No doubt about it. Gynecologist William Howell Masters, 63, and Psychologist Virginia Johnson, 54, are a contemporary phenomenon. Since 1954 the famous sex-research duo have sold nearly 750,000 hard-cover copies of their five books, trained 7,000 sex therapists, observed more than 10,000 orgasms in their St. Louis lab, and treated 2,500 "sexually dysfunctional" couples, achieving a remarkable success rate of 80%. Along the way, they have become undisputed stars of a burgeoning sexual research industry, a fact acknowledged last year when the board of their Reproductive Biology Research Foundation finally persuaded them to change its name to the Masters and Johnson Institute.
Like their predecessor Alfred Kinsey. they have found that poking into the sex lives of Americans can be unsettling. Their first and most impressive book. Human Sexual Response, published in 1966, was a meticulous, pioneering inquiry into the physiology of sex; it dispelled myths about this taboo subject that even doctors believed in-for example, that sexual activity stops with age. But their work, especially such controversial aspects of it as their use of sexual surrogates as partners assisting in the treatment of impotent men. brought upon them the wrath of the pious.
Now M & J apparently feel that the public is ready for their clinical findings on a more controversial form of sex: homosexuality. They can hardly be accused of rushing into print-the homosexual research project began in 1964 and the laboratory work was finished in 1968. The book reports on the sexual performance of 176 homosexuals-94 men, 82 women -ranging in age from 21 to 54. The homosexuals were compared with two groups of heterosexuals: 567 men and women culled from the original participants in the Human Sexual Response study and 114 new volunteers. As before, these human guinea pigs went through their sexual paces in the M & J laboratory, with the ever vigilant scientists standing by notebooks in hand.
Masters and Johnson are at last letting the public in on what they found. In Boston next week Little, Brown and Co. is publishing their widely awaited Homosexuality in Perspective ($17.50), a densely documented 450-page tome that has already prompted gossipy guesses about what it does and does not reveal.
Voyeurs will have to search hard for easy delights. The study concentrates on the bodily processes of sex. in highly technical language, and has almost nothing to say about the psychology, ethics or origins of homosexuality, nor does it address (he question of whether the lack of any procreative aspect to sex affects homosexuality. The conclusions are stated with caution and caveats-the sample is small and may not be representative of the general homosexual population. There is also a warning that sex in the lab may differ from sex at home. As Masters told TIME Correspondent Ruth Galvin: "We can't say what happens beneath the sheets when the lights are out." The prose is opaque, studded with such assaults on English as "stimulative approach opportunity" (foreplay) and "vocalized performance concerns" (talking about sex). Still, Masters and Johnson have produced a thought-provoking inquiry into the sexual life of homosexuals. Some highlights: