“The Scent of Love”
by Thomas Maier
Excerpted from “Masters of Sex”
If birds and bees do it, then surely human beings rely on a sense of smell in sexual selection. Olfaction must play a hidden role in the allure between men and women, the sweet and musky odors that excite the senses and signal the inevitability of love. That was the long-held belief of Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson after years of study.
Their second book, Human Sexual Inadequacy, underlined the “tremendous undeveloped potential” of smell in affecting human sexual behavior. Sex pheromones—scents that somehow sparked a natural behavioral response—remained uncharted territory in science.
Yet food and fragrance companies, looking for possible methods to make money from this untapped chemistry of desire, turned to the Reproductive Biology Research Foundation run by Masters and Johnson. In a way that government refused to do, these private firms provided grant money to explore this missing link of sexual attraction.
At Masters and Johnson’s clinic, endocrinologist Joan Bauman investigated female scents under funding from the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit financed by the food, beverage, fragrance, and pharmaceutical industries. “They were interested in developing perfumes that would be pheromonal—in other words, they would stimulate sexual feelings,” she remembered.
In this search, the biggest supporter of Bill and Virginia’s work was International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. (IFF) and its charismatic chairman, Henry G. Walter Jr., better known as Hank. His multimillion-dollar global conglomerate provided smells and tastes for a wide variety of products, from lemon-scented furniture polish to chocolate flavor in Cocoa Puffs, the breakfast cereal. Most profitably, IFF provided scents for perfume makers like Revlon and Estée Lauder. By extracting the pheromones from gypsy moths, it synthesized a sex attractant used by Jovan in perfumes for women and colognes for men.
Hank searched the world for a new taste or aroma to adapt to the marketplace. “In China they have floral preparations that make people go to sleep,” he once observed. “Fragrances operate on the same part of the brain as opiates. Maybe we can develop odor equivalents to Valium without the side-effects.” He called his business “the sex and hunger industry.”
At age fifty-seven, Hank Walter exuded health and vitality, capable of riding a bicycle across Manhattan to his office with the speed and dexterity of a messenger boy. With a nest of neatly coiffed hair and tight, tanned skin, he looked out at the world through thick glasses and with a cocksure smile. A Fortune magazine writer later described him as “one of the most distinctive chief executives I’ve ever met—an earthy, saucy kind of guy. . . . His language is earthy, rich in sexual allusion.”
In the office, he avoided the usual gray flannel of corporate chieftains and wore unconventional red suspenders, decorated sometimes by skunks or shamrocks. During
a tedious meeting with security analysts at a posh club in London, Hank stripped off his shirt and rubbed himself with IFF-scented lotion. “I think I woke them up,” he later said with a gleam in his eye.
Helping to create the Monell Center in 1968, Hank theorized that women emitted pheromones that weren’t easily detected by the human nose. He wanted to develop fragrances that would “amplify the odor signal” or “sharpen the odor receptors.” Without
much difficulty, he enlisted Bill Masters to capitalize on the scents of love. They exchanged several letters over the years on this topic, with an occasional check enclosed for the clinic. Hank suggested several ideas to be pursued. “If you think the whole idea is crazy, please say so, or if you think some other variation of it is desirable, also please say so,” he told Bill in foisting his grand plan.
By far, their biggest success with Hank involved IFF-scented lotions used in sex therapy. Before entering the bedroom, couples received lotions with commercial fragrances, labeled by IFF as masculine or feminine. Four bouquet scents—floral; a mossy green; a floral/woody blend; and “oriental”—were feminine. Aromas on
the menu marked as masculine included lavender bouquet; modern
ambery; sweet bouquet; citrus bouquet; fresh citrus plus woody,
floral bouquet; and a sharp fragrance with balsamic notes.
If couples found one smell objectionable, they switched to another lotion, unscented if they preferred. Of one hundred couples studied, many enjoyed the sensual experience of massaging the glistening cream along their naked skin, helping them overcome their own hang-ups about seminal fluid or vaginal lubrication. Without any
clear-cut conclusions, Bill and Gini found that lotion rubbing could be an accurate barometer of difficulty ahead in the therapy. Of the eighteen couples who rejected the lotions as “juvenile, undignified, unmeaningful, or that they got nothing from the lotion,” more than three-quarters failed to reverse their overall sexual problems during the two-week treatment. In Human Sexual Inadequacy, the two researchers called for more comprehensive olfactory research, convinced they were on to something.
