Tag Archives: sexuality

Why Masters of Sex makes me cry

Masters of SexHave you been watching Masters of Sex? If not, you should do. In the UK it is being shown on Channel 4 on Tuesdays at 10pm, or you can watch it on Catch-Up TV.

I watched one episode, on a colleague’s recommendation, to try it out, and have since being totally hooked on it.

If you are spending money downloading porn to see other people having sex on the screen while your wife or girlfriend is away, save yourself the cash and just watch Masters of Sex for free instead. It is incredibly sexy, with lots of nudity and explicit sex scenes but with an excellent plot to back it all up in a totally non-tacky, unvulgar way.

Without giving away too many spoilers (if you haven’t watched episode 9, on Dec 3, don’t read until you’ve seen it, as there IS a spoiler…sorry), let me tell you a little about the two main characters in case you are unfamiliar with the programme.

Bill Watching

Summary
The series is based on the real story of Dr William Masters, played by Michael Sheen, and his secretary Virgina Johnson (who eventually becomes his Research Assistant)’s study on sex and human sexuality in the 1950s. It is area no scientist had ever pioneered in before; they recruit volunteers for the study and basically watch people fornicate or masturbate while they annotate scientific data. By episode 9, which was this week’s, they have already started filming these sessions as well.

William and Libby Masters (Photo By Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Bill and Libby (Photo By Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Masters, who is socially awkward, and sexually repressed when the story starts, is married to Libbby, a beautiful stay-at-home wife, who is desperate to conceive his child, and thinks that her husband’s lack of interest in her is due to her infertility.

What she doesn’t know is that the actual problem is Masters’, himself a fertility expert, who ironically has an extremely low sperm count.

Masters seems to have very little in common with LIbby, and flashback scenes to his younger days seem to imply that she wasn’t exactly the big love his life, but a respectable doctor had to be married to a girl from a good family to get on in his medical career.

©Showtime

©Showtime

Virginia Johnson, played by the stunning-looking Lizzy Caplan, is a twice divorced mother of two and an intelligent and ambitious woman trying to build a career to feed her children. She is totally uninhibited sexually and quite forward for a woman of her time, in that she is able to fully enjoy sex, even in the absence of love. She is also a warm and compassionate woman, in touch with her own emotions, and knows how to talk to people.

In a nutshell, she is the complete opposite of her boss, and that is exactly why they complement each other and why he is attracted to her.

Eventually Masters and Johnson start “participating” in the sex study themselves, as fellow researchers, by having intercourse with each other late at night in the lab and measuring their own bodily responses. In their minds, they are not having an affair but participating in research for the advancement of science, even though their sessions become more and more intense.

Falling in love
As their involvement with the study deepens, their professional relationship starts morphing into something else. It is now clear they are in love with each other and not just because of the sex. Over several episodes, we see Virginia’s loyalty to and admiration for Bill, we movingly see her compassion and humanity holding him up when his tough guy façade starts to crumble.

They are, to the audience’s eyes, an obvious match with each other.

But Masters is a married man and a scandal could put his reputation in jeopardy. To make matters more complex, his wife Libby is now pregnant, although he did not really want to have a child with her, and his mother compounds his shame by reminding him his father was also unfaithful with his own secretary.

Caught between his wife’s desperate appeal that without a child and family, he is only an empty man, and his mother’s warning not to become like the father he hated, Bill Masters is crushed under the weight of his guilt.

Awkward, as usual, and unable to deal with it, he does something cruel and heartless that breaks Virginia’s heart, to make sure she doesn’t think he is in love with her, even though he is.

I know Masters of Sex is only a television series. But this is not an uncommon situation and can easily spill into real life. Although sex seems to be the main theme of the show, it is really a discussion on intimacy and the difficulties humans face when connecting to each other.

Why I cry
Watching episode 9 of Master of Sex, where Bill Masters hurts Virginia so badly she finally breaks down, made me want to scream with rage. Why are men such cowardly w**k**s?! Why can’t a man, in that situation, just honestly admit he likes her, although they cannot officially be together, instead of pretending he has no feelings, instead of acting like an automaton made purely of steel? Why must the woman have her heart broken and pay a price for having made a man feel good about himself?

As a romantic, of course, I am hoping Masters of Sex will have a happy ending, that William Masters will realise what a fool he was and how much happier he could be with Virginia, that he will, ultimately, choose loyalty to himself and his true feelings.

But real life doesn’t always play out as it does in fiction or movies. People make terrible mistakes in love and relationships all the time. They make very poor choices while talking themselves into believing it is right for them.

