Masters and Johnson to be honored through annual lecture

The legacy of sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson will be revisited in a new annual lecture launched by the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

The inaugural Masters and Johnson Annual Lecture, “The Beautiful Tension: Would Masters and Johnson Have Said Sex Is More Like Dancing or Digestion?” will be presented at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, in the Clark-Fox Forum at Hillman Hall. Leonore Tiefer, founder of the New View Campaign, which opposes medicalization of sexuality, will deliver the talk.

The series is sponsored by a grant from the Office of the Provost.

doctors laughing in an office
The work of Virginia Johnson (left) and William Masters transformed the study of human sexuality.

Masters and Johnson, who started their work at Washington University in the 1950s, were featured on the cover of Time Magazine on May 25, 1970, for paradigm-shifting work that transformed the field of human sexuality. Among their many professional milestones, Masters and Johnson revised views of female sexuality and founded the practice of contemporary sex therapy.

“Washington University is determined to not lose sight of the gifts of these important innovators,” Provost Holden Thorp said. “Their work represents key strengths that new scholars and practitioners can build on.”

The Brown School is home of the only specialization in sexual health and education in a school of social work in the country, directed by Susan Stiritz, associate professor of practice at the Brown School.

“Among other achievements, the work of Masters and Johnson exploded conventional ideas about female sexuality, showing it to be active, more robust than male sexual response, and clitoral — all heretical ideas for their times,” Stiritz said. “Building on their daring to challenge sacred sexual norms, sex researchers have since established sexual fluidity as a human capacity, and queer and trans scholars have exposed the limitations of notions that gender is binary.

“Claiming Masters and Johnson as part of the university’s intellectual history could enhance our own intellectual courage in the field of sexuality,” Stiritz said.

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