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.
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."
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.
On the second day, the male patient talks with the female therapist and his mate with the male, and each goes deeper into background and difficulties. The couple know they are not supposed to engage in any form of sexual activity, and for most, at this point in the program, this is not too tall an order. On the third day, there is a round-table discussion, stories are matched, glossed-over fabrications are confronted, righted, and the couple are ready to begin the practical—application phase. They are given instructions to go back to their room and on two occasions simply rub or touch the other person wherever they would like, except genitally, just to give them pleasure. It was Gini Johnson's idea eleven years ago that non-demanding touching, called "sensate focus," was the first step in re-establishing a physical relationship that could lead to successful sexual functioning.
From the fourth day on, couples in therapy are encouraged to proceed, at their own pace, toward a more complete appreciation of the sexual component in their lives. Wanda Bowen and her staff see the couples go in for their daily sessions with Masters and Johnson and then emerge. "I don't have to listen to the tapes [all sessions are recorded] or look at the progress sheet," Mrs. Bowen says. "It's all there in their faces. Some are crying. Some snap at each other. Some are holding hands and smiling. The anthropologist Ph.D. was a mess in dumpy clothes on the first day. When she came in one day with lipstick, her hair done, and earrings on, I didn't have to ask anybody. She was advertising to the world that they had made it."
The men who come to Masters and Johnson for help break down into two basic categories, those who cannot perform sexually (primary impotence if they have never been able to achieve an erection and have intercourse; secondary impotence if, once having been successful, they are no longer able) and those who can perform (but who have an orgasm before they are able to satisfy their mate—premature ejaculation—or those who are never able to achieve orgasm—ejaculatory incompetence). No women are considered frigid by Masters and Johnson. "The word means nothing," says Masters. They are victims of either primary orgasmic dysfunction (they have never experienced orgasm), or situational orgasmic dysfunction (once successful, but not currently).
The therapy is carefully orchestrated, from the moment of first instructed touch to successful intercourse and orgasm, to keep both partners calm and undemanding of one another. "Fear of performance is the biggest factor in sexual dysfunction, and once there is no premium on performance, we can get a lot of work done," says Masters. That work was detailed in Human Sexual Inadequacy, where Masters and Johnson reported they had failed in only 20 percent of 790 cases of male and female dysfunction that had been treated for two weeks and then followed up for five years. They did not claim success in the other 80 percent, stating that success was too difficult to define, but that failure, either in the two-week program or during the five-year follow-up, was easy to identify. Masters and Johnson's most stunning success came in the area of premature ejaculation, where only 5 of the 186 men thus afflicted could not bring their problem under control. By use of a "squeeze technique" where the female grasps the penis when the man says he is ready to climax, thus removing his desire to do so, Masters and Johnson have virtually proven this sexual problem can be vanquished. Their highest failure rate (40 percent) occurred with primary impotent men, many of whom could not overcome religious strictures that have effectively castrated them.
Because their work is shrouded in secrecy, few firsthand examples of how Masters and Johnson operate have reached the general public. One such story appeared in the July, 1969, issue of Ladies' Home Journal, told by an anonymous woman who had been married for nine years and found little sexual fulfillment in her marriage to a man who suffered from premature ejaculation. The scenario is all too familiar: intercourse degenerates into release for her husband and frustration for herself...the wife finds herself less responsive...she avoids her husband...he accuses her of extramarital activity...she becomes even less responsive...the psychiatrist is consulted... "Don't fret my dear," he answers, "your husband has a low sexual-interest level and unfortunately his problem of premature orgasm cannot be helped. Forget your problem and get involved in hobbies, go to the theater; there is more in life than sex."
This woman knew that, but she still wanted her share. Under Masters and Johnson's care everything seemed to be going well until Dr. Masters asked her if she would stay with the marriage if the sexual aspects were improved. She answered that she didn't know. "Why did you come here?" he shot back at the woman. At that point she knew he wouldn't stand for any idle chitchat, and she replied that whether or not the marriage survived, she didn't want to deprive her husband of this chance to find his manhood. She was surprised when the stern-faced Dr. Masters promised that within a year her husband would again be confident—both sexually and in his everyday life—and it would be due to her.
The evening before the round-table discussion the nervous couple found themselves consoling one another, holding each other—something unique in their marriage. They were alone in a strange city with no one to resort to except each other. This is obviously not an accidental benefit of the program. On the third day, instructed to go back to their room and simply "pleasure" each other with no special goal in mind, they did so. The woman explained: "I had never before been able to touch my husband in an uninhibited way and he had never learned to caress me with love. But now, with our fears of sexual performance or nonperformance removed, we relaxed and enjoyed each other. I was not really able to be purely platonic about the experience; I found myself becoming aroused in ways I had not felt for years."
In their first attempt at intercourse two days later, the couple were mutually successful. "It was not difficult to accomplish these victories... we were supremely confident and, as a result, were able to drop all pretenses." Along with her new physical openness, the woman found herself extremely sensitive to her husband's slightest ill word or look. And, over a trivial matter, a fight occurred. To the couple's astonishment Masters and Johnson were unmoved. Arguments frequently happen at this stage of therapy, they explained, and after all, weren't the couple in St. Louis to make their mistakes? The argument and the ensuing makeup assured the couple that the therapy was applicable not only under idyllic circumstances, but could work in everyday life. When Mrs. Johnson took the woman aside to ask how things were going, the woman said, "I was amazed to hear myself rhapsodize about how deeply in love I was. I was not being a Pollyanna; I knew that all our problems had not been solved overnight. But I felt that just the fact that some doors had been opened, that we were enjoying each other so much, was a small miracle. To go from almost nothing to so much in a short time made me very optimistic about our future."
Now that work with heterosexual couples has been established and proved, Masters and Johnson are spending an increasing number of hours working with homosexual couples. Contrary to what the straight world thinks, Masters and Johnson have found there are many impotent male homosexuals and nonorgasmic lesbians whose sexual distress in the relationship they are drawn to makes life and the relationship miserable. In addition to treating those two dysfunctions, Masters and Johnson have been working with those homosexuals who want to return to a heterosexual life. The first homosexual couples to be treated went through the therapy program two years ago, and so far the failure rate is within tolerable limits. Research on the physiology of human homosexual response, which will be included in a book to be published in the mid-1970s, was finished in 1965. While heterosexual response took six and a half years and thousands of feet of color film to record, homosexual response was completed in eighteen months and without visual documentation. The homosexual report will show how similar, almost without variation, the orgasm of two homosexuals is to that of two heterosexuals. (The famed "green room," where heterosexual and homosexual arousals and orgasms were duly recorded, now is painted a restful beige. In place of the hospital bed, sensors, cameras, and lights is a series of couches that will be used for post-marital group counseling. Only a baseboard riddled with electrical outlets, and a two-way mirror tell of the room's past—and illustrious—history.)
The work with homosexuals might appear to endanger Masters and Johnson's standing in the medical community, which is high, if recent, in origin. But in five years their next book will probably raise no more eyebrows than did Human Sexual Inadequacy, which was greeted as healing balm for one of the most persistent wounds of society, a difficulty that is said to afflict half the marriages in the United States. Masters and Johnson have consistently kicked over barriers, pushed their way through myth, mores, and misconception, to come up with undisputedly sound medical and therapeutic information. When a Roman Catholic nun comes to them with complaints of pelvic pain, a bloated feeling at other than "that time of the month," and they find massive congestion that can be relieved in only one way, they tell the nun to masturbate to orgasm.
They do their work in a conservative city, St. Louis, a city that seems to have a special tolerance for research in medicine and science. If the city wanted Missouri law enforced, officers could come to Masters and Johnson and demand that their program of providing surrogate partners for single, sexually dysfunctional males be stopped. It is against the law in the state of Missouri for a man and woman, not married, to engage in sexual intercourse. There has been no harassment. (One disgruntled husband, however, has brought a $750,000 suit against Masters and Johnson, charging that his wife was paid $750 to engage in sexual activities with two men. Masters and Johnson have made it no secret that they have supplied female partners for males, but have also been extremely careful to choose women who are willing, sympathetic mates for the two-week therapy program and not promiscuous fun-seekers. Masters and Johnson have dismissed the suit as "ridiculous.")
At first, under the auspices of Washington University, the work of Masters and Johnson was done secretly. Once they began telling professional groups of their concepts and early findings, the word leaked to the local press and national medical writers. But the press agreed voluntarily not to print fragmentary information about the work in St. Louis and to wait until the first book was ready. If it had been Bill Masters' decision alone, the two books and medical journal articles would have been the extent of communication between the Reproductive Biology Research Foundation and the outside world. It was Gini Johnson, experienced in the ways of advertising and radio, who saw both the value and opportunity of communicating with ordinary men and women so that they, in turn, would begin to demand the type of therapy Masters and Johnson offered for professional use.
While resisting offers from publishers for additional books, from cosmetic firms for endorsement of a lotion that patients have used successfully during the two-week therapy program, and from movie producers, one of whom was willing to pay $100,000 for the use of the title of their first book, Masters and Johnson have stayed in firm control of much of their press. They have demanded, and usually obtained, the right to see copy before it was published. When McCall's was ready to run an article about their work that Mrs. Johnson thought was "bits and pieces and took our work out of context," she had the magazine scrap it and wrote the article herself. Time, a subsidiary of Time Inc., the parent company of Masters and Johnson's publisher, Little, Brown and Company, wanted advance galleys of Human Sexual Inadequacy so they could prepare a cover story to run when the book appeared. They were turned down. Masters and Johnson have never cooperated in working with magazines that wanted to do first-person stories about couples who have been treated. One such couple, in fact, approached NET and was interviewed on TV. After reading the transcript, Gini Johnson had to admit that the interview was a good reflection on why the couple was having troubles. "The woman had all the answers; every time he'd start to say something, she'd correct it and go off on a tangent. I'd be impotent in the face of that."
Man: There was something very interesting I think they missed. We were told, in other words, if my wife or myself got out of line with each other, we should try to make up some sort of a signal that it's a danger—
Woman: This is later.
Man: Yeah, this is later, yeah.
Woman: You're jumping the gun.
Man: OK, take it.
And yet, even this overbearing woman and her subdued husband were able to find each other physically under the guidance of Masters and Johnson. Some other excerpts from the interview with WNDT TV's Sherrye Henry give a behind-the-scenes flavor:
Woman: Incidentally, at the first session we were not allowed to touch any sexual parts of either body. This was most important. I guess it did lead to the sensuousness which they expected of us. The next part of the lesson consisted of allowing us to touch one another on our sexual parts. But we weren't allowed to indulge in any sexual intercourse. We became sensitized, and we jumped the gun, as we later found out they expected iis to do, and we did have sex.
Interviewer: Well, was it good for you?
Man: Yes, great!
Interviewer: How precise were their instructions to you? When they sent you back home to practice, what did they give you? Diagrams? Pictures?
Woman: Dr. Masters would sit in his chair behind his desk, and he would tell us exactly what he wanted us to do and he would use his hands to explain to us what he wanted done.
Interviewer: Well, let's go back then to what I asked about your attitudes toward each other. As the release came in sex, did also the release come in your private—?
