Masters of Sex has two main components: the research that Masters & Johnson performed over decades as “sex experts”, and biographical material on the researchers themselves. Most of the research I found fascinating, particularly in how very controversial it was at the time. But the biographical material, while presumably accurate, portrayed Masters & Johnson as a couple of really unpleasant people that I quickly tired of.
Dr. William Masters — an OBGYN determined to make a name for himself — and Virginia Johnson — a secretary with no formal education and two little kids at home — teamed up in the late 1950s, eventually becoming the premier name in sex research in the country. They interviewed countless men and women, and (in a first at the time), actually clinically observed sex and the human body in their lab. They created video cameras in dildos. They debunked countless myths. And they helped couple after couple struggling with fertility issues, intimacy issues and other problems that stem from a lack of understanding about sexual health.
Unfortunately, their personal lives were a freaking mess. Johnson had two kids with her second (or possibly third — no one’s quite sure) husband, then ignored them for years as she made history with Masters. At some point, Masters and Johnson entered a sexual relationship that had some really weird consent issues that the author kept revisiting. Eventually Master — who had ignored his own kids for years — divorced his wife of 3 decades to marry Johnson. And it doesn’t stop there.
The clinical stuff, like I said, I really enjoyed — especially their first 10 years of so. As the years went on, their research became much less groundbreaking, and they made some serious missteps — like declaring and firmly adhering to the theory that homosexuality is a choice. They even went so far as to offer conversion therapy to men and women desperate to become heterosexual. Their research methods began to slip as they tried over and over to recreate their initial magic — all the while becoming pretty hateful to each other.
The writing of the book is decent, although I wish the author had stepped back a bit from their personal lives because after I while I just did not freaking care about their affairs anymore. But it does make for a pretty in-depth profile of these two pioneers of sex research.