The (as if by magic) Masters of Sex

Masters-of-SexIt’s 2013, folks. We’ve got naked people on TV, pocket vibrators in the grocery stores, and a few ladies in the government. We are sexually enlightened. We’ve got this whole sex thing down.

At least that’s what I hear.

Thanks to our society’s complete acceptance of all things sexual, I’ve been enjoying a little show called Masters of Sex. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s a Showtime series about the real sex research done by William Masters and Virginia Johnson beginning in 1957. I dig the characters, I want to chisel Michael Sheen a tiny Oscar out of my own dental fillings, and although the pacing was off at first, the interpersonal dramas are gettin’ good. But what keeps me coming back to the show is the eerie feeling I get every time I watch it that in spite of all the progress we’ve made, we haven’t really made much, well, progress.

Take, for instance, one of Masters and Johnson’s primary questions: Is there a difference between and a clitoral and a vaginal orgasm? Decades later, the debate continues.

The fact is, at least in the sexual arena, we’re not really masters of anything. Everywhere you look in sex research you find holes. Some small, others gaping. But for all we lack in understanding and even empathy, we at least try to make up for with endearing curiosity and (sometimes misguided) persistence. So today, with quotes from Masters of Sex as our guide, let’s celebrate some of the questions we’ve thought to ask in recent years, and some of the odd ways we’ve tried to answer them.

“Humans have taken the basic impulse for sex and turned it into some unrecognizable ordeal. Romance, chivalry, codes of etiquette.”

According to researchers at The University of Minnesota, women use luxury brands to keep other women away from their mates. The researchers’ conclusions are…dubious, but at least their methods are entertaining. For one test, the study’s participants were each given one of three short stories to read. One story involved a single woman meeting a hunky man on vacation. Another story involved a woman witnessing another woman flirt with her date. The third story involved doing laundry. After reading one of the stories, each participant was given drawings of a car, a handbag, shoes, and a t-shirt and instructed to draw her favorite luxury brand logo on the items.

And this is what they found…

handbag (t(133) = 2.93, p = .004, η2 = .06), T-shirt (t(133) = 3.60, p < .001, η2 =.08), shoe (t(133) = 2.24, p =.02, η2 =.03), car (t(133) = 2.42, p = .02, η2 =.04)


That’s a direct quote, people. And yes, you read it right. Women who read about a woman making a move on another woman’s man doodled logos TWO TIMES larger than other participants’ doodles.

I think we’ve gotten we came here for, gentlemen. Let’s go home.




“You’re joking. They actually thought sleeping together meant actually sleeping?”

Falling asleep during sex? That’s just embarrassing. Falling into sex during sleep? That’s just sexsomnia.

In 2010, a sleep disorders clinic in Toronto found that around 8% of its patients (11% of the men, 4% of the women) had at some point initiated or participated in sexual activity while asleep. The sleepy Casanovas didn’t usually recall what had happened and had to have events explained to them by their partners–an experience no doubt disorienting and possibly even frightening.

But hey, at least it’s not sex-induced transient global amnesia. In 2011, “Mind-blowing Sex” became the hot headline when a 54-year-old woman admitted herself into Georgetown after suffering severe post-coital memory loss. For twenty minutes after sex, the woman couldn’t remember anything about the 24 hours prior to orgasm, and she couldn’t form new memories.

The temporary condition most often affects middle-aged or elderly persons with no history of neurological issues. The symptoms usually last no longer than 10 hours. Researchers believe the memory loss is triggered by lesions on the hippocampus or by a faulty valve in the jugular vein that causes deoxygenated blood to build up in the brain during strenuous abdominal activity, such as sex, weightlifting, and pooping. That’s right.You can wipe your ass and your memory clean from a good dump.

Has jumping into the sack with someone suddenly lost its appeal? Maybe sex dreams are more your style. According to a 2012 survey, people who sleep on their stomachs with their arms above their heads are more likely to kink out in their dreams.

Although they’re also more likely to suffocate.



Masters: “It depends on how you usually pleasure yourself.”

Prostitute: “I take a Midol and watch General Electric Theater.”

Or porn. Especially if you’re from Mississippi. Pornhub just realeased its stats on the average amount of time visitors spend on their site by state, and Mississippians are holding out over a minute longer than the national average. Pornhub also put together a map showing what search terms are most popular by state. My home state, Ohio, displays its Midwestern family values with its preference for internal ejaculation, teens, and moms.


We see you over there, Kentucky. Step away from the Sailor Moon collectibles.



“I’m not on the menu.”

Even though I smell like I am. A 2009 study determined that men’s body odor smells like cheese while women’s body odor smells like onion or grapefruit.

