ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Former Washington University sexologist and psychologist Virginia Johnson has died at the age of 88.
Born in Springfield, Mo., Johnson attended Drury University at the age of 16 and later studied at the University of Missouri, Kansas City Conservatory of Music, and Washington University.
While at Washington University, Johnson met research partner and future husband William Masters. The two developed the first tools for measuring sexual arousal in humans.
Using the tools they had developed, Johnson and Masters conducted a landmark study of 382 women and 312 men in the mid-1960’s. The study found that orgasms were felt similarly by both sexes and identified four stages of sexual response: the excitement phase, plateau phase, orgasmic phase, and resolution phase. The stages became known as the human sexual response cycle.
Soon after, the couple spent 14 years studying 300 homosexual men and women, claiming to have successfully “converted” many of them to heterosexuality. The findings were published in their book “Homosexuality in Perspective” which has been criticized since its publication. Masters defended the study but some reports indicate Johnson was skeptical.
Masters and Johnson established a nonprofit research institution in St. Louis in 1964, originally called the Reproductive Biology Research Foundation but renamed the Masters and Johnson Institute in 1978. It was closed after Masters retired in 1994.
Prior to meeting Masters, Johnson worked briefly on the marketing staff of KMOX-TV.
Reporting on her husband’s death in 2001, the New York Times said Masters and Johnson “revolutionized the way sex is studied, taught and enjoyed in America.”
“The family feeling was they changed the study of sex with the landmark publishing of their books,” Johnson’s son, Scott Johnson, told the Associated Press Thursday.
Johnson’s death comes just months before “Masters of Sex,” a television show based on the work of Johnson and Masters, debuts on Showtime.