Celebrating Masters & Johnson's Human Sexual Response: A Washington University Legacy in Limbo

53 Washington University Journal of Law & Policy 71 (2017)

Washington University in St. Louis Legal Studies Research Paper

19 Pages Posted: 27 Dec 2018

See all articles by Susan Ekberg Stiritz

Susan Ekberg Stiritz

Washington University in St. Louis - George Warren Brown School of Social Work

Susan Frelich Appleton

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Date Written: March 1, 2017

Abstract

This essay, part of a collection written to celebrate the sesquicentennial of Washington University School of Law, seeks to revive an almost forgotten anniversary—the fiftieth year since the publication of Human Sexual Response by William Masters and Virginia Johnson, who did much of the early research for the book at Washington University. To the extent that the important story of their work survives, the credit belongs largely to a popular television series, Masters of Sex, not institutional recognition by the University that we argue should claim and celebrate them.

The story of Human Sexual Response—as it happened at Washington University and as it has been portrayed on television—raises questions of gender, sexuality, taboo, human research ethics, scientific method, academic freedom, and complicated personal and professional relationships. We consider these questions as well as what the story of Human Sexual Response teaches us about opportunities, perils, and possibilities for continuing progress in sexuality studies. We note, on the one hand, how the Masters of Sex series seems to trivialize a significant chapter in Washington University’s history and the history of sex research. On the other hand, we acknowledge how the television series saved the Masters and Johnson legacy from near-fatal neglect. Accordingly, with an eye on the future, we examine the relationship between the narrative portrayed on the screen and the literal truth that inspired it, evaluating both what we have lost and what we have gained from having television tell (and partly fictionalize) this story.

Keywords: sexualities, medical research, therapy, popular culture, history, gender, race

Suggested Citation

Stiritz, Susan Ekberg and Appleton, Susan Frelich, Celebrating Masters & Johnson's Human Sexual Response: A Washington University Legacy in Limbo (March 1, 2017). 53 Washington University Journal of Law & Policy 71 (2017); Washington University in St. Louis Legal Studies Research Paper . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3298443

Susan Ekberg Stiritz

Washington University in St. Louis - George Warren Brown School of Social Work ( email )

St. Louis, MO 63130
United States
314 422 0944 (Phone)

Susan Frelich Appleton (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

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