But aside from Roquefort or Gruyere, according to another study, women can detect also arousal in men’s sweat. Men wore absorbent pads under their armpits while watching a porno, then different pads while watching a non-porno. When women sniffed the pads (Sign me up!), they reported smelling no difference between the sweat samples. But MRI showed that the horny sweat activated the women’s right orbitofrontal cortex and right fusiform region—parts of the brain involved in perceiving emotion. The sweat did not, however, have an aphrodisiac effect.

Not wanting the men to miss out on all the body odor fun, other researchers showed that smelling women’s t-shirts gave men a testosterone boost. This, however, was debunked by other researchers who pointed out that the men in the original study knew that they were sniffing women’s sweat. When the men didn’t know what they were smelling, their testosterone levels remained the same.

So, hetero ladies, you can stop hiding your rancid gym clothes in your boyfriend’s pillow case. It’s not working. Try hiding a can of pumpkin pie mix under the bed instead. American men smelling a combination of pumpkin pie and lavender experienced a 40% increase in blood flow to their nethers in one study. Another study found a 32% increase from doughnuts and licorice, and an 18% decrease from fish and chips.

But if cooking and food hoarding’s not your thing, you could always try Pizza Hut’s dough-scented perfume.

Pizza HutOr you could just give up the sex altogether. It might be easier than you think. You know that old “stat” about men thinking about sex every 4/6/7 seconds? It turns out it’s probably closer to 19 times…a day. You’ve probably also heard that women don’t have sex on the brain, but they do, about 10 times a day.

Meanwhile, food crosses men’s minds about 18 times a day, and it crosses women’s minds about 15 times a day. When asked whether they’d rather give up sex or their favorite food for a year, 16% of men and 39% of women decided the sex just wasn’t worth losing their chocolate and pizza. But can you really blame them when…



Masters: “A quarter of women who walk through my door tell me they’re frigid.”

Johnson: “Maybe that’s because their husbands can’t get the job done.”

Here’s a fun statistic for you. The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior looked at the sexual experiences and condom-use of 5,865 individuals ages 14 to 94. Among other things, it found that…

About 85% of men report that their partner had an orgasm at the most recent sexual event; this compares to the 64% of women who report having had an orgasm at their most recent sexual event. (A difference that is too large to be accounted for by some of the men having had male partners at their most recent event.)


Hmm. Now what on earth could be accounting for tha…


Masters: “You pretended to have an orgasm? Is that a common practice amongst prostitutes?”

Betty the Prostitute: “It’s a common practice amongst anyone with a twat. Women fake orgasms, almost all of ’em, although I haven’t checked my clipboard lately.”

Betty the Prostitute speaks the truth. It’s estimated that 67% of women occasionally fake it, and a recent survey found that “more than 25 percent of women routinely used vocalization to fake it. They did it about 90 percent of the time they realized they would not climax. About 80 percent faked using vocalizations about half the time they were unable to have an orgasm.”

Shocking, I know. Masters and Johnson are both deceased, women are still faking it, and men are still surprised. I’m getting a little bored and fatigued just reading about it, so let’s skip to the weird stuff.

The survey looked at vocalizations made by women during sex and found that women were fairly quiet during the activities that brought them the most pleasure, such as foreplay and oral sex, and more vocal nearing or during their partner’s climaxes. Moreover, they were aware of this. The women reported making the noises when bored, uncomfortable, or under a time crunch in order to get their partners to get off and get out.

That might not be surprising (If it is, I’m sorry, and we should talk about it later. I’m here for you.), but we’re not done yet. The real newsflash is: Fish feel our pain.

Brown trout reproduce externally — the male and female fish climax simultaneously and release their sperm and eggs into the open water. The event must be timed perfectly, so the female trout indicates she is about to release her eggs by digging a bed in the sand, crouching by it, opening her mouth and quivering. Male fish respond by crouching and quivering beside her. Their quivering intensifies and, about half the time, they both climax. The other half the time, the female quivers, but never releases her eggs.

That faking might serve the purpose of allowing female trout to save their eggs for higher-quality males, a theory supported by the observation that female trout were more likely to fake orgasms when better-looking, more dominant fish lurked nearby. More often, however, the females faked it when the males were not in the exact right position, says study author Erik Petersson, PhD, a biology professor at Uppsala University.



Anyway, don’t worry. I would never fake it. Dear reader, you know I just love spending hours hammering away at these keys for–

Oh god. What time is it? Castle’s on in 5 minutes!

No, no, let’s keep going. This is great. I’ve got the DVR set, and this is right where I want to be.

