Sunday 19 November 2017

Couple who spied on volunteers having sex taught America to love

'Playboy' founder Hugh Hefner, seen here with Crystal Harris, funded the sex research of Virginia Johnson and William Masters.
'Playboy' founder Hugh Hefner, seen here with Crystal Harris, funded the sex research of Virginia Johnson and William Masters.

CAN sexual experience be measured as a science? The famous duo of Masters and Johnson thought it could: they observed and recorded 10,000 orgasms over a period of 11 years by means of watching couples (or singletons engaging in masturbation) in a laboratory and recording their anatomical responses by means of clinical instruments.

Virginia Johnson, who has just died aged 88, was the first woman "scientific" sexologist, and was credited with the accolade that she "taught America how to love" in an era (the 1960s) when the word "pregnant" was banned on American television, and several states still had laws against contraception – the Lutheran-dominated Minnesota being the last to lift the ban.

If sexuality is so freely discussed today and is so audaciously to the fore in the public realm, it is, arguably, partly down to Masters and Johnson's pioneering work, 'Human Sexual Response', published in 1970, which despite a certain level of obscure language sold half-a-million copies within a couple of months. (Readers apparently didn't object to phrases such as: "This maculopapular type of erythematous rash first appears over the epigastrium.")

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