Woman: Physically, yes. We then had a mental barrier we hadn't broken down. With all married couples, you have two animals; you have a body and you have a mind. Our minds weren't meeting, and the only way that the minds could meet was by us having a battle. Dr. Masters tantalized me and said that he was going to get my husband a blonde. He [Masters] wanted him [husband] to do anything to make me angry. He [Masters] had broken off sex between us. So finally we were riding down the street looking for a restaurant, and he wanted me to read the map of St. Louis and I knew nothing about St. Louis, and he started screaming and yelling at me, and as soon as he did that, my hair stood on end, and I told him to take me back to the hotel and I proceeded to cut him to bits. I did mental surgery on him. The next morning we went anxiously to see Dr. Masters and Mrs. Johnson, and when the girl saw me downstairs in the reception room, she wanted to know what happened. I just said that men weren't any good. Dr. Masters came to the door of the reception room and he looked at me and said, "You, I want you in my office immediately. You [husband] stay here." And so I went into his office and I broke down; I cried like a baby. I told him what happened, and then Mrs. Johnson came in, and she literally tore me apart. Told me exactly what I had been doing wrong. Which was the best thing she could have done. I didn't like what she said. But it had its effect. And two minutes later they came back after me again. I went inside and they were laughing. I was very upset by all this and I went home and I cried from 11 o'clock in the morning until 3 o'clock in the afternoon. And he [husband] was there, the first time he really saw me.
Interviewer: As a person.
Woman: A person and a woman and I...
Interviewer: Who needed him, I suppose.
Masters and Johnson, who will surely take their place in the lineage of Freud and Kinsey, have made personal sacrifices to accomplish their work. Bill Masters has not taken a day off from his work in sixteen years. But he is a devoted football fan and a season-ticket holder for all the home football games of the St. Louis Cardinals. His eighty- and ninety-hour workweeks have left many things in their wake, including his marriage. He lived apart from his wife for almost two years, and is now divorced. He has worked at this feverish pace because he believes he has much more work to do and, at fifty-four, not enough years to accomplish it all. He wants to train senior therapists from all over the country who can then teach the techniques in their own clinics and medical schools. He wants to assemble a statistically sound group of adolescents and aged to study their sexual difficulties. He wants to develop preventive means to keep people from sexual dysfunction. All this for a man who describes himself as "not a people person; I could be happy alone in a laboratory for the rest of my life."
Gini Johnson, born Eshelman, married bandleader George Johnson and sang with him for several years. She was never the gushy type ("I was raised in a Victorian family, but we were warm to each other with words, not touches") and is not one to indulge in the very medium of sensitivity she has developed. After the first book, the inevitable question was asked of her: Did your own marriage fail (she was divorced in 1956) because of sexual troubles? She was quick to answer no, and looking back today, she is more calm about it: "He was a bandleader, a night person. We had children; they were day people. The two just didn't mix." Now that she feels she can relax and once again begin to enjoy life, she is concerned. "I've been removed from society for so long, I really don't know what I liked before. I don't know what I'd go back to."
Masters and Johnson, if they have little else in their personal lives, have each other. They work together seven days a week, they socialize together they spend evenings at Virginia Johnson's comfortable home in a St. Louis suburb. All of which has kept people speculating about the degree of their involvement. "After my divorce, you won't see us running off to Mexico or anything like that," Masters said last spring, with a perfectly straight face. "But I may take it upon myself to chase as many women, eighteen years and older, as a slightly fat, bald, fifty-four-year-old can catch."
The response is made late one afternoon as he soaks in the pool at Gini Johnson's home. It is his idea of relaxation just to sit on the steps of the pool with the water lazily lapping at the long, white hairs on his chest, and then to swim a dozen lengths before dinner. Inside the deceptively simple house, with a stunning bilevel addition done in exposed rough beams with vaulted ceiling, Gini Johnson is preparing wild rice and peas and loins of pork and beef. Dressed in a striped caftan, she pads barefoot around the kitchen.
The house, like the rest of their lives, has an aura of privacy. Bill Masters points to a stand of four reasonably mature trees, through which can barely be seen windows of the only house not sheltered from view by topography, or by the high fence encircling the property. Those trees were recently moved into place to provide protection from those who would like to see what goes on in the backyard of the famed sex researchers. Some of the wealthy who have sought Masters and Johnson's care, and were willing to pay them anything to perform their function outside St. Louis, have been turned down. Masters and Johnson simply won't leave all their other work for two weeks.
