Virginia Johnson, part of the husband-wife research team that transformed the study of sex in the 1960s and wrote two best-selling books on sexuality, has died in St. Louis. She was 88. The pioneering sex researcher, who worked with and later married obstetrician-gynecologist William Masters and collaborated on large-scale human sexuality experiments with him, died yesterday at an assisted living facility after suffering complications from various illnesses, said her son. Masters and Johnson were celebrities for two decades, the topic of late-night talk show hosts and on the cover of news magazines.
Johnson recruited graduate students, nurses, faculty wives, and other participants for what was described as the "biggest sex experiment in US history." The after-hours research, first on the medical school campus at Washington University and later at a nearby building, shattered basic perceptions about female sexuality, including Freud's concept that vaginal—rather than clitoral—orgasm was the more mature sexual response for women. Hundreds of couples, not all of them married, would participate in the observed research, later discussed in their 1966 book, Human Sexual Response. That book and their second, 1970's Human Sexual Inadequacy, were both best-sellers. Masters and Johnson married in 1971 and divorced after 20 years; Masters died in 2001.