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Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love

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3.6 of 5 stars 3.60  ·  rating details  ·  879 ratings  ·  156 reviews
This critically acclaimed biography offers an unprecedented look at William Masters and Virginia Johnson, their pioneering studies on intimacy, and their lasting impact on the love lives of today's men and women.
Hardcover, 411 pages
Published April 1st 2009 (first published March 20th 2009)
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Elizabeth
after reading masters of sex, i am totally charmed by virgina johnson. for whatever reason, i always thought she was a stiff old doc like bill masters. but i was wrong. some notes:

--seated on a leather lounge chair, a woman, naked except for a pillowcase over her head, rubbed the outside of her vulva with a long, plexiglas penis. attached to a small camera with a plate glass optical eye, this “motor powered phallus” could produce high-quality color-motion photographs. sensors fixed to various pa...more
Audacia Ray
I'm not generally in the habit of reading biographies (exception: I've read all the biographies there are to read about Victoria Woodhull), because I don't really subscribe to the "great men" approach to history (I'm somewhat more susceptible to "great women"). I'd rather read about social movements and popular culture. That said, William Masters and Virginia Johnson spawned a new age of sex in the United States, so: worth reading.

I really enjoyed this book - the prose was accessible and there w...more
Krissy
Wow, talk about Masters and Johnson! If there is anything you ever wanted to know about them, it is in this book. Plus quite a few things you didn't know you wanted to know. It may be because I'm in a related field to M&J and have always seen them as forefathers, but I was enthralled with the book from start to finish.

Why only 3 stars? I'm not positive that the content really required 375 pages of text to explicate. Also, the opening description of Virginia's first sex experience was almost...more
Louise
Their lives were a period piece. Their work would have had no other relevancy but during post war America. Masters was a pioneer in this medical field and Johnson a pioneer in her field of therapy. They were ahead of their time in taking a female inclusive approach to sex therapy. How would the sexual revolution have evolved without this staid Midwestern couple giving couples a means to discuss and/or improve their sex life?

At the end of the book we realize that besides their 1950's lab techniqu...more
Kathleen Brugger
I am so glad Thomas Maier wrote this book: what a fascinating couple Masters and Johnson were. If you’ve been enjoying the Showtime series, read the book. It will not only increase your enjoyment of the TV show (because you realize it is largely based on the facts), you will get a deeper appreciation for what these two accomplished.

As a female, I was fascinated by Virginia Johnson. She didn’t ever get a college degree, yet through her intelligence, talents, and hard work became Dr. Masters’ equa...more
Stephany Van alstyne
Somehow manages to be boring and interesting simultaneously.
David Beeson
William Masters and Virginia Johnson undertook a task that would have seemed beyond the power of most of us: to study human sexual behaviour by direct observation.

Reading (or listening to) the account of their work, it’s hard not to wonder whether there wasn’t an element of prurience in what they were doing: viewing hundreds of acts of masturbation or copulation sounds terribly like something that is sold in seedy backstreets, behind suspicious looking doors.

However Masters and Johnson’s subjec...more
Steve
If ever anyone needed proof that being scientific, secular and atheistic is no guarantee that a person will be a Humanist or even a decent human being, one need look no further than William Masters. An amazing doctor and great researcher in his early days, Masters was driven more by ego and self-interest than by his desire to help people or chart new territories in the science of sex. His manipulation of those around him, and especially of Virginia Johnson, is striking in its cold blooded narcis...more
Socraticgadfly
Clearly, as Thomas Maier shows, that was the case in the marriage of William Masters and Virginia Johnson. It's not just that a quasi-forcible sexual relationship devolved into a quasi-loveless marriage. It's that Gini Johnson, for all her sexuality, never thought of looking outside the marriage, apparently. It's that Bill Masters apparently, until his end-of-life marriage to a college flame, couldn't be with a woman unless he could dominate her.

In a sense, they both, despite their groundbreakin...more
Hawkgrrrl
It's hard not to be charmed by Virginia Johnson in this biography about her and partner Bill Masters who pioneered sexual research. It's also an interesting portrait of feminism trapped by the mores of an era, as well as the struggle aging poses for someone whose ideas were revolutionary and cutting edge but then sparked understanding that eclipsed those breakthrough insights. In a way it's also a love story, but a repressed one lacking in the intimacy that comes with vulnerability. It was a fas...more
Pam Frost Gorder
"Complements the Showtime series"

This review is for the Audible version of the book (which received some negative reviews for the narration).

