Book Review: Human Sexual Response

Human Sexual ResponseHuman Sexual Response by William H. Masters

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My elderly next-door neighbor gave me this book after recovering it from a box of thrift shop books that someone put out for garbage day. I think she thinks I’m a doctor.

Human Sexual Response is an extensively researched collection of intriguing experiments that consisted almost entirely of having prostitutes fuck in a lab. It was published in 1966, ten years before MRIs and a year before CT scans, so when they say “clinical observation”, they mean exactly that. Clinicians brought in 118 female prostitutes and 27 male prostitutes, selected, as in all science, by availability, and gathered their sexy, sexy histories. Then they picked the best 11, judged on intelligence, diversity of prostitution experience, communication ability, and general availability and agreeableness. These eight women and three men, these Right Stuff philianauts, had their anatomies studied exhaustively, by both literal and figurative definitions of the word.

Those of you with a background in science might be saying “wait, a participant pool of eleven? To generalize the entire human sexual response? That’s outrageous!” To which I say: shut up, nerd. This was the only game in town.

I’ve got to reiterate that this was before resonance imaging was available to the game. Masters brought in a team of grad students and put their noses right to the grindstone, around where the lenses would be on pornography camcorders, and had them scribbling medical jargon on clipboards while these prostitutes that science found absolutely went to town on each other.

It made for some interesting reading. For its design flaws, it seemed painstakingly controlled, and the literature always specified the differences that the anatomies would register dependent on whether a woman was nulliparous, which I learned means “has not made a baby”. Breast tissue swells during what Masters operantly defined as the “plateau” stage of sexual arousal, so you’re not imagining that, they do get bigger. There’s also a sort of mood-ring effect to the labia minora approaching and during orgasm, so if you bust out a Mag-Lite real quick you can check if she’s faking.

What? They do that?

The section on males was less fleshed out (a-ha-ha), partly because of the pitiful sample size, partly because I doubt that was Williams et al.’s priority with this sequence of studies. It talked about penile size change averages pre and post-arousal, but in centimeters, so that’s anyone’s guess. Allegedly, the oldest sexually active participant was 89, so that’s heartening.

To speak in good faith, the prostitute voyeurism was only the first part of the study. A lot of the literature was drawn up by self-report questionnaires and interviews conducted with hundreds of other participants. That 89 year old guy was probably not one of the three male prostitutes whose wieners they studied.

Above board, it was a fascinating read, if you can keep in mind the constraints of design, the prevailing science at the time, and the weird sex hangups of the 50s and their subsequent 60s reaction formation.

Also, I pounded through it in an hour, so it must be written accessibly. Four stars. It would’ve been five stars if Masters had given into the temptation to make a dick joke, like a real intellectual, like fucking Shakespeare, but he remained haughtily professional and academic the whole time. Which is a real mood-killer, unless you’re into that sort of thing.

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