Lives of Legendary Wash. U. Sex Researchers to Become TV Series


That's Masters, in the bow tie. Would you have sex with this man in order to advance human understanding?
  • That's Masters, in the bow tie. Would you have sex with this man in order to advance human understanding?

It's really amazing nobody has thought of this before.

Back in 1955, William Masters, a member of the OB/GYN faculty at Washington University, decided to undertake a definitive study of female sexuality. With the blessing of the St. Louis chief of police and the archbishop, he began spending his evenings hunkered down in brothels spying on prostitutes and their johns, collecting data on the length of each encounter and "the points of entry and departure." The whole operation was rendered scientific because Masters insisted upon wearing a lab coat and a bow tie.

Two years into the project, a secretary in Masters' OB/GYN clinic named Virginia Johnson pointed out a couple of obvious facts: that the sexual habits of prostitutes were hardly typical and that Masters did not know shit about women. Masters humbly agreed and made her a proposition: that she should become his research partner, and that the research would involve them having lots and lots of sex together.

Johnson claimed to have no sexual interest in Masters whatsoever, but she accepted his proposition, in the name of science.

Their long and fruitful partnership resulted in the now-classic tome Human Sexual Response, the founding of the Masters & Johnson Institute, a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame and, most weirdly, a marriage that killed their sex life. It was all chronicled in Thomas Maier's 2009 biography Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love.

Now Showtime has announced plans to turn Maier's book into a TV series. The network has greenlit a pilot, to be written by Michelle Ashford, the screenwriter behind John Adams and The Pacific. It's brilliant, really: a combination of serious scientific research, Mad Men fashion and lots and lots of sex. And it happened right here in St. Louis!


Riverfront Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of St. Louis and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep St. Louis' true free press free.