I'm a fan of the Showtime series and listened to this book (upon which the show is based) following season one. First: the narration is not that bad. The occasional mispronunciations and fatigue in Ms. Barton's voice were slightly distracting, but her reading is pleasant enough. Second: the book gives a deeper background on Virginia Johnson's motivations, a...more
Audrey
I received this book as a gift from a friend who knew I'd been watching the Showtime series based on it. I found it utterly engaging, though sometimes the prose was a bit verbose (much like Masters' own writing, I gathered from the book.) Can't remember the last time I had to pull out a dictionary that much while reading, but I learned some fascinating new words in the process. It seems a fairly complete look at the Masters and Johnson partnership in terms of their research and public lives; how...more
Cat
I loved reading this biography, in which Maier really highlights the way that the contradictions in the relationship of these two researchers reflect some of the contradictions of their times. I can see after reading this book why Showtime decided to move ahead with the series; after finishing Season One, I was wondering where else they could possibly go, and the old cliché truth is stranger than fiction definitely applies here. Not only are many of the most vivid details from Season One drawn f...more
Peter Goodman

Masters of Sex: The life and times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the couple who taught America how to love,” by Thomas Maier (2010, Basic Books paperback). Yes, I’m reading this because of the TV series—but also because Tom is a former colleague of mine from Newsday. First, it is clear that TV took a lot of liberties---not with the basic science, the personalities of the two protagonists, or the way they carried out the research, but all the added characters and plot lines that make i...more
JC
When you look at my undergraduate transcript, it looks like I studied to be a whore. Every other subject has "sex" or "sexuality" in the title - "Philosophy and Sexuality", "Sex and Society", "Gender, Sex and Power in Australian Politics", "Sex and Sexuality" - you get the drift. That's what you get for being a women's studies major. As a result, I quickly became familiar with Masters and Johnson and their study, but I always just thought of it as a regular university study that a couple of scie...more
Doug Clark
Masters of Sex by Thomas Maier (published in 2009) is a dual biography of Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the famous researchers who in the 1950s and 60s did much to determine the physical responses of human sexuality. Although I purchased the book when it was originally published, I didn’t start reading it until Showtime starting airing their series Masters of Sex which is loosely based upon this book. And loosely is being kind. Although several incidents in the show are historically...more
Leah
I got this because I have so enjoyed Masters of Sex on Showtime. I also have worked for many years in HIV and STD prevention in public health, so Masters and Johnson's work is in my wheelhouse as well as a clear popular influence during my adolescence and young adult years. (I was a graduate student when Masters and Johnson published Crisis.)

I have to say that I rate this around a 3.5. I gave it 4 because it is well written and engaging, but for content it deserves something closer to a 3.

I am...more
Jeremiah Dollins
I began reading this excellent biography as a result of watching the Showtime series of the same name. Initially, I found myself annoyed by the disparities between the two sources -- the show changes many things in the book by inventing characters, or combining them -- but ultimately found that it didn't matter. The story of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, whether fictionalized, or presented realistically, is still compelling and fresh as it probes to get at the universal truths underlying...more
Al Zaquan
Bought this because I saw the pilot on Showtime, and I've been a huge fan of Lizzy Caplan since 'Party Down'. So instead of waiting for a new episode every week, I wanted to know more of the story immediately. This is a very problematic book. There's no sense of what's interesting. Quotes and stories are plopped in the way you'd serve a child a cold omelette. The story is built on direct quotes that sound formal and deliberate, or hearsay he picked up from one of the interviewees, the interviews...more
Katie
This is a biography of sex researchers Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson, who, far before it was socially acceptable, conducted research on orgasm, sex, psychology, attraction, and physical response. They worked seven days a week studying the female orgasm, male impotence, arousal, and other related topics using therapy and even surrogates.

The book never "dragged" for me, though it could have been about 1/3 shorter. A fascinating read!
Fredrika
The first part was great, because they were innovators and the writing was scientific and reflected their findings. The second half of the book was about the politics and personal relationships, which I wasn't as interested in so I kinda skimmed over it. I never realized Masters and Johnson had any association with Hugh Hefner. Also, it's kinda sad that their marriage was fraught with indifference while ruining the life of his first wife.

favorite passage from their first book:

During the excitem...more
Katie
I would probably never even have heard of this book, except it popped up on the front page of a list of recommendations, and I remember learning about Masters & Johnson and their research in college, and I knew they had recently started a TV show of the same name. So I took a chance.