For many male and female homosexuals, fear of detection is an almost paralyzing thought. One, a well-known member of local society, ostensibly happily married, is a lesbian and has come to Masters and Johnson for aid. Over the past decade, Masters and Johnson have used many apartments in and around St. Louis to protect the identity of their patients. And they have been successful in this game of cat and mouse; no one has broken the security. Many have tried. Masters found that a physician in an adjoining suite was using the same lavatory an inordinate number of times daily. One day, Masters saw him go in and waited for him to come out. One hour, two, three, four hours passed, and finally the physician unlocked the door and walked out, the stethoscope he had pressed against the wall still in his hand. Photographs taken through Foundation windows from across the street have been sent anonymously to Masters and Johnson.
As he prepared for his work in sex research and therapy, Masters studied the life of the late Alfred Kinsey, to see what motivated him and to see what pitfalls he could avoid. Masters found that Kinsey developed an overpowering ego, would not train a qualified successor, and thus guaranteed that his work would end with his death. He never collaborated with a female researcher although he was studying both sexes. And in his last years, Kinsey was obsessed with the thought that everyone was trying to steal his data. Masters admits to a mild case of paranoia himself. "You have to get a little sick in the head to try to figure out what somebody who is really sick in the head will do to break out our security. It isn't pleasant to continually worry about what some goon is up to."
Those who have criticized Masters and Johnson for their work have found them unwilling to defend themselves. "Continued research and publication of findings is our response; we can't take time to strike back at our detractors," says Masters doggedly. Over the dinner at Gini Johnson's, they loosen up and let go with a barb or two. They fault Leslie Farber whose article "I'm Sorry Dear" in a 1964 issue of Commentary condemned their approach as mechanistic—for writing from hearsay two years before Human Sexual Response appeared. That book was written eighteen months earlier than planned because questions that the Farber article posed within the professional community could be answered with nothing short of the entire report.
In answer to Rollo May, who says, "They put the emphasis on orgasm when it should be on love. They help some couples, and I congratulate them for that, but their total impact on society is to send us further down the road of misunderstanding ourselves and our need to love one another," they have but a short reply. Smiling serenely, Gini Johnson says, "Dr. May has the corner on the love market and we couldn't presume to know anything about it." Masters adds, "If our job were only to reorient people sexually, we could do that in a long weekend. We are treating the whole marriage, and we start with the most intimate and necessary of all communications."
Late in the evening, after weaving its way through Victorian hangups, the difficulties the children of Masters and Johnson have had to face ("I don't want you hanging around with that Masters girl; her father's a sex maniac," one mother told her daughter), the conversation moves to an odd subject: why Masters and Johnson consider Playboy a good outlet for sex information. "There are millions of men reading it, eighteen to twenty-eight years old, who parade as knowledgeable about sex but who have the same old misconceptions about mutual orgasms being a necessity and penis size being important," says Gini Johnson. "Men read the magazine predisposed to reading about sex, and we want them to have good information." Masters and Johnson serve as consultants to the magazine, and when sex questions are asked in the Playboy Advisor, they edit the answers. After Hugh Hefner learned of their work, and his editor in the behavioral sciences, Nat Lehrman, did a penetrating interview with them, Hefner's foundation donated $25,000 and continues to donate annually.
Still later in the evening, just before Bill Masters is ready to drive back into St. Louis, his partner muses. Lately she has found she is getting forgetful, absentminded, and one day panicked when she thought she had left office records in her convertible and returned to find the car empty. The records were sitting on a table at home where she had left them. "I have always valued my sense of color, of being able to put furnishings, clothes together and making them look good. But all the years of seclusion. I was in a store the other day, and I had to walk out—I couldn't make a choice of colors; I really couldn't see the colors."
In his Chevrolet Nova (bottom of the line, radio) a half hour later, Bill Masters, still in his blue terry cloth après-pool slacks, is speeding along a highway. Blocks of light form slowly on his face, expand quickly, then disappear as cars approach and pass. His sentences are short and punctuated by long silences. "Of course, it is great to fincY see results.... People don't know that with ninety hours of work each week there's not time for thing else... Biologically I guess I'm eighty.... But I don't really know.... I don't really know if I'd do the whole thing over again or not.