Sexes: Masters & Johnson on Homosexuality

An exclusive preview of the famed sex researchers' newest study

  • (4 of 5)

    One of the book's most unexpected findings did not come out of the homosexual research project, but from sex therapy provided for gays-itself something of a pioneering venture. Between 1968 and 1977 the researchers treated, for various sexual problems, 151 homosexuals, including 54 men and 13 women who wanted to convert or revert to heterosexuality. M & J do not list a success rate for such conversions, only a known failure rate. That failure rate is now at 35%, and is not expected to exceed 45% when all the five-year follow-ups are completed. For professional therapists, many of whom believe that such conversions are rare or impossible, this is likely to be the book's most surprising statistic. It would mean that a permanent, or at least longterm, switch to heterosexuality is possible more than half the time among gays who are highly motivated to change.

    Masters and Johnson consider these findings subsidiary to the main, and really not very surprising, point of the book: there are no differences between heterosexuals and homosexuals in the physical processes of lubrication, erection, ejaculation and orgasm. Says Masters: "The entire orgasmic experience is indistinguishable." Indeed, the researchers believe that their demonstration of "nearly identical response vectors" will gradually lead to more public acceptance of homosexuality.

    That judgment is questionable, for public opposition to homosexuality hardly depends on the notion that gays have different kinds of orgasms. M & J are probably right, however, to suggest that one significant byproduct of their book will be better medical care for homosexuals, who have been badly treated by doctors. In the past, for instance, some doctors refused to give them rectal examinations for fear of causing arousal, a concern that has never been shown by gynecologists conducting vaginal examinations. Says Dr. Robert Kolodny, M & J's heir apparent at the research institute: "Documenting the similarity of physiological process gives less excuse for the health-care professional to shrink from treatment of the homosexual patient, under the pretext that his health problems may be in some way different."

    Though Masters and Johnson are scrupulously neutral in their attitudes toward homosexuality, their latest study is sure to have a social impact simply because it devotes so much attention to the gay life. As Johnson says: "People who stop and think will say, hey, these are somebody's brothers and sisters, wives and husbands, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors, and they are loved and loving human beings." The book has another implicit message for heterosexuals: it is that homosexuality is not going to go away, whether society ignores it, accepts it or rejects it. In fact, by looking honestly, if critically, at the gay life, straight men and women may learn important lessons in lovemaking. Among them: that nothing succeeds so much as treating sexual partners with consideration, understanding and unhurried gentleness. Says Masters, "These are the big things to come out of this book at long range, I have a hunch."

    1. 1
    2. 2
    3. 3
    4. 4
    5. 5