In real life, the man usually chooses the lovely but unexciting wife he has little in common with and has a child he did not want, while the woman who shares his dreams and understands his demons, the woman who makes him go wild with desire, because their connection is deep and visceral, gets the blame. Her charges? Guilty of leading the man astray, away from respectability from responsibility, away from ‘happy family life’, away from what society deems acceptable.

The male-female situation could be reversed. Remember The Bridges of Madison County? Men and women in committed relationships all over the world wept over it because (though they would not openly admit it) they had personally known the pain of having to renounce someone they truly loved for the sake of protecting someone else’s happiness.

Lessons
Regret cannot change the past but it makes us more alert for when we come to the next intersection and have that déjà vu moment…where have I seen this landscape before?

Have you noticed how in life the same situation, only with different characters, recur again and again, like an annoying test we keep retaking. The lessons never go away until we have finally learned what we need to learn.

Virginia wins
Not every man can handle a passionate, liberated woman like Virginia, unafraid of her own feelings and desires, who only knows one way to live and love: that with a genuine heart. I love the character because I see myself reflected in her, launching myself bare-souled into things I love, into people I love… Only to smash against a massive iceberg, and being shattering to pieces.

Virginias of the world, who go around loving with an open heart, always risk giving too much while getting too little, or nothing in return. Yet, even knowing this, were a million chances offered to me, a million times I would choose to feel too much over not feeling at all.

The victory may not be too obvious, but at the end of our lives (because we all die one day), the score always belongs to the one who told themselves the least number of lies: Johnson 1, Masters nil.

“I don’t want to get out without a broken heart. I intend to leave this life so shattered there’s gonna have to be a thousand separate heavens for all of my flying parts.

Shattered heart

It’s official: women are (as) horny and slutty (as men)

What Women Want 2During a conversation about books with a male friend, the subject turned to the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey, which propelled its author to the top of the Forbes Magazine’s highest-earning authors’ list, grossing in US$95 million only in the past year.

He was protesting against the number of women he used to witness every morning, on his commuter train, reading a copy of Fifty Shades. The idea of women reading a sex book on their way to work was, in his opinion, distasteful. This made me laugh out loud. Did he never think about sex on his way to work? Aren’t men supposed to think about sex every seven seconds? What was wrong with women getting lost in sexual reveries any time of the day?

In fact, journalist Daniel Bergner’s new book, What Do Women Want?, says that women actually desire sex as much as men, that “female sexuality is as raw and bestial as male sexuality”; only their urges are less known because they are stigmatised by society.

In one experiment, women reportedly experienced arousal even while made to watch two monkeys copulating, while men did not. Their arousal levels were measured through contraptions placed inside the women’s vaginas. The studies conclude that females are “naturally more promiscuous, voracious and predatory” than men, breaking the long-held myth that women are staunch defenders of serial monogamy and chastity.

Bergner’s book has been widely reviewed and talked about in the press and in the blogosphere, but the most balanced commentary I’ve come across was in the New York Times’ review:

Why is female lust getting such a big dose of scientific legitimacy at this moment? Are these theories influenced by women’s and men’s evolving social roles? By women’s increasing economic and political power? By feminism itself? Many of the scientists are, after all, women, a novel situation. The history of the study of women’s sexuality tells us that when many scientists are finding the same sorts of things at the same time, it is because they have gone looking for them; a cultural shift has already taken place. For some reason — maybe for many reasons — the story of the libidinous male and sexually indifferent female doesn’t make sense to us anymore.

We shouldn’t mourn its passing. As long as we continue to think (in the back of our minds, to some degree) that men are hard-wired for sex and women for intimacy and babies, then we are stuck with the logic that only men really want to have sex; women want to trade it for something else. This makes straight couples into hagglers: self-interested, ungenerous, wary of being played. Better for men and women to approach each other as more or less equal partners in lust, and work out the rest in the morning.

Any sweeping generalisations that men or women are randier than each other should, I think, be taken with a large pinch of salt, but that men and women are finally finding equality in the lust department, I find liberating and refreshing.

Libido
Truth be told, I think about sex a lot these days.

On the one hand, my “thinking” is pure fantasy. Women like to fantasise about fictitious situations they would never encounter in real life, and that is probably why Fifty Shades of Grey was so successful. That is also why every summer I daydream about me and the ‘goh-juss’ Roger Federer having a shower together at Wimbledon…

On the other hand, the “thinking” is about an increased awareness of my sexual needs. Whereas I have always been conscious of my need to eat and sleep, I had never been quite attuned to my body’s sexual desires.