While Hank applauded his company’s contributions in treating sexual dysfunction, he pushed for commercial products for the general public. Imagine, he wrote to Bill, if the study of pheromones in human females could result in a “pleasurable fragrance” sprayed on millions? Were they on the verge of finding an aphrodisiac for the weary, a fountain of youth for the old and shriveled, an over-the-counter rival to the pill’s effectiveness in detecting ovulation in a way that not even the Vatican could object? If they could identify the pheromone that “marks the actual date of ovulation in each
cycle,” women could use it as a natural early-warning system “able
to avoid contraception by avoiding intercourse during the relatively
short fertile ovulatory period,” Hank theorized.
Undoubtedly, the possible bonanza from such a natural-based enticement was well worth an occasional $5,000 or $10,000 tax-deductible check from IFF and its affiliates. As a savvy patron, Hank appealed to Bill’s scientific curiosity, with the smell of money clearly in mind. “How can we best push forward this whole field of investigation?” he urged Bill. “The goals are high and the methodology does not risk interference with bodily function a la the pill or conflict with religious
teachings. The end product should be very cheap.”
While Bill valued this monetary contribution to the clinic, Gini steadily grew interested in Hank Walter himself. After the publication of Human Sexual Response in 1966, Hank’s staff
contacted Bill and Gini “as an exploratory thing, knowing who we were, by publicity,” she recalled. “They wanted to know if there was any interrelatedness between the kind of developmental work
that they did and what we did.”
With Hank’s help, Gini developed the idea of rubbing lotion across the skin as a “medium of exchange” between lovers during sensate therapy sessions. At times, she sounded like an Avon lady, talking so effusively about Hank’s specially designed product. “Gini was doing the smell research with the sensate [therapy] and at times it was as if she had trouble staying focused on the therapy,” said Dr. Marshall Shearer, one of the staffers in the early 1970s. “She would spend fifteen minutes talking about these scents, and another fifteen minutes interviewing them about which they liked better.”
Hank was an older, yet virile man of considerable accomplishment who showered Virginia with attention and delighted in her presence. More handsome than Masters and loaded with money, Hank promised to go anywhere in the world as long as she followed. But Hank was also married. For a time, his marital status may have made it easier for her to consider just a fling. Eventually, though, Hank came along on Virginia’s family vacations, such as a trip to a dude ranch, where their romance intensified and they conversed about being together permanently.
it,” Virginia said. “He said, ‘It’s going to cost me several million
to really divest myself of this marriage I am in, but I will do it because
I want you with me all the time.’”
Despite her fame and increasing fortune after Human Sexual
Inadequacy appeared, Gini had never felt so vulnerable, so open to
such a tempting offer. With Hank’s sophisticated charm, his affection
and sexual magnetism, he offered her both love and escape.
After twelve exhausting years, she longed to leave her partnership with Bill, to give up the ceaseless scientific expedition. She knew full well that Bill had given her so much, the satisfaction of seeing her own theories translated and amazingly accepted by organized medicine. Yet her personal relationship with him, for all of its physical and professional intimacy, never had the tenderness of real love. She had learned to have sex with Bill—at first as part of the implicit job description, but eventually as a way to satisfy her own desires as an unmarried forty-year-old woman with children. She’d learned to become watchful of his moods, anticipate and tend to nearly all of his needs. But now that they had achieved their goals—appearing on television, newspapers, and the cover of Time
magazine—she wanted to let go, be free of Bill Masters.
“I probably never had loved him,” Gini reflected years later. “We had in common a real devotion to a sexual relationship and that was probably the strongest common denominator that we had.”
Regardless of the complexities of their lives, getting married to Hank might be just the answer her family needed. Deep down, Gini felt remorse about the time she had spent away from her children while they were growing up. “The amount of time she spent in research laboratory was unbelievable,” Bill later wrote. “She was either actively working or on call seven days and three nights a week. In addition, she had two small children at home for whom she was
responsible. To this day, I don’t know how she managed.” She went through a series of housekeepers and babysitters who stayed with Scott and Lisa. Now that her kids were teenagers, she hoped to make
up for lost time. In this new life with Hank, she could change her name once more, so no one would bother her or her family.
