Masters and Johnson

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Dr. William H. Masters, a gynecologist, and Dr. Virginia E. Johnson, a psychologist, were the major sex researchers to follow Dr. Alfred Kinsey. In the past forty years they have developed more knowledge of sexual responses than in all previous periods. They also developed all the basic techniques of sex therapy that did not exist before their work became known.

Beginning in the 1950s, in their laboratory in Saint Louis, Missouri, they devised the instruments needed to record the physical responses of their subjects, human males and females, during sexual stimulation. Then, systematically observing their subjects, they amassed information about human sexuality that changed the basic premises about how it worked. They defined four distinct phases of arousal during sexual stimulation (see sexual response cycle). They showed that female responses to stimulation were the same no matter what manner of stimulation was used, whether friction with a penis, with laboratory recording devices, with fingers, by coitus, or through masturbation. This upset firm beliefs about women’s sexuality dating from the time of Sigmund Freud and earlier.

Next, this remarkable pair of colleagues (they married in 1971, but later divorced) identified several distinct types of sexual dysfunction. Until then psychoanalytic treatment, often lasting for years, medication, and surgery had all been based on vague diagnoses of “impotence” in men and “frigidity” in women. This was comparable to doctors treating patients after diagnosing them as “sick.” They identified the specific dysfunctions such as erectile difficulty, premature ejaculation, retarded ejaculation, unresponsiveness in women, and vaginismus (the inability to relax the muscles around the vaginal opening to permit a penis to enter). Then, having identified the specific dysfunctions, they devised treatments to overcome them. Finally, Masters and Johnson taught others the practice of sex therapy and trained thousands of therapists.

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