(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Alfred Kinsey had completed and published two volumes of research concerning the attitudes of Americans toward sex and issues related to sex, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953). These books were widely quoted, frequently stolen from libraries, and banned in many communities. Their popularity demonstrated a desire among many individuals and groups to discuss openly issues relating to sex, a subject that was simply not discussed in polite company. Human sexuality was poorly understood by both the general public and the medical community, which could diagnose diseases but lacked information on sexual disorders.

William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson’s seminal work, Human Sexual Response, directly examined the subject of human sexuality. Masters was a practicing physician and Johnson was trained as a nurse. For several years, they gathered data for the book by observing more than six hundred volunteers age eighteen to eighty-nine engaged in various sexual acts in laboratory conditions rather than by interviewing people, as Kinsey had done.

In their book, Masters and Johnson documented the physiology of sex in great detail. They provided a broad, detailed view of the female sexual response, with chapters on the clitoris, vagina, uterus, and female orgasm, and of the male sexual response, examining in turn the penis, scrotum, and male orgasm. The book, meant for practicing professionals, was well- written but scholarly and somewhat dry. To the amazement of most social critics and the book’s publishers and authors, Human Sexual Response became a national best- seller.

Masters and Johnson were largely responsible for destroying the myth that sexual activity had to cease with advancing age. They published data demonstrating that older people were physiologically capable of normal sexual functioning. They also demonstrated that the sexual response was similar in men and women. The book provided measurements of the physiological patterns in the sexual response cycle.