A disclaimer, obviously, is that much of this book is sexually explicit in the description of their research. If you can look past that, it is a fascinating biography of how two people, one of whom was a woman ne...more
Kate
A thorough retelling of the personal lives, the careers and "the times" of sex researches William Masters and Virginia Johnson. Masters' discoveries, his (sometimes flawed) methods and his chilly, driven personality are of interest, but even more interesting is Virginia Johnson. Without any medical or academic degree, and with a minimum of training, she developed into an influential figure in sexual research through the force of her enthusiasm and her winning personality. Until she too became dr...more
Paul Lima
I've been enjoying the TV series loosely based on the book; the book, not so much. The TV series, while true to the premise of what Masters and Johnson accomplished, and what they did, is fiction -- it has a narrative arc and characters do things to advance the story. The book, while a lot of work went into the research and writing, is, quite frankly, about an asshole and an idiot. These two may have been world-renowned sex researchers and sex therapists, but they both could have used a little (...more
Anika
I knew next to nothing about Masters and Johnson (save for their names and that they had something to do with sex) before I became obsessed with the TV show. To broaden my horizon and to see how true the show stayed to the reality, I decided to read the book. What can I say other than it's highly interesting and entertaining? Particularly in the beginning I find the not always chronological narrative style distracting. Also sometimes the life stories of seemingly random people are told and that...more
Caitrin
Fascinating and well researched, if a bit too gossipy and less focused on the duo's work in the latter half. A useful companion to watching the TV series, which by the way is fantastic. Interesting to see what aspects of the show are true and which have been changed. Also gives more of a sense of the place of their research in history and its general impact on U.S. society's understanding of human sexuality and how that influenced culture. It does have that spoiler effect to a certain extent in...more
Holly
This is a really interesting biography about the lives and work of Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson, known to many as the couple who talk America to love. It's sometimes as clinical as they were and yet other times totally endearing. Maier obviously did a lot of research, speaking to as many people as possible who were involved with or tangential to their work and/or personal lives. Some portions of the book seemed to drag a little but the totality of it was rather fascinating. Putting them in...more
Kate
A very compelling read based on the lives of modern sex researchers Virginia Johnson and Bill Masters and the basis for the Showtime series Masters of Sex. Their early background stories and how they came to meet and ultimately work together in groundbreaking research was quite interesting and engaging. Gini seemed the more likeable of the two and was in fact portrayed as having been pressured by Masters to physically participate with him in the experiments. Theirs was clearly a complicated rela...more
Lindsay
Well-written and thought-provoking. I can't think of another hyphenated description.

The St. Louis Board of Tourism should set up Masters and Johnson tours of the city, especially U City and Washington University. An idea that you heard here first!
Todd
I've taken psychology in high school and a course on sexuality in college so I had heard of Masters and Johnson but I didn't know much about them besides the Authorities on Sex angle.

I'm not much for biography. I don't know why, I think that in order to be presented interesting enough, I find that I doubt it's authenticity.

Virginia Masters seems like she would've been a cool lady to know. It's hard to look at her life and not be awed and maybe a little angry at where she ended up.

I'd recommend...more
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Endorsements for "Masters of Sex" by Thomas Maier 1 13 Apr 02, 2009 07:24PM  
  • The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution
  • The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction
  • An Intimate Life: Sex, Love, and My Journey as a Surrogate Partner
  • Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America
  • Vera (Mrs.Vladimir Nabokov)
  • Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage
  • The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World
  • Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture
  • Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to the Extremes of Human Sexuality (and Everything in Between)
  • The Other Side of Desire: Four Journeys into the Far Realms of Lust and Longing
  • Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male
  • In the Kingdom of the Sick: A Social History of Chronic Illness in America
  • The Soul of Sex: Cultivating Life as an Act of Love
  • Virgin: The Untouched History
  • Big Sex Little Death: A Memoir
  • How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States
  • Unprotected Texts: The Bible's Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire
  • From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America
3997
Thomas Maier is the author of "WHEN LIONS ROAR: The Churchills and the Kennedys," published by Random House's Crown imprint. He is also the author and a producer of "MASTERS OF SEX", the Showtime series based on his book of the same name, which tells the story of researchers Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson. His other books include: "The Kennedys: America's Emerald Kings, which was adapted...more
More about Thomas Maier...
The Kennedys: America's Emerald Kings: A Five-Generation History of the Ultimate Irish-Catholic Family Dr. Spock: An American Life When Lions Roar: The Churchills and the Kennedys Newhouse: All the Glitter, Power, and Glory of America's Richest Media Empire and the Secretive Man Behind It Still Me/One of Ours: Timothy McVeigh & the Oklahoma City Bombing/A Walk in the Woods/Dr Spock: An American Life (Reader's Digest Today's Best Nonfiction, Volume 51: 1998)

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