Masters and Johnson: Sexual Response
Sixty years ago gynecologist and his secretary started investigating sex, sexual arousal, orgasm. With Masters and Johnson as his assistant, he met in the hospital lab at St. Louis, began a sexual revolution in the United States.
I only briefly heard about them in biology classes. It wasn't until I started to take erotic toys more seriously and watch the Masters of Sex series that I became interested in their work. They became famous mainly for their research on the sexual response, which paved the way for many later researchers in this field of human nature.
Beginnings of the research
Behind closed doors, they were the first to study the body's response before, during, and after orgasm. Based on thorough questionnaires, they recruited volunteers who were willing to participate as study subjects despite the introverted and conservative society. The questionnaire contained the most basic information about the sexual life of the participant, about the orgasms experienced during masturbation and during sexual intercourse. The questions were uncomfortable for many participants, but they gave an essential piece of information to the two researchers.
Precisely because of the straightforward questions about sex and close-minded society, the first volunteers were prostitutes. Logical, since they are dealing with sex daily and with different people. However, the group proved useless. They were indeed able to shamelessly present methods of genital irritation, which were later very useful in the research, but there were also a lot of STDs in this group. Also, they tend to fake orgasms rather than actually experience them.
Masters and Johnson changed their plan a bit and started inviting hospital staff, couples who wanted to get pregnant, and patients they picked up in the hallway to participate. In all subjects who have stepped through the laboratory door, they observed a sexual reaction with manual and mechanical stimulation, sexual intercourse in three positions, and, as they call it, artificial coitus, that is, sexual intercourse with a vibrator. It is one of a few vibrtators of that time that was designed only to achieve an orgasm.
Sexual reaction cycle
After a few years of research, Masters and Johnson discovered that the sexual cycle in both sexes is the same. There are several stages that our body goes through during sex or masturbation.
Based on their observations of participants bodies, the sexual response was divided into four phases:
- excitation phase,
- plateau phase,
- phase of orgasm and
- calm down phase.
The arousal phase is provoked by any physical or mental stimulus. The two most obvious signs of this phase are erection, vaginal moisturization, and swelling of the clitoris. Also, they observed swelling of testicles in men and labia in women.
In the plateau phase, the head of the penis still grows and in many cases also turns blue, while in women the Bartolin's glands are "activated". In both sexes, the body starts secreting mucus that is not intended for the lubrication of the genitals.
The phase of orgasm begins with contractions. When this starts to happen to a man, we often hear "iI will come" in bed, and only then ejaculation occurs. The male orgasm ends with some following cramps. For us women, orgasm lasts longer. It also begins and ends with contractions.
The phase of orgasm is followed by a calm down phase in which the erection subsides, the testicles relax, and the man returns to the "normal" state. The female body also follows the same path, only it stays in the plateau phase for a bit longer. Therefore, women can experience multiple consecutive orgasms.
Besides investigating sexual organs, they also studied secondary signs that occur at different stages during sexual intercourse. The most noticeable are: swollen nipples (more visible in women than in men), redness of the skin, or sex flush, which can be noticed right before orgasm. In men, it starts and mostly stays on the spoon area, while in women, it travels from the spoon all over the body. In addition to swollen nipples and sex flush, myotonia or muscle contraction can be seen, intentionally or unintentionally, just before the approaching orgasm. Other signs include hyperventilation, high blood pressure, sweating, and an irregular heartbeat.
After this great discovery, Masters and Johnson began studying other things related to sex. They focused on the sexuality of pregnant women and the elderly and were also interested in sexual dysfunctions such as impotence and vaginismus.
To better understand sexuality today - the doctor and his assistant, who dared to break taboos and take a dive into the world of sex, despite the countless problems - are most responsible. The threshold of their laboratory was crossed by many people who were willing to show how the body responds to orgasm despite the conservative society of the time. Thanks to tens of thousands of orgasms of their subjects, Masters and Johnson wrote many articles and books that are still highly valued among the professionals.
Source: Johnson V., Masters W (1979): Sexual response. Ljubljana, DZS.
Cover image: allthatsinteresting.com