Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Saturday, November 02, 2013

Masters of Sex, Clueless About Love

The premium cable network Showtime has cornered the market on glossy cynicism, pairing its “Homeland” hit with “Masters of Sex,” now renewed for a second season.

Just as the Claire Danes soap opera reduces politics and patriotism to a mindless round of betrayals, the newer series feeds viewers’ voyeurism with nude scenes of heartless copulation, made guilt-free by the gravity of Masters and Johnson solemn scientific goals.

It all recalls an old line from the outdated magazine’s heyday, “I only read Playboy for the articles.”

Still, all this is harmless enough in an era where anything goes visually and intellectually, but the Masters and Johnson saga has a particular poignance for me.  

In their later days, after (spoiler alert) they were famous and married to each other, it finally must have seeped in that their work was a touch chilly. To remedy this oversight about love, they recruited a writer, my best friend Robert Levin, to write a book with them about marriage titled “The Pleasure Bond: A New Look at Sexuality and Commitment.”

The conclusion: “Total commitment, in which all sense of obligation is linked to mutual feelings of loving concern, sustains a couple sexually over the years. In the beginning, it frees them to explore the hidden dimensions of their sexual natures, playing with sex as a pastime and passion, seeking the erotic pleasures that give life much of its meaning.

“Then, when carrying the inescapable burdens that come with a family and maturity, they can turn to each other for the physical comforting and emotional sustenance they need to withstand economic and social pressures that often threaten to drain all life of joy.

“Finally, in their later years, it is in the enduring satisfaction of their sexual and emotional bond that committed husbands and wives find reason enough to be glad that they still have another day together.”

Nicely said, but life overtakes words in painful ways. A few years later, Masters and Johnson divorced. Before that, my friend who wrote the book for them died literally from a broken heart after suffering disappointment in his own marriage.

Today, all that “research” seems pointless and naïve, but in the entertainment maw, it can be ground up and served to sophisticated minds that simultaneously mock and savor it.

In my case, it’s all too close to home for that.

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