What ‘Masters of Sex’ is Still Teaching Us About Sexuality

Based on Thomas Maier’s biography of the same name, Showtime’s ‘Masters of Sex’ is still topping reviews well into its sophomore season. The period drama follows the lives of two revolutionary scientists in the late 1950’s, James Masters and Virginia Johnson, and their groundbreaking study of human sexuality.

But while sex sells, there is certainly more driving the success of the show. First, for a headliner show about sex, ‘Masters’ is being proclaimed as one of the most progressive programs available, and it really is. The show is being hailed as a feminist revelation, and having Lizzy Caplan of Mean Girls fame hasn’t hurt in that respect. A single mother of two balancing work and a driving focus on her scientific work, Caplan’s Johnson is pragmatic, independent and wholly believable. Her standout performance is shared by a cast of other rounded-out women. With Sarah Silverman joining the cast as Helen, who shares a lesbian romance with lover Betty (played by Annaleigh Ashford), the show is one of the first where women and the sexual “outliers” have more screen time than the heterosexual men. The historical exploration of gay sexuality with the character of Barton Scully, played by Beau Bridges, is dark and definitive. In an attempt to renew his relationship with his wife, the closeted husband undergoes shock therapy, a practice typical of the time, in order to extricate his homosexual instincts. The treatment is shown as something entirely normal, for an age that’s younger than people walking the earth. At times, the understandings of sex and humanity seem juvenile, and its easy to dismiss them as ignorant. But what the show does so beautifully is a measurement of progress. Scully’s wife has trouble describing an orgasm, because she’s never had one. Another couple enters Masters office with the issue of infertility. In a comic scene, Johnson needs to explain the practice of sex, because simply “lying with each other” does not produce a child. Measurement of educational, scientific, and sexual progress is at the heart of the show.

‘Masters’ plays out like a modern stage drama: the sets are minimal, the language is stark, and the success of the show is driven by the strength of the characters. If sex is power, then the drama of the show is driven by who is in control of the scene, which lends to brilliant interactions in dialogue. Every character has something they’re lying to themselves about, whether it’s the justification behind Johnson and Masters’ affair, or a character’s personal sexuality or ignorance thereof.

Then, there’s the actual sex. Each scene acts to provide something other than visual smut. Every single time sex is on the table, it deepens the larger plot line, whether it’s by illustrating the lack of intimacy a closeted gay man has for his wife, or propels the themes of self-deception and power the show explores so densely.

But on top of all of this, ‘Masters’ has utilized television as an educational tool. Sure, most privileged television viewers watching the show have gone through course sex-educational courses. In the first season finale, a very basic list of the study’s very real findings are given significant air time: the anatomy of a female orgasm, the four phases of human response, that homosexuality is not a human illness, that masturbation does not cause illness or insanity (which was, believe it or not, a held belief historically) and that sexual instinct does not dissipate in old age, among a great deal of other things. “This is a scientific study, not a stag film in a frat house,” Masters notes. The original published findings of the work was seen as a liberation of sexuality and human biology, and the relevance of that is still very present. Promoting awareness of the pitfalls of relationships, the patterns of human behavior and the nature of sexuality, and the depths of self-delusion, the show not only rekindles interest in sexual education but explores its ramifications.

‘Masters of Sex’ airs Sundays at 10PM on Showtime.

Alexis George is a San Francisco writer. She can unfortunately be found on Twitter.Did you enjoy this article? Follow us on Facebook to get more great content! We have a weekly podcast you can find on our main site. Also follow us on Twitter and Tumblr!

Five Reasons You Should be Wild about Wildstar


When I asked the development team to describe Wildstar in one sentence, Stephan Frost of Carbine Studios stated, “Wildstar is large MMO with a lot of personality, crazy story, a great housing system and little gerbils that are also death machines.” After three weeks of beta, I’d say it’s closer to what would happen if Firefly, a PG13 version Disney’s Treasure Planet, and Borderlands 2 had a threeway lovechild. With goats. (Sorry, I mean Rowsdowers. I still don’t quite understand the goat thing, but I like the absurdity. Plus, those little things are everywhere. EVERYWHERE.) With a slated launch date of June 3rd, 2014, Wildstar has finally opened beta for the general public, and there is something here worth being excited about, gamers. I’ve compiled a list of features and observations leading up to release in hopes of roping a few others into the madness. So saddle up and load your phaser pistols, ladies and gentlemen.


1. You Can be a robot, a devil, a cowboy, a giant rock…. thing…

The first weekend I played, I easily dropped two hours into character creation. (I have a habit of doing that.) I had a much harder time with Wildstar, because the character race/class combinations are particularly vast.

