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.

Masters has said it so many times: "Our job is to put sex back into its natural context; it is a perfectly normal function—as normal as breathing. Why do we have all these prohibitions, why have we legislated against it?" Sex is OK at 4910 Forest Park Boulevard. It can even be joked about. A gentleman wrote to say he could help Masters and Johnson in their work, for he had found that prior to his climax, his stomach growled. Now a stomach growl from a staff member will be greeted by, "Do you want to be alone or can we watch?" They have seen so many tense couples go through the first days of the two-week therapy program that a tense look on the face of a staff member evokes a saccharine "How did it go last night?" Sex back in context.

By midmorning Masters has counseled two couples. The first is in the last days of a two-week stay and had come to the Foundation with a typical problem: premature ejaculation on the part of the male that had resulted in a nonorgasmic wife. Both problems have been overcome. In place of two people who barely spoke upon arrival, there are now chatty, hand-holding honeymooners. The second couple has not been able to conceive. After a ten-minute interview, they come out of an office and wait in the hallway while Masters goes into a small laboratory. He comes back with a plastic vial with a cork stopper. Masters needs to check the viability of the man's sperm, and as he could, or would, not produce some by masturbating in one of the many lavatories, he will go back to his hotel room and, with his wife's assistance, produce.

Over twenty pieces of mail await Masters' personal response. Others, which ask for general information on the therapy program, are answered by a secretary and a series of form letters that are personally addressed and then typed through an automatic typewriter. The cry of the sexually maladjusted resounds from the pages, contained in envelopes with postmarks from as close as Illinois or as far away as Italy or Malta. In March there were 102 written inquiries; Human Sexual Inadequacy was published on April 27. In May, 429 letters. In June, 606. A man with primary impotence and no money wants the Foundation to supply a surrogate partner, as it has done scores of times in the past. "Tell him we have already taken all the free-care cases we can afford to this year; in fact we're over 30 percent free care and only budgeted to do 25." "Next, tell this guy in Italy there is no known way to increase male sperm production." "Here's a guy with troubles every place but in bed. Tell him to see a marriage counselor." One woman offers her services as a ghostwriter for a popularization of Human Sexual Inadequacy. That is a sensitive subject. The answer is no. Another writer wants permission to quote twenty-eight pages from the book. "So that he can wrap some drivel around it, put on a cover, and sell it for a couple of bucks. Tell him no." A man asks specific questions about his trouble with premature ejaculation. "Tell him to read the book." A woman goes into detail about the pain she experiences during thrusting in intercourse. Is it real or imagined, she asks. Bill Masters leans back for a moment and smiles. His abrupt manner in answering correspondence might leave the impression of high-handedness or lack of concern. There is neither. He is sympathetic to human need or else he wouldn't have given up a $100,000-a-year private practice sixteen years ago to work as a $27,000-a-year researcher. And, he does answer every inquiry. It is just that he is asked to give diagnoses and miracle cures for the price of a first-class stamp and some stationery. "Tell her, tell her kindly, tell her how the hell do I know and that she should consult her local doctor."

Since they began eleven years ago to help couples solve their sexual dysfunctions, Masters and Johnson have refined the total treatment package to assure that patients are as relaxed as possible, given the problems they will have to talk about and the interpersonal therapy they will be exposed to. Before couples arrive, they are booked into such elegant accommodations as a penthouse suite in the nearby Chase Park Plaza Hotel or into one of the two small apartments that the Foundation maintains at the Forest Park Hotel. Each has cooking facilities and rents for $100 a week. Even the poorest patients must provide for their own transportation and living expenses. Scheduling of couples is done four months in advance, and for those who can bear the full cost, it is $2500 for the two-week program and five years of follow-up.

Mrs. Lynn Strenkofski, a bubbly brunette whose name is on all correspondence with patients so they feel they already know her, greets the couple as soon as they arrive. But never by name if there is anyone else in the room. That is cardinal rule one, for many Masters and Johnson patients are supposed to be motoring through Mexico for two weeks, or camping in Canada, away from the telephone. In addition to the malady the couple has reported, a few things are known. The woman will not menstruate in the next two weeks, nor is she nursing a baby. The couple have probably made an attempt at intercourse the night before coming to St. Louis, a last valiant attempt to show each other that they are basically sound and do not really need treatment. They are wrong.

Wanda Bowen, a thin, graying woman with a ready smile, awaits the new couple on the second floor. She is dressed in a white pants suit and beige scarf, which is standard attire for the staff. She is the office manager and also the chief of the psychological-warfare department. "Warm, friendly, but professional" are her bywords. "If a couple walks in and somebody giggles about somebody else spilling some coffee, that couple will automatically think, 'They know about us. They've read the report. They know I can't make it. They know I'm a prude." When a dentist Mrs. Bowen knew at the time she lived in Jacksonville, Florida, came with his wife for treatment, she remained distant and impersonal. At the end of their successful visit, Mrs. Bowen switched from a professional smile to a personal one, winked, and said, "If it fits into the scheme of things, say hello to some people back there for me; say that on your fishing trip to Wisconsin you met me in a restaurant." Keeping staff members has been a problem for the Foundation. Some never learn the decorum needed. Some relish the vicarious thrill of knowing what is going on behind the closed doors on the second floor. Some pull stupid acts like calling a hotel manager, identifying the Foundation, and telling him that a certain well-known person and his wife are going to stay at his establishment for the next two weeks.

Mrs. Bowen gives each couple an ominous-looking plain brown paper envelope that contains nothing more crucial than a restaurant guide, the schedule for the chimpanzee show at the St. Louis zoo, locations of laundromats, planetarium shows. The two weeks in St. Louis are not two weeks by the bed as some expect. Depending on their needs and degree of articulation, they will spend from twelve to twenty-five hours in therapy sessions at the Foundation offices. Many other hours will be taken up with application of the therapy guidelines.

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