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Virginia Johnson Dies: Pioneer Sex Researcher Was 88

Image: Virginia Johnson Dies: Pioneer Sex Researcher Was 88

By Alexandra Ward   |   Friday, 26 Jul 2013 11:02 AM

Sex research pioneer Virginia Johnson, who together with her husband revolutionized the world's understanding of human sexuality with a series of best-selling books, died Wednesday in her home state of Missouri. She was 88.

Johnson died of complications from various illnesses at an assisted living facility in St. Louis, her son Scott told the Los Angeles Times.

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In 1957, Johnson, then a divorced mother of two, teamed up with William Masters for a collaboration that would jumpstart her career and come to define her life's work. They met when Johnson, who never earned a degree other than her two honorary ones, was working at Washington University's medical school.

The two, who would later marry, began studying human sexuality and went on to write several books, starting with "Human Sexual Response" in 1966, a landmark work discussing the physiology of sex. Their second book, "Human Sexual Inadequacy," published in 1970, detailed how to treat sexual dysfunction.

Their philosophy was simple.

"We're not trying to make perfect lovers," Johnson told the Washington Post in 1978. "We tell them to take what they feel at the time and translate it into a physical 'shared' moment. The turn-on is knowing he 'really' wants to touch you, and vice versa. Even the most double-standard male and the equivalent of that in a female learns eventually if you don't give, you don't get enough back."

Masters and Johnson opened a research institute in St. Louis in 1964 where they observed laboratory studies of real couples' interactions and conducted sex therapy.

"She was the one who was able to watch what worked, she was the one who took the background interviews with all the patients," autobiographer Thomas Maier told CNN. "She put together all of these things and she understood what worked, because she just had a real native genius for understanding what made things click. She was really the brains behind the therapy."

The pair divorced in 1992 and Masters died in 2001.

Along with her son, Johnson is survived by her daughter, Lisa Young, and two grandchildren.

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