I've watched almost every season of Masters of Sex on Showtime. William Masters and Virginia Johnson were pioneers in the field of human sexuality, actually watching human subjects engage in sexual activity while hooked up to equipment to record and monitor their physiological responses. They identified four stages of sexual response; stimulation, plateau, orgasm, and recovery. While conservative 1950s society initially rejected the work as "smut" and "pornography," the medical community eventually accepted their work as important in family planning. The most fascinating part of the show for me is the relationship between Bill and Virginia. Bill is a married man who freely admits to being sexually ignorant and wants to understand more about the female body. He coerces Virginia into sleeping with him as part of his experiments. While Virginia exerts control in many ways and even leverages the affair to move her career forward, she is ultimately a victim of the male-dominated times and medical industry. As a secretary, Bill promoted her to research assistant, but discouraged her from finishing her degree in psychology, even going so far as to increase her workload excessively. Bill was a demanding, insecure boss who justified his own moral dilemmas with the pretense of work. Virginia insisted on pursuing her own sexual satisfaction with a variety of lovers, even as a single mother. Virginia's progressive and somewhat sociopathic sexual behavior irritated Bill to no end who was incapable of sex without emotional attachment. Virginia is a wonderfully complex woman, both heroic and feminist and despicable and calloused. The show continues to fascinate as the viewer questions is Virginia a hero or a victim? Is Bill pitiable or despicable? And ultimately, who is really in control? The endless exchange of power while Bill grasps at greatness and medical credibility and Virginia seeks to secure parity and personal fulfillment is a great reflection of the changing gender roles of the times.
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