The XX Factor

Goodbye Homeland, Hello Masters of Sex

Lizzy Caplan as sex researcher Virginia Johnson with Beau Bridges in Masters of Sex.


There’s only one episode of Homeland’s second season left, and whatever goes down next Sunday, I will miss not just the show’s complicated perspective on the War on Terror, but also one of the most heated, interesting, adult-feeling sexual relationships on television.

Homeland may have scooped up all of those Emmys for its terrorism plotline, but right next to the depictions of drone strikes, torture, and PTSD has been a conversation about the impact of war on a married couple’s sex life, plus all manner of sexual relations, including what one character referred to as “stage five, delusional getting laid.” Homeland’s characters don’t have sex like choreographed robots—it’s the rare show where they have sex like adult humans.

And that’s why I’m excited for Showtime’s next shot at original programming success: Masters of Sex, a historical drama about sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson (played by Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan), set to premiere next year:

First, it’s terrific to see a period sex drama that focuses at least equally, if not more, on the sexual experiences of women. Bill Condon’s biopic Kinsey had some discussions of Alfred Kinsey’s sexual relationship with his wife, Clara McMillen. But the movie’s pivotal sequences, including Kinsey’s going to bed with his male assistant and an interview with a pedophile, were focused on the male experience. Watching Virginia Johnson explain why a woman might fake an orgasm, and seeing Masters’ reaction is a reminder both of how far we’ve come—and how far the sexual revolution has to go.

Second, it’ll be nice to see a smart female scientist on television. The Big Bang Theory has its share of female geeks, but otherwise, women who know their way around a test tube—or in this case, a glass phallus with a camera in it—have mostly been confined to the big screen. And their efforts are often directed toward outsized (or ridiculous) goals, like the search for the origins of human life in Prometheus, or a rush to vaccinate all of New York against an engineered lizard virus in The Amazing Spider-Man. Masters of Sex could be a nice pop-cultural reminder that science isn’t just an abstract, heroic field—and that women’s sexual pleasure isn’t just an abstract or easily resolved issue, but one worth serious, scientific inquiry.