Shirley Zussman dead at 107: Sex therapist trained by Masters & Johnson dies in New York after seeing patients until 105

SEX therapist, Shirley Zussman, died at her home on December 4 at the age of 107. 

Her death was confirmed by her son, Marc Zussman.

Shirley Edith Dlugasch was born on July 23, 1914, in the Lower East Side. Her father was a doctor and her mother a surgical nurse.

She grew up in Brooklyn, attending Smith College with a major in psychology. She received a diploma at the New York School of Social-Work-Columbia University and got her doctorate in education from Teachers College at Columbia University, in 1969.

She is a former two-term President of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists.

She was also the co-director of the Human Sexuality Center of Zucker Hillside Hospital and a past Director of the Association for Male Sexual Dysfunction.

Zussman had continued to practice as a sex therapist at 100 years old until she was 105. 

She studied sex therapy under Dr. William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson, the inspiration for the series Master of Sex.

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In the 1960s, Dr. Zussman and her husband, Leon, were invited to a lecture given by Masters and Johnson, who were virtually unknown at the time.

The duo’s book, Human Sexual Response, popularized the treatment of sexual dysfunction. Dr. Zussman said the lecture has resonated something within her and her husband.

Masters and Johnson’s research changed sex culture from the more modest 1950s to the “frantic hookups” of the ’60s, according to Zussman.

“It was not just glamorous and wonderful to be sexual,” said Zussman. “One had to almost learn how to be a good partner and enjoy the pleasure.”

The Zussmans trained at the Masters and Johnson Institute. Their patients were usually married couples who were having troubles with their sex lives.

Together, they wrote the 1979 book, Getting Together: A Guide to Sexual Enrichment for Couples, encouraging people to reflect on how their work, family and societal pressures affected their intimacy.

“Shirley was a pioneer in sex therapy and an excellent role model,” said Ruth Westheimer, a former program director at Planned Parenthood.

Westheimer took a sex therapy course taught by Zussman and her husband. “They were trailblazers because she was a therapist and her husband was a gynecologist and that validated the work,” she said.

“It gave the legitimacy that sex therapists like me needed. I wouldn’t be talking about orgasms if it wasn’t for Shirley.”

Dr. Zussman is survived by her children Marc and Carol; three grandchildren; two step-grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. Her husband Leon died in 1980.

More to follow…

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