Shirley Zussman, a sex therapist trained by William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson, researchers who demystified the mechanics of sex and continued to admit patients until age 105, died on December 4 at her Manhattan home. She was 107 years old.
Her son, Mark Zussman, confirmed the death.
In 1966, Dr. Sussman, a social worker psychiatrist and psychotherapist, and her husband Leon Zussman, a gynecologist and obstetrician, were invited to a lecture by two sex researchers who were virtually unknown at the time: Dr. Masters, a gynecologist. and Ms. Johnson, a college dropout studying psychology.
At their clinic in St. Louis, the couple (Dr. Masters was married to someone else at the time) began helping people improve their sex lives by using what they had learned from nearly a decade of clinical research examining the ways men and women did. sex and what gave them pleasure. Their book Human Sexual Response, which popularized the treatment of sexual dysfunction and helped free the suffering analyst from the couch, has just been published and is not yet the bestseller it could be. But the lecture they gave, as Dr. Zussman told Time magazine in 2014 when she turned 100, resonated with her and her husband.
Research by Dr. Masters and Miss Johnson found that women can have multiple orgasms, but not always or often – or, in some cases, ever – through penetration. They advocated and taught masturbation. It was a tense cultural moment as the buttoned-up 1950s gave way to what Dr. Sussman called the crazy get-togethers of the 60s, and each period was, in its own way, a recipe for performance anxiety and stress.
Despite the relaxing morals of the 60s, Dr. Sussman recalled: “Being sexy was not only glamorous and beautiful. I almost had to learn how to be a good partner and have fun not only for myself, but also for each other. And I thought, “We can do this! Why can’t we do this? “
The Zussmans trained at the Masters and Johnson Institute and by the mid-1970s were co-directors of the Human Sexuality Center at Long Island Hillside Medical Center. Their patients were married couples, usually women who did not have an orgasm, and men who were impotent or ejaculated prematurely.
They felt that the underlying issues were related to communication, as they softly detailed in their 1979 book Coming Together: A Sexual Enrichment Guide for Couples. Through exercise, both physical and psychological – the Sussmans encouraged their patients to gain a deeper understanding of their upbringing, to understand their attitudes towards sex and relationships, and to explore how work, family, and social pressures affect their intimacy – the book was extensive on its scope. It was also compassionate.
“Shirley was a pioneer in sex therapy and an excellent role model,” said Ruth Westheimer, who was program director at Planned Parenthood and studied sexuality at Columbia University when she took sex therapy with Dr. Sussman and her husband. at their clinic on Long Island. It was the first experience of discipline for Dr. Westheimer, a resilient Holocaust survivor and sexologist who later became widely known on television. “They were pioneers because she was a therapist and her husband was a gynecologist, and that confirmed her work. It gave him the legitimacy that a sex therapist like me needed. I wouldn’t talk about orgasms if it wasn’t for Shirley. “
Sexual pleasure, Dr. Sussman said in 2014, “is only part of what men and women want for each other. They want intimacy. They want intimacy. They want understanding. They need comfort. They want fun. And they need someone who really cares about them, and does not go to bed with them. And I think people are always looking for this in every generation. “
Shirley Edith Dlugash was born on July 23, 1914 in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Her father Louis Dlugash was a doctor and her mother Sarah (Steiner) Dlugash was a surgical nurse.
Shirley grew up in Brooklyn and studied psychology at Smith College, graduating in 1934 (Julia Child was a classmate). She graduated from Columbia University’s New York School of Social Work (now Columbia School of Social Work). in 1937 and a doctorate from the College of Education of Columbia University in 1969.
Her dissertation focused on husbands who were present in the delivery room, a radical act of the 50s and 60s. Dr. Sussman wanted to study delivery customs in other cultures, and she approached the famed anthropologist Margaret Mead, who was a faculty member at Columbia University, to join her dissertation committee.
Besides his son, Dr. Sussman is survived by a daughter, Carol Sun; three grandchildren; two half-grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. Leon Zussman died in 1980.
Dr. Sussman has twice been president of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. She was a frequent guest on talk shows and wrote the monthly Sex and Health column for Glamor magazine for a decade and a half. She linked her long life to good genes: her sister lived to be 104, and her brother to 96.
In her practice of sex therapy and psychotherapy, Dr. Sussman has seen same-sex couples and single people, as well as heterosexual couples. She said that the most common problem among her patients in the 21st century was lack of desire.
“You have to look at your priorities,” she told Time magazine. “You have to decide what is important to you, that you treat yourself and your life well. And to help your partner feel good. To create something pleasant that satisfies our need for all of us to be with someone. “