The company themselves released some hilarious videos to reveal all of these on their website. Yeah, there are two very evident ends to the spectrum of characters. (Do you want to be a fine tuned member of a borderline Orwellian dynasty, or a ruttin’ cowboy?) But, the dev team has gone out of their way to provide customization for characters, items, and mounts (read: ships that can have anything from a bowl of ramen to Cthulhu hanging off the side). The strong set of combinations (which are bound to grow with expansions) with paths and the nuances are really fun, and particularly striking. Which brings me to…

2. Paths

I don’t know if I’ve seen a profession system I’ve liked in a video game. With WoW (which admittedly, I never committed to all that intensely) I always felt like it was more a chore than a part of the game. So it surprised me to discover that I was super fond of the paths in Wildstar. I focused on exploration and science for my two more complete runs. Exploration caught my eye especially, since it’s been an aspect of MMO gaming that I usually like. (“Look at that shiny mountainside over there! Let’s see if the game will break if we try to climb it!”) I found myself lighting up every time the bottom right corner of the screen pinged with new path quest, basically rewarding me for taking time out to look at the maps the dev team spent time making. Plus, it looks like they’ve really mixed it up in the recent patch, adding battles and unexpected challenges you wouldn’t expect.

On top of that, this is the mechanic that lets you really help other players. Whatever quest you decide to do adds buffers and bonuses to you and any pc around you in your faction. So whether you’re riding solo or doing a group, the sight of other players is much less frustrating and much more exciting. (“I hope he doesn’t kill all my quest monsters again,” turns into “Heeeeeell yeah buffs!”)

3. It’s not a hard game. Until it is.

Anyone who has picked up Guild Wars, League of Legends, or World of Warcraft will have a comfortable home here. The game follows the same patterns for powers and controls, almost to a fault (initially). The skill system is strike based (in a mechanic similar to LoL.) Aim to hit. It’s easy when you get the controls down. The first climb to level 20 is almost tedious in the simplicity and familiarity of the patterns of attacks, grinding, and quest formula. (“Go here. Kill 20 of those weird looking goat things. bring me back their souls. Lather, rinse, repeat.”) Thankfully, these zones have been a hotspot for developers to alter and shift the pace of in recent patches. more than anything else, I’ve been impressed by the availability and response of the development team in how they approach bugs and feedback.

… Then there’s the dungeons. My god, the feeling of figuring out a boss, choreographing the pattern of attacks and movement, and properly owning an instance is almost a dopamine level equivalent to Dark Souls. I don’t mean to say that the game has an unfair altitude of difficulty, or that it’s impossible. I mean to say that it does pick up, and the tongue in cheek humor of the writing bites down. Hard. Even in the beta, bosses have been fine tuned with their own patterns and skill sets, and even the clerical classes can feel a wave of achievement when the boss is finally down.

4. It wasn’t written or developed by tools.

Yeah, the absurdity of a world with radioactive hamsters, goats, and posh robots is potent. The frame story has been seen before many times, most recently with Borderlands 2. (It’s a gold rush! IN SPAAAAACE.) But there really is some underlying strength to the development here. The humor is aptly timed and not forced. The tradition of pulp adventure is very strongly preserved and available. If you choose to open as a dominion imperialist, the clear themes of oppression and colonialism in the opening five minutes are very stark in comparison to the lighthearted sell of the commercials.

Then, there is the glacier of Lore and story that this game is packing. Like in Skyrim, I found myself spending a lot of in-game hours reading up on the collected lore articles scattered throughout the world, and the dark themes and really sudden moments of depth (in contrast to the borderline cartoon aesthetic of the design) reminded me (in a very good way) of Ubisoft’s Beyond Good and Evil.

There was definitive dialogue between devs and beta testers the past few weekends that have very clearly led to good updates, and on top of that, the end game (and who really cares about anything before end games in MMO’s?) has a whole lot of room for expansion. They’re on top of it.

5. Warplots

PvP is fun. PvP with 40 players on each side, involving strategy plotting, customizable battlefields, and the mechanic to add defeated raid bosses as guardians against the opposing faction is just sexy. I don’t know if this mechanic has ever been fully realized in another game like it is here… and it’s hardcore. If you lose a war battle, you lose your plot. Wildstar gets pretty gnarly intense at elite levels. Suffice to say, I’m stoked.

Here’s the trailer for open beta. Give it a looksee.

Preorder here.

Open beta is LIVE now!

This is the design concept for a goat. No justification here.

A. George is a San Francisco based writer. She is one of 63 registered clones in the Bay Area. If you see any of her counterparts (they can be distinguished by their colorful livestock ear tags) please report it directly to her blog, which can be found here. She can unfortunately also be found on twitter.

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