HOLLYWOOD—CBS-owned Showtime networks this fall will feature a one-hour adaptation of Thomas Maier's Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, The Couple Who Taught America How to Love, from Sony Pictures TV. The docudrama, scripted by Michelle Ashford (most recently known for her HBO series, John Adams) and co-produced by Ashford, Sarah Timbermann and Carl Beverly, will reveal what the Hollywood Reporter described as "the lives and unusual relationship between [the] influential sexual education researchers."
Maier's book has been reviewed by both The New York Times and The Washington Post, with Times reviewer Cristina Nehring noting that at one point, Johnson claimed that the couple was "as famous as Kleenex," and the Post's Louis Bayard pointing out that even the couple's names were sexually suggestive: "Masters, with its echoes of bondage and onanism, and Johnson, that venerable euphemism for penis. If they hadn't been the most famous sexologists of their day, they might have opened an S&M club in Tribeca."
But Nehring takes the couple to task for (she claims) misleading the public into thinking they were a loving couple when what their relationship "was [really] about" was "the success of their product, which, by this point, was the revolutionary sexual science of the Masters and Johnson brand." She also hyperbolically accuses them of overstating some of their discoveries, such as that "women are far more sexually superpowered, proceeding effortlessly from orgasm to orgasm."
Nehring reserves particular bile for Masters, who she claims blocked Johnson from getting an advanced academic degree, and implies that although Johnson said, at the beginning of their research, that she "didn't want [Masters] at all and had no interest in him," that there was something wrong with the fact that, as part of their research, they fucked each other frequently like "sexual athletes." She also claims that when Johnson was about to marry a "perfume millionaire," Masters was so afraid of losing her as a lab partner that he "hastily divorced his wife and wed Johnson," after which "their sex life tapered off."
Bayard, on the other hand, focuses more on the researchers' accomplishments, noting that, "With the help of tools like 'a motor-powered Plexiglas phallus,' the white-coated team observed approximately 10,000 orgasms over 11 years." More importantly, perhaps, Masters and Johnson were the first scientists to state that their research showed that "women could achieve five or six orgasms in as many minutes while men had to quit the field for at least an hour after every climax."
"Women suddenly had a green light for sex," Bayard writes, "and the news was welcome not just to hedonists—Hugh Hefner was one of the study's biggest funders—but to feminists, who glimpsed a new dawn of erotic self-determination... Large numbers of women had already confesses that they enjoyed their best sex alone."
He also notes that, "For a then-whopping fee of $3,000 (actually, it's still whopping), movie stars, senators and the just plain dysfunctional could spruce up their sex lives with the help of male-female therapy teams, achieving results in a couple of weeks that might have required many years of traditional psychoanalysis."
So whether Masters and Johnson were the dysfunctional couple portrayed by Nehring, or the ground-breaking researchers that enthralled Bayard (and of course Maier), one thing's for sure: The Showtime program, which may in fact be a pilot for a series based on the pair, won't be lacking in details of interest to any sex-positive adult video fan.