Over time, however, their secret affair only became more tangled. During a business trip to New York, Hank invited Bill and Gini to his spacious Manhattan apartment where he lived with his wife, Rosalind. During World War II, Rosalind worked as a riveter building fighter planes on Long Island and supposedly inspired the song “Rosie the Riveter.”
“Roz was a dear lady and Bill and I were good friends with Hank,” Gini recalled. “We were in their home quite a lot.”
Neither Bill nor Roz seemed to sense a romance brewing between Gini and Hank. “She didn’t guess because she used to confide in me a lot,” said Gini, who felt a tinge of discomfort listening to Hank’s wife talk of their marriage, just as Libby talked about Bill. “It was a weird position to be in. He was charmed by her and she was a lovely, charming woman—I liked her very much. But they were just so out of tune with one another. There was nothing I could tell her. I couldn’t fix it. I couldn’t make her into what he wanted, or vice versa.”
Years later, when asked about Gini’s claims that she’d considered marrying Hank, Rosalind Walter gave a blunt reply. “It makes sense,” Rosalind said. “She could join the group—a lot of ladies admired my husband.” Upon reflection, Rosalind expressed dismay about such claims, suggesting it was no one’s business, but acknowledged she was none the wiser at the time. “My husband was an extraordinarily intelligent and interesting person,” she said. “He was interested in the work that they did because of his business with IFF. He did pursue it and write about it and read everything they wrote and visited them. Other than that, I know nothing.”
Back in St. Louis, most staffers had no idea of Gini’s affair with one of their wealthiest patrons. In a clinic filled with secrets, this was the least known. Gini assumed Dr. Robert Kolodny might figure out what was going on because he dealt regularly with Hank on the clinic’s studies, yet she didn’t actually confide in him until years later.
“Gini at an earlier time told me that she seduced him,” Bob Kolodny recalled. “I think she sort of hinted around at that. I find it very hard to believe [though] that he would have divorced his wife.” While very different in style, Kolodny liked Hank Walter, who spoke with the confidence of a self-made man and fancied himself a bit of a Casanova. “He talked with me rather boastfully over a few dinners and a bottle of wine about his sexual escapades around the world,” said Kolodny. “He certainly painted very clearly that he felt he could seduce just about any woman around. And he recognized part of that was the allure of his wealth.”
Bill remained clueless until Hank took one of his visits to the St. Louis clinic. Usually on these occasions, Masters and sometimes Kolodny would join Gini in taking their New York patron out to a local restaurant. On this particular night, though, Gini left her kids with the housekeeper so she could entertain Hank alone. That night, she had a marvelous time with him, laughing and conversing about their dreams of seeing the world together. Nights like these reminded her of how much she enjoyed being with him.
her all night, to no avail. “I got home and my housekeeper
had a whole series of notes of the time of that evening that he
called—all these messages from my housekeeper, with the times
11:30, 12:45, 1:50—the number of times that Bill had called,” recalled
Gini. “That night, I wasn’t home and he knew that this man
was in town, so he [Bill] put two and two together. He was not a
stupid man. So he read the handwriting on the wall there, and
that’s when he got into gear.”
The next day at the clinic, Bill confronted her about Hank. She had never seen her partner so upset with her. His face wasn’t angry as much as worried; his whole demeanor appeared thrown for a loss. “Bill was really afraid that I would marry him,” she said.
“He was startled.”
She made no attempt at hiding the truth of her relationship with this other man. Whatever doubts she harbored about marrying Hank, she didn’t show them. At this point, Bill didn’t deserve any more information than she was willing to reveal. She didn’t want to be manipulated or talked out of doing the right thing for herself and her children. For years, he’d known of her intent to marry again. Bill’s own actions seemed to assume she would never act upon her personal wishes as long as their work remained compelling, as long as their duplicitous affair remained satisfying and concealed, as long as Libby stayed home with the kids, and as long as the income and renown continued from their Masters and Johnson name.
“If you leave, the work will be destroyed!” insisted Bill. He
looked like a man who was about to lose everything.
For the first time in his life, Bill wasn’t sure what Gini might
do. He knew Hank was a formidable contender, a man quite capable
of providing anything she wanted or needed.
Perhaps Bill felt jealous, suddenly realizing that the “perfect woman” he had
trained and elevated was about to leave him. He didn’t plan to stand
around and watch their partnership fall apart. Convinced this threat
was real, Bill resolved to do something about it.