Alfred Kinsey’s groundbreaking research on human sexuality changed Western civilization’s attitudes toward carnality, but it was William Masters and Virginia Johnson’s work that shattered myths surrounding the science of sex.
The duo’s work is detailed in a new Showtime series, Masters of Sex. The pilot is on YouTube, despite the plethora of breasts, and follows Masters (the Frost in Frost/Nixon, Michael Sheen) and Johnson (Lizzy Caplan, of Party Down and the girl who played a perceived lesbian named for an actual lesbian in Mean Girls) from their meeting to their first experiments watching couples having sex while monitoring physiological responses.
Masters and Johnson are credited with everything from the first understanding of vaginal lubrication to dispelling long-held beliefs about orgasms.
Most TV critics say that Mad Men is the only truly successful American period piece, after the failures of The Playboy Club and Pan Am (which I thought was bearable thanks to the performance of Canadian Karine Vanasse). But Masters of Sex doesn’t rely heavily on the 1950s setting for appeal. The real story is the researchers and the sexual “transference” that sparks between the two as they watch couples shtup in the name of science.
The pilot also allots time to explore themes of sexism, expected gender roles and racism in the 1950s, as well as giving screen time to a gigantic dildo named Ulysses.
At one point, Masters asks Johnson to describe what a female orgasm feels like.
“That’s like trying to describe salt to someone who has never tasted salt,” she replies.
Watch Masters of Sex for yourself.