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Though she lacked formal training, she adapted quickly to working as Masters’ assistant and became much more than that — invaluable to his study of the physiology of sex, in part because she was much more personable than he was.
“She understood people as a bundle of different emotions and contradictions, and Bill Masters was the flip side: He was a hard scientist,” says Maier.
“But,” she says with a grin, “they don’t even have to go together.” Just two episodes in, Caplan’s character on the racy drama is already shaping up as a trailblazing firebrand.
On the show, based on the true story, Johnson is a woman ahead of her time in the late 1950s, when she’s hired as an assistant at Washington University in St. The two go on to conduct research about human sexuality that was initially considered highly controversial but would eventually radically inform and change how Americans think about sex.
“She always felt disrespected by them,” says Susan Stiritz, senior lecturer and coordinator of sexuality studies at Washington University’s Brown School, who had a lengthy conversation with Johnson about a year before her death.
“She never got a degree, and universities are very hierarchical organizations.
It’s too painful,’ ” says Stiritz, who was dismayed to find Johnson so upset by the memories.
Stiritz, who teaches the pair’s texts “Human Sexual Response” (1966) and “Human Sexual Inadequacy” (1970) in her classes, describes Johnson as “a practical genius. She was every bit a partner.” That partnership extended to her personal life: Although the duo initially began sleeping together at Masters’ behest to “avoid transference” onto their subjects, they married in 1971, years after publishing their studies.
“She told me, ‘I just want to put this whole thing behind me.
“But she didn’t think that feminism had helped women in their sex lives.
She took the opportunity to say, ‘I’m not a feminist.’ I think she had negative views of feminism because of the way media so often represents it.
“Women often think that sex and love are the same thing,” Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) tells Dr.
William Masters (Michael Sheen) in the pilot episode of “Masters of Sex” on Showtime.
She was also unflappable — raised on a farm in Springfield, Mo., she knew all about the birds and the bees. I know all the aspects of animal husbandry,’ ” adds Maier.