For a show more or less billed as Mad Men with sex researchers, Masters of Sex's first episode seems to know very little about sex. Based off a biography of Masters and Johnson, two sex researchers whose story is like a fairy tale for our age. According to the quite self-regarding summary Masters of Sex provides, "When an OB-GYN met a former nightclub singer, 10 years later, they would revolutionize our understanding of sexuality."
Perhaps the revolution isn't being televised.
Yes, it's easy to say that it was the past (1956, to be precise) but really, there were vibrators in Sears catalogs by the 1950s—though, they were usually billed as home appliances for all those hysterical women. (All those crazy women with their crazy urges, you know.)
But this is a new cultural artifact that's being created now and there seems something incredibly backward about a show which early on, its supposedly brilliant sex researcher asks completely flabbergasted, "You pretended to have an orgasm? Is that a common practice among prostitutes?"
"It's a common practice amongst anyone with a twat? Women fake orgasms, almost all of them although I haven't checked my clipboard lately," the prostitute responds.
"Why, why would a woman lie about something like that?" he asks. Whether it was supposed to be the 1950s or not. We are living in the post-When Harry Met Sally, Sex and the City-age.
At its core, Masters of Sex is an opposites attract drama about a woman who is emotive, empathetic, and sexual, and a man who is intellectual, chilly, and closed off in the sexual realm.
In the opening scene, as Dr. Masters is given a prize, the presenter says of him, "The man we're honoring tonight is a visionary in every sense of the word." Later on, the line feels like a joke—to say he's so aware of women and babies when he has sex with his wife without any foreplay, or awareness that she has feelings which are just as important as baby or no baby.
Masters later describes his practice as "a revolving door of cripples." he says, women who are confused and unhappy with their lives, their sex lives. "I'm the only one who sees it."
"The truth is that nobody understands sex."
And yet, Johnson seems to get the complexity of the venn diagram which is sex, and love ("I think that women often confuse love with physical attraction… women often think that sex and love are the same thing but they don't have to be. They don't even have to go together.") and is a woman who knows how to ask for cunnilingus in bed.
Most of the experiments in the first episode revolve around women and their reactions during orgasm. But between Masters and Johnson, she seems to already know. Science just has to catch up.