Masters of Sex: Determining Sex

 Posted by on July 29, 2014 at 10:28 am  Masters of Sex
Jul 292014

One thing that struck me as interesting in Masters of Sex episode 2.03, Fight, was that Bill Masters had a genetic test on hand that determined definitively that the baby with ambiguous genitalia was male.

Watson and Crick first published the structure of the DNA double-helix in 1953. Was Masters really determining sex by a simple blood test in 1959?

This article on the WHO website says

In 1959, chromosomal analysis of two human disorders, Turner syndrome and Klinefelter syndrome, demonstrated for the first time that genetic factors on the Y chromosomes of mammals are important determinants in male sex.

Seems like an anachronism to me.


  10 Responses to “Masters of Sex: Determining Sex”

  1. I suspect there were other methods in use before DNA testing, like the presence of certain levels of various hormones or proteins in the blood.

    • I’d imagine that hormone levels would be useful in determining the sex of a baby in this situation. However Masters specifically said that the blood tests revealed the child had XY chromosomes, which implies some kind of genetic test. I agree with Deborah that this sounds like an anachronism. Although such testing was possible at the time, I would imagine that it was largely confined to research labs and certainly not routinely performed in hospitals.

  2. A quick look at Wiki indicates that sexual determination via X and Y chromosomes was known as far back as *1901*, so it’s probable that well before the general understanding of DNA, chromosomal testing was in use to determine sex status in leading hospitals.

    Don’t get me wrong: this show is loaded with anachronisms, especially in the dialog! But in this case, I think they’re probably okay…

    • Don’t get me started on the dialogue. Ginny said “Seriously?” this week.

      • “Heavy” meaning serious… “Macrame” as an example of a popular hobby… “Shooting blanks” for a male fertility problem… Folks tossing around “orgasm” and “climax” like they weren’t words that were virtually never spoken aloud. I often get the sense that the (youngish) people writing this show don’t know the difference between the seventies and the fifties!

        Again, it’s not that I don’t really enjoy the show… but its handling of period attitudes and dialog is much, much, MUCH sloppier than Mad Men’s.

        • My favorite example is the Scully’s daughter’s reference to the fact that she looked like “Mr. Ed” when she wore braces. What’s next?: will Ginny mention “Shrek” or “Beetlejuice” in ’59?

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  4. Karyotyping, or the enumeration of the number of chromosomes in an organism, dates back to the mid 1800s.
    The normal human karyotype of 46 XX/XY for female and male, respectively,maws determined in the 1920s.
    So, yes– Masters would have known to order a karyotype, and how to interpret it. The question is, could it have been done as quickly as is depicted? It takes a couple of days now, even with sophisticated techniques…

  5. WAS determined. Stupid autocorrect

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