Such thoughts had never crossed my mind when I was married. Come to think of it, already in the years preceding my marriage, I had become detached from sexual feelings within myself.

Several factors contributed towards it: the trauma of going through a couple of serious health scares, dysfunctional relationships with men with whom I was ill-matched, which also meant sex was lacklustre, a long period of unemployment, which shattered my self-esteem, and led me to depression and loss of libido.

For a long time I simply didn’t find sex appealing – to do nor to think about.

Of course being trapped within an unhappy marriage with a man who was prone to episodes of extreme aggression did not help. I now know that in order to be able to enjoy intimacy I need to first and foremost feel ‘safe’ with the person I am with. If I harbour any suspicions they may hurt me, physically or emotionally, I shut down, detaching myself from my body; I can fake, but I don’t feel a thing.  I might as well be a prostitute having sex with a client.

Awakening
Since I walked out of my marriage, I have evolved from a state of ‘being able to tolerate sex’ to actually ‘desiring sex’. That is as revolutionary as an anorexic discovering hunger and the pleasure of eating for the first time. I feel like I have turned a gigantic leaf in the history of my sexual awakening, and I love the new sensual me that has been born as a result.

Let me make it clear: I have not become a sex-starved hussie, ready to leap on the first male that shows a flicker of interest in me. Nor does the sight of humping apes excite me. All I’m saying is I am now deeply in touch with my sexual self and am able to recognise when my body longs for intimacy, the things that turn me on, the things that turn me off.

I welcome the points made in Bergner’s book in that it make us women exercise our right to think about or want sex as much as men, without the fear of being labelled ‘sluts’. But the true nature of female sexuality and desire is far more complex than any lab gizmos shoved up women’s private parts could ever gauge.

Sex in the brain
The research questions the belief that women always need an emotional connection in order to want to have sex. I call this ‘male researchers’ wishful-thinking bullshit’. C’mon; excepting cases of women with actual sex addiction, who may want to sleep indiscriminately with multiple partners, sex for a woman always happens in the brain. Even if she is not looking for a deep, meaningful relationship, in order for a woman to enjoy sex, she needs to be mentally turned on, that is a fact.

I have asked girlfriends and female colleagues in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s what they found most appealing in men, and got a wide variety of answers. Some women (usually younger) do mention six-packs and gym-toned bodies as a first point of attraction, and those will usually be ladies who also spend a lot of time and money on their own appearance. In other words, likes attract likes. The intellectual women always say “the brain” is the most attractive part of a man’s body. One, who’s married to a professor, even said “the mention of PhD and thesis papers” was an instant trigger for her to fall in love. A woman in her 60s said “kindness” was what she was mostly looking for in a man, and she did not care what he looked like. Others rated financial stability highly so what the man did for a living and the size of his paycheques could increase or decrease their interest. Needless to say these women were also proud of properties they owned and tended to buy designer dresses for their wardrobe.

But all of these answers still make it seem like women use sex as a trading tool for something else, not that they want sex for the sake of sexual enjoyment. We are probably biologically programmed to select men who can provide us with physical protection, economic stability and good genes to be passed on to our progeny. But I was surprised that none responded they wanted a man who satisfied them in bed.

I am sure it is something all women secretly hope for, but perhaps, when they are looking for a long-term life partner, it gets pushed down the priority scale because survival of the species is paramount. What a shame…

Liberation
For me, going through a kind of late-life journey of sexual self-discovery, sexual fulfilment is high on my priority list. Not that I intend to become promiscuous, but I feel entitled to a fantastic sex life, with a considerate lover for whom giving is as important as taking.

I once joked to a friend that in future relationships I wanted sex to be so steamy and wild that the bed wouldn’t last a month. Her response amused me: “Well, you’d better find a rich man then, who can buy you a new bed every month.” Money again! Too much realism for my fantasy-loving mind.

Even with so much scientific evidence now available that women are as lustful as men, women are still shy of exploring their sexuality and eroticism with brutal honesty. Centuries of social conditioning are not easy to shed. But those hundreds and thousands of women taking to openly reading erotica in public transport for a flight of fantasy make me think women are screaming to come out of their shells and reclaim their right to truly ecstatic sex, not the mechanical mating routine they may be having at home with their husbands/boyfriends.

