Masters is a gynecologist by training, who was well known for his work in steroid replacement and infertility before he went into what he always dreamed would be his life's work: human sexual functioning—how it happens, why some people have difficulties with it, how they can be helped, and how their difficulties can be prevented. Virginia Johnson studied psychology but never received a degree for it. She responded to Bill Masters' request at the Washington University placement office for a female assistant who was good with people, able to talk openly with them, able to understand their problems. For the last fourteen years they have worked together. Their names, always in tandem and always in that order, have become synonymous with the scientific study of sex. This year they published a book that told what they did after they moved out of the laboratory and into their offices to work with men and women, most of them married and most already in pairs, who either could not function at all sexually or were doing so at an unacceptably low level of success or enjoyment. Human Sexual Inadequacy fulfilled the promise of Human Sexual Response, Masters and Johnson's first book, and also disarmed those critics who saw little reason to record the sexual act on film and by various sensing devices, a modus operandi for the first book. Whatever the critics thought, both books have been instantly successful. Combined hardcover sales now appear to have climbed beyond the half-million mark.

It is actually on the second floor that Masters and Johnson have their offices and do their work. In Room 220 shortly after 8 A.M. the air conditioning is overresponding, creating a slightly drafty and cold reception area, where Muzak is already playing its prerecorded Siren's repertoire. A familiar song. An old song blends into the violinized rock: "My One and Only Love."

Bill Masters has been up for nearly three hours. Before six he rose, drove to a high school quarter-mile track, jogged six slow laps, walked one, and then finished off with one fast lap. For a fifty-four year-old man, who is bald except for a ring of white hair left by hereditary tonsure and two shafts of white sideburns, Bill Masters is still an attractive man. Writers have searched for descriptions of him, and because of the nature of his work, have been charitable but incorrect in labeling his as the look of the concerned family physician or the involved marriage counselor. The Masters look is hard, penetrating, an X-ray look that discourages frivolity and commands immediate candor. It seems to say: "Of course, I'll help you, but let's get on with it." When he moves his eyes, the right one lags behind, temporarily giving him a double image. Anyone seeing him for the first time might rivet attention on his steel-blue eyes and try to figure out which one, if either, is training on him.

Gini Johnson, wearing a black and white patterned overblouse and white uniform pants, is now on her way to the Foundation in an open convertible. She is an attractive forty-five-year-old who could, if she dedicated time to herself instead of her work, be ravishing. In the publicity pictures shot for their second book, Gini was made up by George Masters (no relative) and benefited greatly by eyeliner, eye-shadow, false eyelashes that wisp up quickly at the end, and lipstick applied by brush; but she usually wears her hair swept back from her face into a ponytail or covered by a fall that is a shade off from her own auburn. She smiles more readily than Masters, but keeps her lower jaw set, which prevents her from making full-fledged cheek-wrinkling grins.

Since the beginning of this year, when word began to circulate that Masters and Johnson were ready to publish their second book, they have made themselves available, within reason, to the print media, particularly the women's magazines, which they consider a vital conduit for their information. After the first book, they appeared on the Today show, were interviewed by NBC for Huntley-Brinkley, and whistle-stopped from medical convention to medical convention, in an effort to explain to the lay and professional public what they were trying to do. Television has been shortchanged this time around. Although they have refused all talk shows and interviews, they have standing offers from Merv Griffin, Dick Cavett, and David Frost asking for a visit, under any conditions or time limits that Masters and Johnson would like to impose—no trained seals before or after, no monologue, no music. None of these offers has been accepted.

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