Only, phew, I’m suddenly feeling overcome with the most maddening feeling of satisfaction and loss of motor control, the likes of which I have never experienced with any site before, probably because their readerships were so much smaller than yours.

Oh god, I just, heh heh heh shoo shoo ffffffff fffff sh sh sh fffffffffuhhhhhh gyeaAAAHh


huh huh




Oh, hey, look at that. 3 minutes to spare.





  • Sam Ligon Sam Ligon says:

    So much great stuff here, Karen. I especially like the map. It would be useful if political analysts could draw some conclusions from it — maybe ultimately replacing the terms red state and blue state with creampie and milf states — or whatever seems appropriate.

    • Karen Maner says:

      Thanks, Sam.

      I really can’t think of a time when gratuitous use of the terms “creampie” and “MILF” would be inappropriate. And, oh, how I would love to hear the words “Romney’s gonna have to work hard to win over the MILF vote this year.”

  • Monet says:

    Karen — I have shared this post with several coworkers, and we have been giggling all day. I tell myself I am going to be more honest in my sex life but it feels so rude to say, “Thank you. I’ve had enough now, can we sleep?”

    • Karen Maner says:

      Monet, this makes my day.

      Also, maybe you could try the Midwestern Thanksgiving approach: “Oh, that was so good I couldn’t possibly have more. No, really, I’m about to slip into a coma.”

  • Melissa says:

    As Monet knows, when you’re an RA in undergrad, there’s a section of your training about Awkward Conversations and how to have them with our residents on any number of topics: personal hygiene, eating disorders, depression, substance abuse, etc. I felt pretty confident, even before the training, that I could handle anything they’d ask me or any situation I was confronted with, but I wasn’t exactly expecting five freshmen girls to crowd onto my bed one Tuesday night when I was supposed to be prepping for workshop and ask “Do women ejaculate?” and about clitoral vs. vaginal orgasms. We all bonded pretty quickly that night, haha– but of course those girls were empowered enough to ask questions and felt safe doing so. My experience working at Planned Parenthood was that very often, people didn’t want to ask questions or have frank conversations about sex, not necessarily because those conversations were too personal, but more so because they thought they should *already* know the answer. So basically, people would rather continue to not know the answers to their questions rather than suffer the potential embarrassment of another human knowing that they didn’t know something related to sex. Which is insane, and I think pretty revealing about our cultural conversations around sex.

    • Karen Maner says:

      Why, why, why did I live off campus in undergrad? I would like a short clip of you reenacting your approximate facial expression and response at that pillow party.

      As for the second part, this is an excellent point you bring up. If people feel so timid about asking about sex in a clinical environment, imagine what they’re not expressing when actually faced with the naked, hairy, odd-looking act itself.

      It’s sad for everyone. No one knows what the hell they’re doing, and no one’s supposed to talk about it. The only indication most people get of how everyone else is doing with this whole sex thing is tv, porn, and the proclamations of insecure friends who are probably just as, if not more, confused.

      The teaching method of choice when it comes to sex is “Watch and learn.” And it’s portrayed as a magical, entirely intuitive experience that requires no verbal communication and just the slightest brush of one person’s genitals on another’s to send everyone into convulsions.

      So I say, let’s talk. Going off of what Monet said above, we can all take a step in the right direction just by taking that terrifying step of saying to another person, “I want x, I do not want y.”

  • Educational and funny, my favorite type of post.

    Future study request: is the high incident of Asian porn watching in WA and CA related to higher populations of Asians?

    I love Masters of Sex, and like you I find it depressing that some of the questions asked in the 50s and 60s are still being asked today. One of my favorite things about the show is how they depict the what it was like for women. Sometimes you have to look hard for the bittersweet part of a joke. Like when the provost wives didn’t know if she’d ever had an orgasm. Or when the provost daughter is encouraged to marry a doctor rather than go to college.

    • Karen Maner says:

      Asa, I wondered the same thing about the Asian porn. Who’s doing the watching? Is it because there are more Asian people watching Asian porn? Is it people of other backgrounds who are attracted to the “exotic”? That just opens up a whole slew of questions.

      Glad to find another Masters of Sex fan. I’m also appreciating the way they’ve handled the female doctor. She’s portrayed as intensely unlikeable but also as having no other option.

  • Katrina says:

    I hope that 54-year-old woman has a really expensive handbag.


  • Fitz says:

    This is great! I love all the research in here. I hadn’t heard of this show before your post and I don’t know if that’s because I live under a rock and don’t own a TV, or because shows like this aren’t advertised as often or as widely.

    Speaking of not being afraid to ask questions we think we should know the answers to,
    what’s a creampie? (On second thought, please don’t answer that.)

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