Shirley Zussman, tireless sex therapist, has died at 107

Shirley Zussman, a sex therapist trained by William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson, researchers who debunked the mechanisms of sex and continued to see patients until the age of 105, died Dec. 4 in his Manhattan home. She was 107 years old.

His son, Mark Zussman, has confirmed the death.

In 1966, Dr Zussman, a psychiatric social worker and psychotherapist, and her husband Leon Zussman, a gynecologist and obstetrician, were invited to a talk given by two sex researchers practically unknown at the time: Dr Masters, a gynecologist. , and Ms. Johnson, a college dropout who had studied psychology.

At their clinic in St. Louis, the couple (Dr Masters was married to someone else at the time) had started helping people improve their sex lives, using what they had learned in the course. nearly a decade of clinical research studying the ways in which men and women have sex and what made them feel good. Their book “Human Sexual Response”, which popularized the treatment of sexual dysfunction and helped free his patients from the analyst couch, had just been published and was not yet the dazzling bestseller. was going to become. But the talk they gave, as Dr Zussman told Time magazine in 2014, her centenary year, resonated with her and her husband.

Research by Dr Masters and Ms Johnson has found that women can be multi-orgasmic, but not always or often – or, in some cases, never – through penetration. They were pro-masturbation and learned about it. It was a busy cultural moment, as the buttoned-up 1950s gave way to what Dr Zussman called the frenetic relationships of the 1960s, and each period had in its own way been a recipe for the anxiety and distress associated with the performance.

Despite the relaxing mores of the ’60s, Dr Zussman recalls, “It wasn’t just glamorous and wonderful to be sexual. You almost had to learn to be a good partner and to enjoy the pleasure, not only for yourself, but for the other. And I was like, ‘We can do it! Why can’t we do this? “

The Zussmans were trained at the Masters and Johnson Institute, and by the mid-1970s they were co-directors of the Human Sexuality Center at Long Island Jewish-Hillside Medical Center. Their patients were married couples, usually women who did not have an orgasm and men who were helpless or prematurely ejaculating.

They thought the underlying issues had to do with communication, as they gently detailed in their 1979 book, “Getting Together: A Guide to Sexual Enrichment for Couples”. With both physical and psychological exercises – the Zussmans encouraged their patients to probe their upbringing for clues to their attitudes towards sex and relationships, and to examine how work, family and societal pressures affected their privacy – the book was vast in scope. It was also compassionate.

“Shirley was a pioneer in sex therapy and a great role model,” said Ruth Westheimer, who was a program director at Planned Parenthood and was studying sexuality at Columbia University when she took a sex therapy course taught by the Dr Zussman and her husband. at their Long Island clinic. It was the discipline’s first experience for Dr. Westheimer, the spirited Holocaust survivor and sex therapist who later became a familiar face on television. “They were pioneers because she was a therapist and her husband was a gynecologist and that validated the work. It gave her the legitimacy that sex therapists like me needed. I wouldn’t talk about orgasms without Shirley.

Sexual pleasure, said Dr Zussman in 2014, “is only part of what men and women want for each other. They want privacy. They want closeness. They want understanding. They want comfort. They want to have fun. And they want someone who really cares about them beyond sleeping with them. And I think people are still looking for that in every generation. “

Shirley Edith Dlugasch was born July 23, 1914 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Her father, Louis Dlugasch, was a doctor and her mother, Sara (Steiner) Dlugasch, was a surgical nurse.

Shirley grew up in Brooklyn and attended Smith College, where she majored in psychology and graduated in 1934. (Julia Child was a classmate.) She graduated from the New York School of Social Work-Columbia University (now Columbia School of Social Work) in 1937, and a doctorate in education from Teachers College, Columbia University, in 1969.

Her thesis was on husbands in the delivery room, a radical act in the 1950s and 1960s. Dr Zussman wanted to explore the customs of delivery in other cultures, and she contacted the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead, who was a member of Columbia’s faculty, to serve on its thesis committee.

In addition to his son, Dr. Zussman is survived by his daughter, Carol Sun; three grandchildren; two step-grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. Léon Zussman died in 1980.

Dr. Zussman is two-time president of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists. She was a frequent guest on talk shows and for a decade and a half had a monthly column in Glamor magazine, “Sex and Health.” She attributed her long life to good genes: her sister lived to be 104, her brother to 96.

In her sex therapy and psychotherapy practice, Dr. Zussman has seen same-sex and single couples as well as heterosexual couples. She said the most common problem with her patients in the 21st century is lack of desire.

“You have to look at your priorities,” she told Time magazine. “You have to decide what is important to make you feel good about yourself and your life. And to help your partner feel good. To establish something rewarding that fulfills a need we all need to be close to someone.


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