History of Sex Surveys: Human Sexual Response Part 1

About the sex survey conducted by Dr. Masters and Johnson in the 1950s on Human Sexual Response, findings on psychology physiology and sex.

Survey: HUMAN SEXUAL RESPONSE

Researchers: William H. Masters, M.D., and Virginia E. Johnson. William Masters was born in Cleveland in 1915. As a student at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, he worked in the laboratory of Dr. George Washington Corner, an authority on the biology of sex. While researching the estrous cycle of the rabbit (compared with the menstrual cycle of the human female), Masters realized how much ignorance and misunderstanding still, in 1939, surrounded the human cycle. By the time he married in 1942, he had set his sights on research in the physiology of sex. But Dr. Corner advised him to wait until he was more mature, had achieved a reputation in an area not related to sex, and could call upon the resources of a great university medical school to support him. Accordingly, Masters trained in obstetrics and gynecology and then taught these subjects at Washington University in St. Louis. Between 1948 and 1954, he published 25 papers on hormone-replacement therapy for postmenopausal women. This was an important contribution, but was later overshadowed by his major research: the direct study of the sex act, in order to understand and treat sexual problems.

In 1954, the year after publication of the 2nd Kinsey report, Dr. Masters, at 38, launched his research. Many earlier sex surveys had involved observation of the sex act by the researcher, but their reports had always evaded the issue. Even Kinsey, whose work in this area had been more thorough than anyone's was not about to give his critics added ammunition by confessing that sexual intercourse had actually been observed at Indiana University during the 1940s. Masters frequently acknowledged his indebtedness to Kinsey, who, he said, "opened the previously closed doors of our culture to definitive investigation of human sexual response."

Virginia Johnson, 10 years younger than Masters, was referred to him by an employment agency in response to his request for "a mature women who has a keen interest in people and who knows where babies come from." Although her academic credentials were slight, Masters hired her as a research interviewer on the basis of her intelligence, straightforwardness, probing curiosity, and deep empathy for people. Ms. Johnson, born in Springfield, Mo., had a varied background including advertising research, administrative work, business writing, and music. She was married, with 2 children. In 1964, she enrolled as a doctoral candidate in psychology at the Washington University School of Medicine. In describing their working relationship, one interviewer commented, "She was the public relations person, he the doctor. But the doctor was always in charge."

Topics Studied: How the human body responds, physiologically and anatomically, to erotic stimulation. More simply: what men and women do and why they do it, rather than what they say or even think they do.

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