Monday, October 4, 2010

notes: masters and johnson

after reading masters of sex, i am totally charmed by virgina johnson. for whatever reason, i always thought she was a stiff old doc like bill masters. but i was wrong. some notes:

--seated on a leather lounge chair, a woman, naked except for a pillowcase over her head, rubbed the outside of her vulva with a long, plexiglas penis. attached to a small camera with a plate glass optical eye, this “motor powered phallus” could produce high-quality color-motion photographs. sensors fixed to various parts of the woman’s body recorded her heart rate, electrical impulses of her brain, and nearly every other kind of measurement conceivable. nearby sat researchers william h. masters and virginia johnson along with their staff, all clad in white cotton lab coats. when the woman slipped the dildo inside her vagina and climaxed, she allowed researchers a sustained, precise look at her flushed, contracting vagina. over the next few years this basic experiment would be repeated with hundreds of women. the findings proved explosive: the female orgasm in absolute physiological detail.

--a celebrated obstetrician and fertility specialist with a tenured position at washington university, bill masters began his sex research in 1955. during the next twenty-one months, he interviewed 118 female and 28 male sex workers in st. louis and other cities, meticulously recording their sexual and medical histories. he soon began observing the prostitutes with their clients. he stared on, stunned. by 1956 masters had moved his studies into the controlled settings of a laboratory. however, the course of his research changed radically when a female participant asked him "what if I fake it?" masters blinked, said flatly, “i don’t know what you mean.” the woman tried explain: “that’s what I do for a living, i fake orgasms to hurry up and get the man to come...” bill remained dumbfounded, "i couldn't understand her. i'm not sure i ever did."

--within weeks masters hired virginia johnson, a twice divorced mother of two, to be his secretary. at the time, johnson had little insterest in medicine or a college degree. four months later, he promoted her to research assistant. although classically untrained, johnson's ability to gain the trust of a wide variety of male and female volunteers truly made the Human Sexual Response possible. as one female participant explained, "she made me feel that i was not only getting paid but helping my gender."

--less than a year into their partnership, masters made johnson a proposition: by engaging in sex with each other, they could extend their experiments into actual experience; rather than replying on photographic documentation, they could observe the so-called sex flush themselves, allowing them greater insight into the sexual response cycle. although a forced arrangement, according to the their biographer, masters saw it as consensual where as johnson interpreted it as a job requirement. “bill did it all—i didn’t want him,” she later remarked, “i had a job and i wanted it.”

--the overall effect of human sexual response was that it demanded that the clitoris be studied, described, written about. in fact, the study was so alarming precisely because it was so specific, so full of immutable details. although much of their ‘revelatory findings,’ such as the primacy of the clitoral orgasm, had been established by kinsey, masters and johnson were seen as proving these otherwise speculative assumption via "facts," i.e. hard science and technology.

--after observing over 600 men and women, Masters and Johnson devised their four-phase description of orgasm: (1) excitement, (2) plateau, (3) orgasm, and (4) resolution. they found that men responded in terms of basic physiological changes along the same lines as women; in both sexes, there was an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and in the majority, a “sex flush.” by measuring nearly every aspect of the sexual response imaginable, they uncovered such phenomenon of “vaginal tenting” as well as the source of vaginal lubrication, which is plasma, not glandular secretions, seeping through the vaginal walls.

--echoing kinsey, masters and johnson found that due to the clitoris’s small size, little blood is needed for the clitoris to become erect, and after orgasm, blood quickly floods out, allowing many women to have multiple orgasms. they stressed the clit’s singular, unmatched qualities: “the clitoris is a unique organ in the total of human anatomy,” they wrote. “no such organ exists within the anatomic structure of the human male.”

--the first instance of the word clitoris in playboy in during the 1968 interview with masters and johnson whose research hugh hefner helped fund.