Admit it. The main reason for tuning into Masters of Sex is for the sex.
Based on the book of the same name by Thomas Maier, the new Showtime series kicks off Sunday at 10/9c with the fateful meeting between the famed real-life sex research pioneers from the 1950s known as Masters and Johnson. Renowned obstetrician Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) begins a study to measure the human physiological response to sex. He hires former nightclub singer Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) as his secretary, but also as an assistant who offers female insight and to smooth the way with women who participate in the study. Their research helped launch the sexual revolution.
Masters of Sex's unconventional sex scenes made stars feel "more naked"
It's clear that anyone tuning into Masters of Sex expects to see, well, lots of sex. That doesn't necessarily mean, however, that viewers are using the series as some form of surrogate pornography, but rather are curious about how the series treats sex — as smut? as science? as procreation? as titillation? In short, just how sexy is the sex on the show?
How does one define sexy? The range of criteria — from bare bottoms to big brains — for what constitutes sexy is fairly broad. TVGuide.com broke out its highly unscientific sex-o-meter to rate the series on the level of sexiness for a handful of these criteria:
[Warning: Contains some sexual language below. You've been warned!]
Sex-o-meter Rating: 4
Based on the volume of sex scenes, the series would rate a 10, but the scientific equipment, procedures and jargon literally get in the way of how alluring these scenes are. Want proof? Three words: Glass light-up dildo. This frightening device, which Masters nicknames Ulysses, is supposed to track the female's response during masturbation, but also includes a camera that allows the researchers to peer inside a woman, as if she were a blood sample under a microscope. We have to give credit to the real-life subjects who were able to overcome all the nodes, wiring, lights, bells and whistles, not to mention the observers to get and stay in the mood. Additionally, most of the series' sex scenes are only shown in snippets (sometimes montages, for extra efficiency!), with most of the actions implied. Any risk of transference — feeling the arousal that the subjects are feeling — is minimal.
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Sex-o-meter Rating: 6
For the most part, the actors are good-looking and keep in decent shape, so the naked bodies on the screen are pleasing to the eye. The series shies away from full-frontal nudity, the camera stays a respectable distance from its subjects, and overt fondling of body parts is rare, so there's no risk of mistaking this for porn. Interestingly enough, Masters is actually sexually repressed, so for the first six episodes at least, the most exciting part of his appearance is the color of his many bow ties.
Sex-o-meter Rating: 1
As adults, we understand that sex does not necessarily equal love or even romance, but this series really drives that point home. In the first six episodes, we see only one married couple have sex, but it's almost fully clothed and performed in a mechanical way for the sole purpose of procreation. Like Bruno Mars, the husband would have done well to at least buy his wife flowers. There are plenty of other more passionate romps — including one with "assigned" partners who are supposed to be anonymous to each other in the study — but once again, the more tender feelings rarely intrude. Instead, the series seems to focus more on unrequited love and infidelity. Those familiar with Masters and Johnson know that their relationship will eventually become closer, but that's far off in the future.
Sex-o-meter Rating: 2
Don't expect to see much beyond the traditional male-female pairings engaging in fairly typical bedroom activity. The series glosses over what Masters calls the more deviant practices because he claims to want to gather data mainly on what he believes are "the norm." That does not mean, however, that homosexuality is ignored in the series. The subject is addressed several times in regards to whether or not to use gay people as subjects. As the more sexually liberated of the two researchers, Johnson asks Masters, "Why would it throw off your data? Isn't an orgasm an orgasm?" Same-sex pairings are left off of the screen, though, except for maybe a kiss or hint at foreplay.
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Sex-o-meter Rating: 3
You won't get your kink or taboo fix here. Non-vanilla sex acts don't get much of the spotlight since Masters knows almost nothing about sex. In fact, he gets quite the sexual education through his observation of prostitutes in action. Speaking of that, if we count all of the voyeurism going on by the characters on screen in the name of science (and by us viewers in the name of entertainment) that raises the level of kink marginally.
Sex-o-meter Rating: 9
Masters of Sex is good for its conversation, and we're not talking about getting turned on by witty repartee (this isn't The Newsroom, after all). Just as Masters and Johnson's work helped Americans begin to talk about sex instead of relegating it to behind closed doors, the series stimulates that conversation with viewers. How much have sexual mores changed? Are we still reluctant to talk about sex as openly as these two did? Are the double standards still in place? Why is ignorance of sexual health practices still prevalent today? In addition, although Caplan is not a newcomer to acting, Masters of Sex could be her breakout role because her portrayal of "Gini" Johnson is sharp, funny and warm. Although Johnson doesn't have the training Masters does, it's clear from her smarts why she became his right hand and partner.
Check out the trailer for Masters of Sex:
Will you tune in?
Masters of Sex premieres Sunday at 10/9c on Showtime.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS, the parent company of Showtime.)