Showtime’ series ‘The Masters of Sex’ on Freud and the myth of the vaginal orgasm

Masters of Sex

OK, so I’m just now catching up with the Showtime series “The Masters of Sex” and I’m especially enjoying Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson, one half of the ground-breaking sex research duo Masters and Johnson. It’s a bit soapy and I have no idea how much is historically accurate, but yay for a show that takes on sexual myths* and debunks them one by one, just like the original M&J did in their work.

One of my favorite scenes so far: In ‘Brave New World’ Virginia attends a lecture by Dr. Freud’s daughter on ‘mature’ vaginal orgasms and ‘immature’ clitoral orgasms, and promptly calls bullshit. This is a myth that will not die, even today, despite profuse debunking: That women who can’t have vaginal orgasms have some kind of inadequate sexual response–or the fact that there is even such a thing as a vaginal orgasm. I couldn’t find a clip, but here’s the dialogue:

Virginia Johnson: So according to Freud there are two types of orgasms, immature and mature. He’s saying that one orgasm is better than the other.
William Masters: As I understand it, he’s saying that when a woman reaches puberty, there’s a transfer of sexual response from the clitoris to the vagina. The external, or clitoral, orgasm is the province of adolescent girls. Mature women experience orgasm intra-vaginally with their husbands, otherwise they’re frigid.
Virginia Johnson: Who would believe something like that?
William Masters: My patients. That’s why we keep the exam room stocked with Kleenex. A quarter of the women who walk through my door tell me that they’re frigid.
Virginia Johnson: Maybe that’s because their husband can’t get the job done. Does he ever address the man’s role in any of this?
William Masters: Honestly all of Freud’s theories have their limits. I stopped reading him after my college paper on the Oedipus complex. Nearly put my own eyes out.

Later, Masters theorizes (as many believe today) that orgasms that happen during penetration may be clitoral as well, since the internal clitoris is quite large and may extend close to the vaginal walls. We can only see the tip, iceberg style, but look out below. But hey, let’s stop worrying where they come from and just enjoy them!

Which brings me to another standout scene from this episode. The wife of the head of the university wants to volunteer for their sex study, but gets confused when asked about her orgasms. Watch the brilliant Allison Janney playing Margaret, with Lizzy Caplan as Virginia and Michael Sheen as Johnson.

*Unlike the Showtime site, which has a video about sexual myths. It’s nicely animated, but otherwise not all that helpful. Also disappointing for me, except for one unremarkable virginity loss scene, they don’t talk about virginity at all. Boo.

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