Sex researcher's work sparked ire, interest
ST. LOUIS — In an era when even talking about sex was virtually taboo, Virginia Johnson had a way of putting research subjects at ease, persuading them to participate in groundbreaking investigations that changed the way human sexuality was perceived.
Johnson, half of the renowned Masters and Johnson team, was remembered Thursday as one of the key figures in the sexual revolution. Johnson, whose legal name was Virginia Masters, died Wednesday of complications from several illnesses in an assisted living center in St. Louis. She was 88.
“She has one of the most extraordinary lives of any American woman in the 20th century,” said Thomas Maier, author of the 2009 book “Masters of Sex, the Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love.”
That research was discussed in their 1966 book, “Human Sexual Response.” And their 1970 book, “Human Sexual Inadequacy,” explored a therapy they'd developed for men and women with sexual problems.
At the height of their careers, Masters and Johnson were huge celebrities, the topic of late-night talk show hosts and on the cover of news magazines.
Their work had its critics, and it was often frowned upon in some circles in an era when sex was seldom discussed publicly.
“There was a lot of grief,” Johnson's son, Scott Johnson, recalled. “There were threats, things of that kind. She was a very strong woman.”
Their work still fascinates and resonates. Showtime will debut a TV series in September, “Masters of Sex,” based on Maier's book.