"Masters of Sex" Takes London and UK by Storm; Looks like a Hit, Mate; Anglo-American Unity is Affirmed with Import Show about Sex and Love

"Masters of Sex" -- both the show and book -- is taking London by storm, with tons of reviews and stories about the debut there this past week.

The Guardian weighs in on the new edition of the book that was released along with the new show, airing on Channel 4 in UK. "Maier offers a fascinating insight into the origins of America's sexual revolution," says the Guardian. 

The Daily Mail was wonderful to the show and had extremely nice words to say about the book. "Thomas Maier’s account is as thorough as it’s briskly paced. Full of shrewdness and sympathy, it also vividly evokes the spirit of the times," wrote the Daily Mail. "But perhaps most importantly of all, he’s nailed the central paradox that lies at the heart of the story. Masters of sex they may have been, yet in every other respect Masters and Johnson were hopelessly, almost childishly, na├»ve," said the Daily Mail.

And on Sunday, The Sunday Times of London asked me to write this essay below. Hope you enjoy:

Let’s talk about sex: A TV drama about the 1950s sex researchers Masters and Johnson proves we may now know all about desire but are still mystified by love

Thomas Maier Published: 6 October 2013
On the Hollywood set of Masters of Sex, the new American television drama, I watched Michael Sheen play Dr William Masters, marvelling at how he captured all the pent-up intensity of this world-famous sex researcher.
For nearly four decades, Masters was fascinated by his female associate Virginia Johnson (played by Lizzy Caplan). In secret, they conducted the largest sex experiment in US history, with hundreds of volunteers (portrayed by various naked supporting cast members in the show), hoping to win a Nobel prize in medicine.
The lives of Masters and Johnson and their relationship were emotionally intense, brimming with enough ambition, lust, risk-taking and backstage drama to fill a soap opera. Johnson, in particular, provided a new understanding of female sexuality, and their work proved the existence of female multiple orgasms.
Yet like many men, Masters found it difficult to express love.
When we chatted about his character, Sheen asked me — as the author of the book that inspired the TV series — about that paradox. Did Masters, a demanding control freak, ever really love Johnson? “Absolutely he’s in love with her,” I told Sheen, “but he always had difficulty showing it.”
He wasn’t the only one. When Masters and Johnson began their ground-breaking sex research in the 1950s, America was a prudish place, full of taboos and misconceptions. Looking back, it is easy to feel smug and nostalgic, as if we now have all the clinical answers. But in many ways, we remain as clueless about love as those a half century ago.
Today, we are flooded with information about Viagra and how-to manuals, but studies still show the same level of sexual dysfunction among adults as in the 1950s. We live in an age of pornography, where young people are expected to perform in the bedroom like the actors they see.
Yet for all the scientific details we received from experts such as Masters and Johnson, many of the eternal questions about human intimacy — the essential but often elusive communication between a couple — remain a mystery.
Masters and Johnson were keenly aware of this paradox. After their first clinical books became bestsellers, they realised the pendulum had swung too far. They spent the 1970s writing books and magazine articles specifically about “human loving”, designed to help couples balance things in their relationships, and not make everything about sexual performance.
After a decade of dispensing much-needed medical information, fuelling America’s so-called sexual revolution in the 1960s, they sensed the public longed for an emotional commitment that went beyond mere physical urges. Somehow their efforts to rid Americans of crippling sexual ignorance became linked with a popular culture saturated in pornographic films such as Deep Throat, sex dens such as Plato’s Retreat in Manhattan, and soft-core cable television glimmering nightly throughout the American heartland.
For years, these researchers from St Louis, Missouri, deliberately avoided the word love, usually at Masters’s insistence. “It means many different things to different people,” he declared.
Gradually, Johnson seemed bothered by criticism that their studies had tended to detach sex from emotion. In therapy sessions, her advice often tried to place sex in the context of human loving. By then married to each other, Masters and Johnson now spoke of the warm and comforting interplay between sex and love in ways they had once avoided with clinical precision.
The sexual revolution they helped to create had a profound impact. In a decade, the birth-control pill and other medical advances had allowed women far greater ability to control their own bodies, redefining the laws and social codes that once ruled their lives. The work of Masters and Johnson challenged Freud’s male-dominated theories about sex and underlined the power of female sexuality. Yet Masters and Johnson cautioned that this freedom could go too far, creating an ethical ambiguity that discouraged faithful commitment and opened the door to libertines.
In their own personal lives, Masters and Johnson kept searching for love with great difficulty. Johnson was twice-divorced with two children when she began the studies in 1956 with Masters, an unhappily married university gynaecologist with two children, living in the suburbs. As a condition of working together, Masters required Johnson to have sex with him, and they went on to have a long-term affair. When they married in 1971, they did so as much for business reasons — keeping their brand-name partnership together — as for love.
Twenty years later they divorced, without children. They told friends and family that they had never loved each other, though their close collaboration and fascination with each other belied that claim. Before he died in 2001, Masters married his long-lost college sweetheart, and Johnson began a similar Proustian search for her high-school beau to whom she lost her virginity. She died in July this year still wondering what love is all about.
“I can remember saying out loud — and I’m appalled as I remember it — being very pleased that I could be anything any man wanted me to be,” Johnson told me late in life. “In retrospect, I ask myself, ‘Jeez, did I lose myself that totally?’ But I was very much a product of my time, of the era.”
Today the same elusiveness about love exists in our modern “hook-up” culture. A new inarticulateness is wrapped in a worldly veneer of graphic language and images, but many of us remain essentially clueless about deep emotion. Although we are a society saturated with sex, we often seem to have learnt nothing. A 1999 study showed sexual dysfunction — the focus of Masters and Johnson’s lifelong work — is still a problem, and more prevalent in women (43%) than in men (31%) .
Experts say many men still struggle with intimacy, empathy and a respect for the common humanity of their sex partners. They often view women not as caring human beings but rather as video-game holograms or blow-up dolls.
As Masters and Johnson underlined late in their career, knowledge of carnal functions cannot replace wisdom of the heart. Our TV show portrays their sex studies with great candour and detail. But fundamentally their story is about this elusive search for love, something that is eternal. And it is as much of a challenge for this generation as it was for those in the past.
Masters of Sex begins on Tuesday at 9pm on Channel 4