Today I am remembering and paying tribute to Virginia Johnson who passed away last week at age 88. I had the honor of training and working at the Masters & Johnson Institute in St. Louis, where Virginia played an important role in my professional development. This woman’s journey from big band singer and twice-divorced mother of two to sex researcher and creator of post-psychoanalytic sex therapy will be forever remembered. It was Virginia whose charisma convinced many medical residents to volunteer for the lab to become part of the discovery of what really happens in the mind and body during sexual interaction. It was Virginia who mined the social sciences to incorporate relational and short-term behavioral treatment methods into a new, brief sex therapy treatment model. And it was Virginia who transformed her own childhood experience of relaxation and bonding via facial tracing by her mother to create the foundation of sex therapy, sensate focus – a series of non-sexual touching exercises which allows couples to reconnect, rediscover, and reconstitute their sexuality. Sensate focus experiences form the basis of sexual healing methods used by many sex therapists today, and is directly attributed to Virginia Johnson’s work.
What do Marie and Pierre Curie, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Simon and Schuster, and Virginia Johnson and Bill Masters have in common? Synergy. A critical aspect of Virginis’a success was due to synergy, the whole of something being greater than its parts, creating an effect which could not have been produced singly. Without the pairing of Virginia with Dr, William Masters, the stoic, professionally connected chairman of Washington University’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the creation of the Masters & Johnson post analytic short term treatment for sexual distress could not have occurred. Together, like many other famous creative duos, their capabilities coalesced to create something which neither could possibly have achieved on their own.
Hats off to you, Virginia! And our eternal thanks.