How much can we really achieve in reality? Apart from our social programming, we have our own personal fears and insecurities to grapple with. We also have to deal with an entire male population out there, who may not be able to appreciate the fine balance between respect and daring we want in bed. Not to mention that communication between men and women tends to be ambiguous and turbid at the best of times.

Forget the women. What do men really want? – is what women would like to know.

There is one immediate and simple solution for men and women to achieve sexual truce and enjoyment without the need to hurt each other, and that is for them to be able to answer these two questions with total honesty: What do you want? Do you want what I want?

Nothing else, in the end, matters.

“Honesty is such a lonely word.
Everyone is so untrue.
Honesty is hardly ever heard.
And mostly what I need from you.”

(from Honesty, Billy Joel)

“I want a companion…with sex”

When my friend said that, I nearly gagged on the tea I had been sipping. We were at a friend’s flat in north London, sat at their kitchen table late at night, discussing what kind of relationships we envisaged having post our break-ups.

Janet* is a social worker, mid to late to 50s, with an 18-year-old son, and was already divorced when I first met her last autumn.

I had been consulting her about adoption in the UK, the rules of adoption, as she is a specialist in the field and used to place kids into homes. I had wanted to know if, as a single woman, I would ever be eligible to adopt a child, an idea I had been playing with in my head.

Not that I intend to follow this through, mind. If I adopted now, I would be doing it for all the wrong reasons. It would be as selfish, pointless and unfair to the child as a couple having a baby to salvage their marriage. But I needed to know my options.

A soul connection
Janet and I first met during what I jokingly call a “hippy retreat” in Wales last autumn, where a group of women spent days meditating a lot and discussing spiritual development. I had taken an instant liking to her the moment I opened a door to let her in; she later told me she had felt an immediate connection with me as well.

Our life stories are amazingly similar. We both feel we actually met our Mr Right many years ago but the timing wan’t right. We both feel our marriages were a “compromise”, more like…I’ll get married because it’s what you do, and there may not be anyone else afterwards, not because we felt our ex-partners were soulmates. In fact, like me, she had seen numerous “signs” early on, indicating that the man who was to become her husband was not the right one for her, but she consciously chose to ignore them, as did I.

Same mistakes, same outcomes. 

I happen to have a fair number close friends in their 50s and 60s. I treasure these friendships: having slightly more life experience than me, their insights are always eye-opening, as they are able to see life as it looks like from further down the path.

One important thing I found out from those friends is that just because you have reached your mature years, you don’t stop longing for a partner, for love, for companionship, and – best of all – sex.

For someone in their early 20s, 50s and 60s is “granny age”. You can’t/don’t want to imagine your grandmother having sex, do you, let alone, wanting sex (scandalous!). But that’s because our society is so ageist and our ideas about sexuality skewed in favour of artificial concepts of idealised happiness, which are always linked to beautiful young people.

The fact that so many women discover the true joy of sex long after their fertility shuts down is, in my view, a reason to be celebrated, not something to be disgusted at. More respect for your gran’s nooky time!

Companionship and sex
Janet would like a companion, she told me, by which she means no strings attached: someone to go out with from time to time, have tea with, have a laugh together without the pressure of an formal commitment. But she wants “a companion with sex,” because, she added, “I like sex.”

I cracked up when she blurted that out with a totally serious face but I was not laughing at her; I was laughing with her. Because I know exactly what she meant and why she wanted what she wanted.

Soon after a breakup, bereft as you may feel, any rushed attempts at a serious relationship are likely to end up in tears because you have so many emotional hung-ups to sort out. It is very easy to end up projecting a gripe you had against your ex on your new love interest and over-reacting to things that remind you of what used to bother you in your marriage or past relationship. An informal liaison is often safer at this stage than jumping into another risk-laden, long-term commitment.

We all seek companionship because we are human and hardwired to crave connectivity, especially if you have just been through the wringer exiting from an unhappy relationship.

Often, in bad marriage, sex fades out long before the relationship ends. Or, if it did still happen, the pleasure you got out of it may have been, as one married woman cleverly said in Daniel Bergner’s What Do Women Want, “like the pleasure of returning a borrowed book to a library”.

If a woman has been starved for some time of sex, good, pleasurable sex – not just-tick-the-box joyless copulation – I should think it is quite natural for her to crave it as part of the recovery process.

Or perhaps Janet’s libido has always been high, I have yet to ask her that question.

Here’s to Janet for her honesty and joyful middle-age sex. I hope she will find her dream companion soon. I’ll have what she’s having too.

[*Janet is not her real name.]