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William Masters was an American gynecologist and sexologist. Along with his research partner Virginia Johnson, he wrote pioneering work about human sexual response, sexual dysfunction, homosexuality, and AIDS. The pair co-authored many important academic texts, including “Human Sexual Response,” published in 1966. While it was aimed at medical professionals, it became a best-seller.
William Masters married Virginia Johnson in 1971, but divorced her in 1993 after rekindling a relationship with an old flame. He died in 2001 from complications with Parkinson’s disease.
William Masters decided to focus his research efforts on human sexuality shortly after graduating from the University of Rochester Medical School in 1943. While the field was considered controversial, Alfred Kinsey had done much to pave the way for an interested physician like Masters. However, he was advised by his mentor George Washington Corner to delay his research until he was approaching middle age, in case people became suspicious of his motives.
Masters heeded his advice and returned to the Midwest to work in obstetrics and gynecology. He rose through the medical ranks and became a professor at Washington University School of Medicine in 1960.
His early research work examined the sexual hormones of aging women, but this wasn’t where his passions lay. By his late thirties he decided he looked old enough to pursue research into sexuality. In 1954, he began studying human response to sexual stimulation. He initially monitored the responses of prostitutes, but later began observing male and female volunteers, both during masturbation and while having sex.
Two years into this research, Masters looked for an assistant to interview his volunteers. He hired Virginia Johnson, who became so invaluable that she was later promoted to research partner. The pair measured the sexual response of nearly seven hundred subjects over the next decade. They noted stages of sexual arousal, and determined that age did not necessarily diminish sexual pleasure or interest.
They later researched and treated forms of sexual dysfunction through sensate focus exercises. In the 1970s, Masters and Johnson turned their attention to homosexuality, which they believed was a learned behavior. Controversially, they held clinics to “cure” homosexuals of the condition. They also helped society understand that AIDS was not simply a homosexual disease through their work “Crisis: Heterosexual Behavior in the Age of AIDS.”