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.

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.

Now, after all the years of agony and months of waiting, the couple is ready to begin. In their first interview, they are faced by both cotherapists. It could be Masters and Johnson or a second team, Dr. Richard Spitz and Sallie Schumacher, or any combination of one male and one female. Dual sex-therapy teams, a Masters and Johnson concept, give each member of the marital unit a friend in court, a person who knows what the first nocturnal emission was like, or who knows what happened during the first menstrual cycle. The couple tell of their problems and their hopes, and then each one pairs off with the member of the same sex on the therapy team to discuss family background, religious beliefs, sexual activity with this mate and others. "Did you ever watch anyone else, accidentally or otherwise, involved in sexual activity? Do you recall your reaction? Which parent did you feel closest to? Who usually chooses the time for lovemaking? Do you tell your husband [wife] what pleases you most?"

The picture that emerges could keep soap operas in material for years. Two Ph.D.'s, she in anthropology, he in physics, have a marriage unconsummated after four years. A nonorgasmic woman was traumatized at fifteen with her first sexual encounter—a homosexual one with an overzealous teacher. A husband, out of work, turns to drink and loses his potency. A frustrated woman from a Fundamentalist Protestant background, whose premarital physical contact consisted of three chaste kisses, who fought to keep herself covered during intercourse while her husband fumbled through the nightclothes to do the job. A man from a Fundamentalist background whose first sexual encounter was with a prostitute, standing up, is impotent. A man punishing his mother by denying her a grandchild is denying his wife any sexual activity.

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