Pioneering sex educator Betty Dodson dies at 91
Photo credit: Celeste Sloman / The New York Times / Redux
Betty Dodson, the pioneering sex therapist, educator and author, died in New York on Saturday. She was 91 years old.
Dodson has built her career around educating women in the art of self-pleasure. In the 1970s, she began hosting masturbation workshops in her Manhattan apartment, in which women would undress, examine each other’s vulva, and then practice pleasuring themselves with a vibrator. (Or, as Dodson said last year when asked what goes on in his workshops, “Everyone gets away with it.”)
She was inspired to start the workshops, she said, after attending several orgies and realizing that even the freest and most HIV-positive women often struggle to reach orgasm. Effective masturbation, she believed, was a form of liberation for women, a way for them to learn to prioritize their own sexual experience and reduce their dependence on men. As she wrote in her 2010 memoir, Sex by Design: The Betty Dodson Story, “Instinct told me that sexual mobility is the same as social mobility. Men had it and women didn’t.
Born in Wichita, Kansas on August 24, 1929, Dodson moved to New York City at the age of 20 to pursue a career as an artist. She was briefly married to an advertiser, but the two were sexually incompatible; she was “not orgasmic” with him, she once said Living room. Dodson said her sexual shame and dissatisfaction caused her to start drinking heavily. After her divorce in 1965, she became sober and, according to the new York Time, it is in Alcoholics Anonymous that she meets a man who, she says, taught her self-pleasure and will remain one of her sexual partners until his death in 2008.
Dodson’s own sexuality was fluid. She described herself as “heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian”. His attitude towards men, the Time noted in a profile of her earlier this year, was sometimes dismissive. “Men are so two-dimensional,” she said. “If there’s anything interesting about them, it’s because of the women they’ve been with.” There were exceptions, however. She fondly remembered, for example, Eric Wilkinson, the man she lived with for over a decade when she was 70 and he in his twenties. “He was so beautiful. He had a perfect body, broad shoulders, good sized genitals and tight bones.
Rough, brutal, and wickedly funny, Dodson’s teachings have had a huge influence on how women’s sexual health and pleasure are discussed today. His book Sex for one has been translated into more than 25 languages; her self-enjoyment workshops are taught by “bodysex leaders”, as they are called, around the world; and she even worked as a consultant for the popular Museum of Sex in New York City. “Betty had it all,” said Annie Sprinkle, the 1970s pornstar turned sex educator, who was a Dodson student. Time. “She popularized the clitoris and clitoral orgasms and gave the clitoris celebrity status.”
But even though the conversation around female pleasure has come a long way since the days when Dodson first attended orgies, there is still a long way to go. Consider her appearance last year on The Goop laboratory, Netflix’s docuseries about Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle business. In an episode called “The Pleasure Is Bear,” Dodson preaches how important it is for women to “get by,” and she makes Paltrow’s cheeks blush the same shade of millennial pink as the couch she’s sitting on. . It also corrects Paltrow terminology. When the founder of Goop boasts that “vaginas” are her favorite topic, Dodson the cut. “The vagina is just the birth canal,” she said firmly. “You mean the vulva, which is the clitoris and the inner labia and all that good shit around.”
It’s a revealing moment. Paltrow is a woman who walks forward and enjoys the concept of female pleasure by peddling expensive yoni jade eggs and a candle which supposedly smells like her vagina. (Did she mean vagina or vulva? I guess we don’t know.) But she’s uncertain about the specifics of female anatomy, and a comment about women “running the fuck” makes her blush. Clearly, Dodson’s message of open and honest communication around female sexual pleasure is as relevant today as it was when she hosted her first masturbation workshop in the 1970s.
As for his own pleasure, Dodson never ceased to enjoy it. As she said the cup in 2011, when she was 83 years old: “Last month, I had a knockout [orgasm]. I went, ‘Whoa, girl. You still have it.