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.

Those who have come to talk with Masters and Johnson about their work find that conversations occur in small segments, crowded into their busy schedule. In addition to counseling couples and working in infertility, Masters and Johnson have a half-million-dollar Foundation to administer and are now beginning to structure a postgraduate course in their techniques. It will be run by Dr. Ray Waggoner, immediate past president of the American Psychiatric Association, and Emily H. Mudd, professor emeritus of family study in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, who have just joined the staff. Some conversations occur during lunch in the library, where a stack of issues of Hospital Practice and Playboy are pushed aside to make room for cold cuts, rye bread, potato chips, and iced tea. The library is small; ten or twelve people can be squeezed in. The number of volumes is not impressive, but the field of sexology hasn't produced many scholarly or even peripherally useful books. One of man's most basic needs—Masters claims it ranks second only to self-preservation—hasn't been a proper area for study. Here it is, unashamedly. On Bill Masters' desk, a lucite cube with Picasso's erotic and mildly pornographic sketches. In Gini Johnson's office, a carving of two nude bodies, man and woman, together. On a shelf below her assortment of reference books is a roughhewn wooden block, with the outlines of a man and woman, not touching but contemplative, emerging out of the side that has been partially carved.

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."

Presented by

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in National

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In