Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The mystique of Masters and Johnson

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The mystique of Masters and Johnson

By Chinami Oka
The Daily Magi
October 24, 2057




The Masters and Johnson research team, composed of William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson, pioneered research into the nature of human sexual response and the diagnosis and treatment of sexual disorders and dysfunctions from 1957 until the 1990s. The work of Masters and Johnson began in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Washington University in St. Louis and was continued at the independent not-for-profit research institution they founded in St. Louis in 1964, originally called the Reproductive Biology Research Foundation and renamed the Masters & Johnson Institute in 1978.


In the initial phase of Masters and Johnson's studies, from 1957 until 1965, they recorded some of the first laboratory data on the anatomy and physiology of human sexual response based on direct observation of 382 women and 312 men in what they conservatively estimated to be "10,000 complete cycles of sexual response." Their findings, particularly on the nature of female sexual arousal (for example, describing the mechanisms of vaginal lubrication and debunking the earlier widely held notion that vaginal lubrication originated from the cervix) and orgasm (showing that the physiology of orgasmic response was identical whether stimulation was clitoral or vaginal, and proving that some women were capable of being multiorgasmic), dispelled many long-standing misconceptions.


They jointly wrote two classic texts in the field, Human Sexual Response and Human Sexual Inadequacy, published in 1966 and 1970 respectively. Both of these books were best-sellers and were translated into more than thirty languages. The team have been inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame. Additionally, they are the focus of a television project called Masters of Sex for Showtime based on the 2009 biography by author Thomas Maier


Masters and Johnson met in 1957 when William Masters hired Virginia Johnson as a research assistant to undertake a comprehensive study of human sexuality. (Masters divorced his first wife to marry Johnson in 1971. They divorced in 1992.) Previously, the study of human sexuality (sexology) had been a largely neglected area of study due to the restrictive social conventions of the time, with prostitution as a notable exception.


Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues at Indiana University had previously published two volumes on sexual behavior in the human male and female, in 1948 and 1953 respectively, (known as the Kinsey Reports), both of which had been revolutionary and controversial in their time. Kinsey's work however, had mainly investigated the frequency with which certain behaviors occurred in the population and was based on personal interviews, not on laboratory observation. In contrast, Masters and Johnson set about to study the structure, psychology and physiology of sexual behaviour, through observing and measuring masturbation and sexual intercourse in the laboratory.


Initially, participants used in their experiments were prostitutes. Masters and Johnson explained that they were a socially isolated group of people, they were knowledgeable about sex, and that they were willing to cooperate with the study. Of the 145 prostitutes that participated, only a select few were further evaluated for their genital anatomy and their physiological responses. In later studies, however, Masters and Johnson recruited 382 women and 312 men from the community. The vast majority of participants were white, they had higher education levels, and most participants were married couples. As well as recording some of the first physiological data from the human body and sex organs during sexual excitation, they also framed their findings and conclusions in language that espoused sex as a healthy and natural activity that could be enjoyed as a source of pleasure and intimacy.


The era in which their research was conducted permitted the use of methods that have not been attempted before or since: "[M]en and women were designated as 'assigned partners' and arbitrarily paired with each other to create 'assigned couples'."


Some sex researchers, Shere Hite in particular, have focused on understanding how individuals regard sexual experience and the meaning it holds for them. Hite has criticized Masters and Johnson's work for uncritically incorporating cultural attitudes on sexual behavior into their research; for example, her work concluded that the 70% of women who do not have orgasms through intercourse are able to achieve orgasm easily by masturbation. She, as well as Elisabeth Lloyd, have criticized Masters and Johnson's argument that enough clitoral stimulation to achieve orgasm should be provided by thrusting during intercourse, and the inference that the failure of this is a sign of female "sexual dysfunction". While not denying that both Kinsey, and Masters and Johnson have made major contributions to sex research, she believes that people must understand the cultural and personal construction of sexual experience to make the research relevant to sexual behavior outside the laboratory. Hite's work, however, has been challenged for methodological defects.


Moreover, Masters and Johnson's research methodology have been criticized. First, Paul Robinson argues that because a lot of their participants were prostitutes, it is highly likely that these individuals have had more sexual experience and are also more comfortable with sex and sexuality in general. He says that one must approach these results with caution, since the participants do not represent the general population. Other researchers have argued that Masters and Johnson eliminated same-sex attracted participants when studying the human sexual response cycle, which also limits the generalizability of their results. Furthermore, Masters and Johnson have been criticized for studying sexual behaviors in the laboratory. While they attempted to make participants as comfortable as possible in the lab by giving them a "practice session" before their behavior was recorded, critics have argued that two people engaging in sexual activity in a lab is a different experience compared to being in the privacy of one's home.

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