A television program about two sex researchers? I wasn’t drawn to it, but have changed my mind.
The story begins mildly titillating, with brazen prostitutes and daring civilians offering themselves to be viewed and analyzed scientifically while having sex. Masters, the dour, repressed genius, is convinced that finding out how sex works in human beings is a worthy subject, and those around him treat him as a voyeur, an obsessive, an odd and twisted soul. Smiles come hard to this man, and his sex life with his wife is everything people have nightmares about. Again and again in this series, we confront the untrue myths that we have built our civilization upon, the first of which is that men are insatiable. Masters merely, and rarely, does his duty by his wife, with little élan. Our cultural myths, more likely fairytales, do not embrace Mrs. Masters, the nice-girl-next-door who is ready for sexual adventure and far more willing than he.
In the series we observe for a scientifically verifiable fact that women fake it. Women use sex to get the material goods and prestige they want, for pleasure (especially Johnson), and to procreate. The men are sometimes like puppies when chasing a woman, and at other times like a violent beast. They give of their energies most readily when they don’t feel they are being entrapped.
I have read that there is a small cadre of humans who do not need sex, the Dalai Lama being one, but the truth is closer to the words of my former father-in-law, who worked in the Venereal Disease section of the Center for Disease Control, “Everybody does it.” This series paints the nuances of that almost universal truth in layers. People endanger their own professional and personal wellbeing to have homosexual affairs; they masturbate and peep; they have their needs and these needs are inevitably fulfilled one way or the other. Those who do not figure in our cultural myth are persecuted and disdained, outcast and alone. The outcasts find each other and live the full spectrum of their selves in chiaro and oscuro, sometimes in the light and sometimes in the dark.
But the moment I remember most is Dr. Masters, the genius obstetrician/gynecologist and sex researcher, the cool and lonely husband, the unwilling father-to-be, holding in his arms the dead grey baby he has just removed from his wife’s womb. That moment says yes, sex is the root of all life. It gathers us in through titillation and playfulness, through makeup and hairdos and Speedo bathing suits, and then, when we’ve had our fun, it unveils what it really meant — that sex is life itself. It draws us together, creates our families, prances through our workplaces, influences our votes, and categorizes our friends, lovers, and mates … among other things
Of course sex is not everything, but the series reminds us in a sweeping way that we ignore or avoid it at our peril. It gives enough examples of “deviation” to suggest the nooks and crannies of sexual expression and desire that are not discussed literally in the show. Our patterns are not voluntary, not traceable to any one cause, not controllable, and not uncommon. I linked the show to the many revelations I was privy to during the years when I was living what later has become my book, Searching for the Unicorn: a Picaresque Memoir. The star attorney who had regular trysts with an illegal immigrant Chinese manicurist who waited on him and tended to his every need. The Scottish husband, father, and businessman who spent an hour or so every afternoon on the Internet with cyberlovers. The radiologist who was powerfully attracted to hirsute women, very hirsute. The astrophysicist who abhorred vaginal sex, preferring anal and oral. The college professor who craved group sex. The doctor at one of New York’s most famous hospitals who stalked me telephonically, finally apologizing that he had not had sex in such a long time that he felt he was going insane.
Imagining the future, I cannot foresee how our cultural myths will change when intercourse is no longer required for procreation. If that ever happens, all the parts of our lives will be different. Everything.