Home Emotional aspects of sexuality Bill Masters & Virginia Johnson’s research (1966)

Bill Masters & Virginia Johnson’s research (1966)

William Masters and Virginia Johnson observed random volunteer couples having intercourse in the laboratory. This laboratory-based approach was much more popular than Alfred Kinsey’s complex statistical approach. People are easily impressed by anyone wearing a white laboratory coat. We assume they must be applying scientific principles. Likewise, the process of observing sexual activity satisfies our expectation for empirical evidence. Female orgasm was simply assumed to occur as a result of intercourse.

Their sample made no attempt to be representative of the average woman in the population. Their approach involved selecting women who believed they had orgasms from intercourse. The objective was political rather than scientific. The implication was that if it can be shown that one woman thinks she has an orgasm from intercourse then every woman can be convinced that she should orgasm from intercourse. These findings were popular because they promoted intercourse as a means of pleasuring women.

Masters and Johnson accepted Kinsey’s conclusion that the clitoris was the female sex organ and source of female orgasm. They simply assumed that the clitoris was indirectly stimulated during intercourse. They suggested that the area of skin around the clitoris is stretched or pulled as the penis thrusts into the vagina, thus providing enough clitoral stimulation for orgasm. Later Shere Hite suggested this stimulation did not cause orgasm in most women.

Virginia Johnson started out as Bill Masters’ assistant. Given she was not his professional equal, she would have lacked the authority to challenge his views. Later they married. Given she was involved in a sexual relationship with him, she could hardly be deemed an objective researcher. Neither would she be the first woman to mistake emotional sensations for orgasm.

Masters & Johnson are famous sex researchers but no one reads their book today. Unlike Kinsey and Hite, Masters and Johnson’s work produced no detailed research findings. Anyone who reads their book will find it difficult to identify any scientific conclusions drawn from their work. Their analysis, being vague and lacking objectivity, has little impact on modern sexology.

Scientists (who are often male) assume that a woman must have had an orgasm simply because her body returns to its normal state once sexual activity ceases. There are many physiological changes that occur in the human body during sexual activity. Such changes are observed in other mammals, both male and female. But only the male provides evidence of orgasm. Rather than ask women, modern researchers use machines to prove that a woman has had an orgasm. They measure increases in electrical impulses, blood-flow or vaginal secretions that they assume are evidence of arousal even though these women may not be conscious of any pleasure.

Regardless of what we call such phenomena, they do not prove that women experience sexual pleasure in the way that men do. Researchers ignore the role of psychological arousal in women’s accounts of orgasm because so few women consider it necessary. This is clear evidence that they have never experienced erotic arousal. For men, the arousal process is trivial but few women ever discover how their minds might respond to erotic stimuli.

Our body responds to a fight or flight situation by producing adrenaline. Adrenaline in the bloodstream increases our heart rate and rate of breathing in anticipation of exertion. In a sexual situation, a male animal potentially anticipates a struggle if he needs to subdue a female into accepting intercourse. A female is potentially in a flight situation. Both of these fight and flight situations cause the increased blood flow necessary for arousal.

But only a man is conscious of being erotically aroused. Likewise, even with orgasm we may not always experience pleasure. For example, if a man ejaculates then he must have had an orgasm because orgasm is the trigger for ejaculation. But there may be no accompanying psychological pleasure. The quality of the orgasm we have, our sexual satisfaction, is primarily linked to the effectiveness of the erotic stimuli that cause our mental arousal. Examples could include using a new sexual fantasy, having a new partner, engaging in adventurous sex play or having sex in unusual surroundings.

Sex research is not considered a priority in our society partly because of the taboo but also because no one has been able to convince society that there is a scientific way of analysing such an emotional topic. For political and emotional reasons, men are motivated to establish that women can enjoy intercourse (this is equated to being able to orgasm from the activity) just as men do. Any research that supports intercourse as a means of providing female orgasm is promoted. Research that contradicts that belief is ignored.

Men’s sex drive motivates them to want women to be amenable to engaging in more intercourse. For the same reason, women also want to know how they could enjoy intercourse because men expect it from them. Any facts or logic, that might explain why women cannot respond as men want, are ignored because it does not help solve the problem. This is an endless search because no one can accept the evidence of their own experiences.

Women, on the other hand, can become physically aroused (increased blood flow in the reproductive organs) without becoming psychologically aroused even in the slightest. (Robert Weiss 2014)