Was The Real Bill Masters Just As Cold as The One On 'Masters of Sex'?
Before there was Dan Savage or a fictional Carrie Bradshaw slinging relationship advice and nabbing the sexpert moniker, there was Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, whose practical research laid the groundwork for much of our modern understanding of sexuality and intimacy. The television adaptation of their journey to unlock human arousal, Showtime's Masters of Sex , has been knocking it out of the park with a frank, uncensored portrayal of their work.
Michael Sheen brings a wonderful clinical edge to the licensed gynecologist turned revolutionary sex researcher. Sheehan's portrayal is a great pair to Lizzy Caplan's Johnson, who balances out the partnership as the one with a great bedside manner with patients but no actual medical degree or training. New discoveries aside, he does happen to be kind of a creeper on the show, given that he is married but hooking up with Johnson for science (but also probably for something more).
So, with qualities both inspiring and potentially terrifying, the question begs to be asked: just how realistic is the show's Dr. Bill compared to the real life Masters? He's surprisingly close, really... with a few adjustments here and there, of course.
USA Today reported on a conversation with clinical psychologist and sex therapist Ruth Clifford, who worked with Masters in the 1970s. Clifford recalls Masters as "charming" and "seductive" and that she saw no real affection between him and Johnson, despite the fact the two were married at the time. Also consulted in the piece is Robert Kolodny who worked with the pair, and he sings Johnson's social praises, saying while Masters was the medical professional, he wouldn't have been able to create a successful program without Johnson's common real life sense and people skills.
That common sense couldn't override Masters' ambitions though. It's believed Masters largely fabricated research dedicated to "homosexual conversion." While his research of gay and lesbian sexual mechanics was progressive for its time, his assertion that 70 percent of gay people he treated "reverted" to heterosexuality was never able to be corroborated with hard facts. The discrepancy between fact and fiction was so great, that later in life Johnson was quoted as saying their 1979 book Homosexuality in Perspective was "a bad book."
So what about his sort of unethical initial coupling with Johnson? The creep factor is real. As reported in The New Yorker, Johnson says she "didn't want him" and the whole thing was pretty much instigated by Masters. It sounds even worse when you look at it through the lens of workplace behavior; if Johnson didn't put out, she probably wouldn't have had a job and the opportunity to become a famous sex researcher.
The New Yorker points out that the show portrays this as a kind of humorous moment, what with Masters' scientific speak and such. But compounded with his hubristic ambition and love of his research above all, it's not hard to imagine the real Masters as being just a little bit forceful.
However complicated the man, he was still the founder of some fascinating and groundbreaking research, making him quite the captivating enigma. Basically, if you're not watching Masters of Sex yet, you really really should.
Images: Showtime; Giphy