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'The Machines of Sex Research': Powering repression and revolution

Showtime viewers are looking forward to the widely anticipated new series, Masters of Sex, which tells the story of sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson. And while Masters and Johnson may have been responsible for a part of the sexual revolution in America, what audiences may not know is how the tools used by these and other sex researchers have helped fuel both progress and oppression. A new Springer title, The Machines of Sex Research: Technology and the Politics of Identity, 1945-1985 by Donna J. Drucker, dives into the history of these machines and their implications on society. The book is part of the series Springer Briefs in History of Science and Technology.

The Machines of Sex Research takes readers through a history of the development and use of these instruments from the mid-forties through the mid-eighties. As these machines were used to study human sexuality, Drucker details how the conclusions drawn by scientists, which were based on this research, had very real consequences for individuals and society as a whole. For example, some of these findings helped fuel the struggle for gender equality, while others gave rise to the gay rights movement.

The Machines of Sex Research begins with a discussion of the books theoretical background, and each subsequent chapter describes a specific milestone along the road of sexual research using machines. The second chapter focuses on the development of the sex research laboratory and the rise and fall of aversion therapy, which was used to cure individuals of deviant homosexual behavior. Chapter three centers on the work of Masters and Johnson, and chapter four describes the development of machines specifically for sex research on women. The conclusion brings the narrative up to the present.

Drucker writes, Machines were tools of more hostile spaces, such as laboratories in which people received aversion therapy; they were tools that reinforced heterosexuality in the laboratory; they perpetuated images of the interior of bodies as sexual spaces; and they provided data on the human body that changed how individuals interacted with and used public and private space in their everyday lives. She continues, Using machines for sex research raises questions about how scientific understandings of the interior and exterior of bodies affect what it means to have a sexual body, the use and meaning of pain in human research, and the degree to which subjectivity is possible for the sex research participant.


Contact: Alexander Brown
Springer Science+Business Media

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