Monday, June 15, 2009

Thomas Maier's "Masters of Sex"

Thomas Maier is the author of The Kennedys: America’s Emerald Kings, which was adapted for Warner Home Video DVD, and the critically acclaimed Dr. Spock, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 1999. He is a special writer at Newsday.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford's theory about Page 99 has never been more vividly demonstrated than in my biography Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love. Masters and Johnson's primary work dealt with the scientific study of sex, and their key findings underlined the power of female sexuality. On page 99, Paul Gebhard of the Kinsey Institute recalls his visit to M&J's medical lab at Washington University, where he was invited to observe how they observed women volunteers having sexual orgasm.

Here's the Page 99 excerpt:

Bill and Gini motioned him to follow them into a green-colored examination room nearby. In the middle of this sparse, almost empty room was the chaise lounge chair, a baseboard riddled with electrical outlets and another machine, best described by Gebhard as "a motor-powered, plexiglass phallus." Masters, a proud progenitor, beamed with satisfaction as he explained its gadgetry.

"Well, do you want to see it in action?" Masters demanded.

Though the question caught him by surprise, Gebhard quickly agreed. Gini disappeared into another room and returned several minutes later with the anonymous female graduate student wearing a pillowcase over her head.

When everyone was ready, the young woman rested on the leather-padded lounge chair, with her feet in stirrups and her body nearly flat. Her pink, bare skin was fitted with numerous dark wires connected to a bulky electroencephalograph machine, which hummed, whirled and beeped. A tiny television screen tracked the swirling patterns of electrical impulses coming from her brain. Little sensors attached to the woman's breasts monitored each heart beat, recorded in squiggly lines across white paper rolling out slowly from an electrocardiograph machine. These tools served as a kind of sexual polygraph, as detectors of the truth in an area so often filled with exaggeration and lies.

In the meantime, Masters grabbed a metal office chair, which he placed in front of the chaise. He instructed Gebhard to sit down if he wished to observe the inner actions of the vagina and cervix during this experiment. Gebhard found himself within two feet of the young woman's opened legs, close enough to stare through the optical lens of the long-stemmed device.

"Keep your eye some distance from the end of the phallus or you'll get poked!" Masters advised, after Gini removed the warm towel. Bill allowed a slight grin before returning to his studied grimace.

With the machinery in place, Masters gazed around the room. He made sure the color camera was turned on, and his staff ready to register and tabulate each reaction. Once settled, the young woman was handed "Ulysses" -- the nickname given to the cylindrical plastic device. Among the staff, it seemed only natural to call this one-eyed monstrosity "Ulysses", the same name as a recently-released Kirk Douglas movie featuring a giant cyclops. Gebhard viewed the fully illuminated vaginal cavity through the camera-like lens with remarkable clarity. "It was completely transparent,” he remembered.

At her own speed, the young woman in the chair rubbed "Ulysses” against her labia, first gently and then firmly. She massaged the moist outer lips of her vagina, enough so that the plastic device made a slight scratchy sound against her public hair. She followed a prepared routine, as if she had been trained to perform certain practices for the benefit of her clinical audience. Eventually, she felt a rush of blood and energy with her vulva feeling lubricated. She slipped the device inside almost effortlessly, with barely any pressure at all.

For the next few minutes, the entire room seemed caught up in a minuet of movement, syncopated to the young woman's thrusting of “Ulysses” into her vagina and the chronicling of each impulse it provoked. As tension rose and her climax neared, the woman's body glistened with sweat. The room’s warmth, monitored carefully by Gini, now felt even hotter. In those days, Maternity Hospital didn’t have air-conditioning and climate control became a critical factor in testing the volunteers’ physiologic response. The young woman threw her head back, wiggling her hips up and down, sideways and back. To reach the stated goal of orgasm, she’d been instructed beforehand on controlling the motorized device, increasing the rapidity and depth of its plunging as she desired. Rather than convulsing in ecstasy, however, she appeared relatively calm. Her simulated love-making appeared almost workman-like.

Gini and Bill scribbled notes while watching the machines and the young woman's gyrations. Gebhard kept watching through the plexiglass device with utter amazement, enough that he lost track of its thrusting motion. "She speeded it up too much, and the phallus came back and hit me in the eye." Gebhard recalled. Flustered after being struck by a mechanical dildo, Gebhard said he “kept my eye a little further away from the phallus, so it wouldn’t happen again." Despite years of study at the Kinsey Institute, Gebhard felt as if he were observing sex for the first time. As the woman neared climax, he recalled, "I got to see the cervix sort of retreat up into the recesses of the uterus and become more prominent. Eventually she did have an orgasm and that did not take too much time.”

Through this looking glass widget, Gebhard confirmed Masters’ significant discovery that dispelled a longstanding -- but fundamentally incorrect -- medical belief about a woman’s body prior to orgasm. Bill and Gini showed that vaginal lubrication during intercourse didn’t pour forth from the Bartholin’s gland, located in each of the minor labia, as believed by organized medicine. Nor did it come from the cervix, as others theorized. Instead, they discovered “a transudation-like reaction” of mucous material, seeping or “sweating” through the walls of the vagina. It formed a smooth, glistening coating, like perspiration on an athlete’s forehead. It left a woman sufficiently lubricated usually within less than 30 seconds of initial sexual excitement. This basic misunderstanding about a woman’s sexual response existed for decades before corrected with direct scientific observation by Masters and Johnson. As Gebhard said, “You had to have a researcher like Bill, because no other way were you going to find out.”

When the young woman finished, she put her clothes back on, picked up her money and returned to life on campus. Masters and Johnson counted her among more than a dozen females recruited in the early days of their study. Gebhard never learned her name. Her identity remained a tightly-kept secret. “Bill said nothing -- he watched," Gebhard remembered of the solemn demonstration that day. Once completed, however, Masters beamed with inventor’s pride. “‘Males hate this machine,” he quipped, “because invariably the females speed up the machine at a rate that no male can equal!’

Gebhard couldn’t resist a laugh. “I can understand that,” he replied.

Years later, Masters defended the supreme practicality of this Rube Goldberg-like device. “Doctors put mirrors inside the stomach to study the stomach,” he observed. “You do the same thing with the vagina and people say, ‘How dare you do that?”
Preview Masters of Sex, and learn more about the book and author at Thomas Maier's website.

--Marshal Zeringue