'Masters of Sex' Proves that Science + Vaginas = A Real Conversation on Women's Sexuality

Clitoris! Vagina! Labia! Cervix! Orgasm! Uncomfortable? Well then maybe it's time you had a lesson. Like a science lesson, though, because it's time to have a frank discussion on lady sexuality. Sorry, boys, media, grandparents, and Republicans alike: Ladies be having and loving sex and there's nothing you can do about it, save deciding that you want to stop having sex with us women. Which is why everyone should be obsessed with Showtime's latest venture, Masters of Sex . On first glance, the Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen-starring series, which premiered Sunday night on Showtime, looks like pandering fare for the Mad Men set, but you'd be remiss to dismiss it as such. Because finally — oh god, oh god it feels so good! — there's a show that's having a really smart, cool, and fun conversation about ladies and sex.

Frank discussions of female sexuality are scarcely found in the media. These days it's more about women just trying to be afforded basic human things like body autonomy. So it's no surprise that these harder discussions are relegated to the sidelines. Because sex is really hard to talk about and we're really fucking fucked when it comes to our perceptions, representations, and acceptance (or lack thereof) of women as sexual creatures unless it's told through the lens of that oh-so forbidden desire. Especially on the well-monitored but so-buttoned-up-it-must-be-overheating medium that is TV. Everyone's an awkward weirdo about it: They'd rather pretend most of the portrayals on TV and in books (largely written by men, cough cough) are how it is, or act as if it doesn't exist at all. And even when women are the ones discussing sex, censors and morality police-types are quick to whitewash it over to make sure it's palatable for audiences. (Which, unfortunately, also makes sex talk less realistic.)

But Masters of Sex is doing things so, so right. The new series has pinpointed misunderstandings about in such an excellent way. Our protagonist is a man. A really smart, well-informed about ladybusiness, best-in-the-biz, OB-GYN doctor man at that: Dr. William Masters (played by Sheen). I mean, in last night's pilot alone, he was able to give a second chance at motherhood to an older African-American woman whose chances for conception were about 10 percent.

And given the era and all of the other external contexts, it's an impressive set-up to endear us to this man who so clearly just wants to help bring life into the world, but is woefully ignorant in the circuitry of female sexual satisfaction that makes all that a bit easier, so to speak. Which, in turn, makes it impossible to say, "Oh, well, he's a dude, so of course he's clueless," because clearly this is a man who is a master (pun obviously intended) in his field. He's probably seen more vaginas than most women have — which is great! Because it shows the audience that no matter how smart and educated you are, some knowledge cannot be learned, only experienced. Which is where Caplan's brilliant Virginia Johnson comes into the fold and opens up the possibility of Masters' kooky-but-brilliant little science experiment by adding one thing that's key to sex: passion and excitement.

It's hilarious to think about how much the media is obsessed with female sexuality as a marketing tool or idea to be sold, but only when it's used under willful ignorance. Because men want to be seen as the sexual pack leaders, the beasts that cannot be tamed of their own unquenchable thirst. When really it's women who are — in general — the far more sexual animal of the human race.

Sure, there have been other series that have discussed ladies and the sex they're having (ahem, Sex and the City), but those shows have largely introduced surface-level discourse staged fully within the scope of personal preference. But when you combine science and sex, well, then the conversation has to be elevated. Which means: Bring on the intelligent discourse! And when it comes to female orgasms, sexual organs, and the anatomy of how all that business works together and then feels for a woman? Intelligent discourse hasn't been so mainstream because, oh no! Everyone's scared. It's all har har har, what do you think this is, the 31st century? Because frank discussions and interest in how female sexuality works is a no-no. TV fans get squirmy. People behind the scenes are often terrified of this audience reaction, and terrified of getting it wrong. (Not to mention likely terrified of what they'll uncover if they give female sexuality the same attention it gives male sexuality.)

Let's face it: At least half the world has no idea what it really means to be a sexual woman. Be it because they are male, or because they have never experienced sex with a woman — female sexuality is a grey area made so by ignorance and shame and disjointed narratives on the sides of both men and women. Just look at Joseph Gordon-Levitt's recent film, Don Jon . I mean, when it comes to sex and women, it's never about why and how things work the way they do, it's all about co-opting the visual clues of it for profit or salaciousness' sake. When you don't know something, a very common — dare I say it, automatic — response is fear. So of course television and media will often handle female sexuality as if it were an unwashed, icky, and shameful thing. (See Two and a Half Men, Entourage, Big Bang Theory, or often any series aimed at young males.) They're scared of it! And scared of offending the sensibilities of people who'd rather just pretend the duck is not a duck. Which is quackery!

And this is why we need things like a smart, sexy TV show to change the conversation. Masters of Sex discusses those moments leading to the sexual revolution of the 1960s, but also holds a mirror up to its audience and says, hey: Maybe it's time for step two of that revolution. And maybe it should be televised.