Friday 11 March 2011

Sex Ed: Betty Dodson: educator, author, pro-sex feminist

Sex is dirty, unnatural, and should be restricted solely for the purposes of procreation. Sex, whether alone or in partnership, is a wonderful expression of our humanity. Erotica (or porn) is perverted, deviant, and the height of all that is aberrant in the world. Erotica (or porn) is an artistic expression of all that is us. As I read, research, and explore, I jump from one end of the spectrum to another, and I say "ends of the spectrum" as both when compared to the mainstream, read the middle ground, seem to be extremes. Of course, when I compare myself to a Ph.D., I am comparing my limited knowledge or even lack of knowledge with somebody who has delved into the matter at hand with a thoroughness well beyond my range of experiences and education. For anybody in the middle of the road, an expert is extreme.

The Facts
Betty Dodson (b. 1929) is an American sex educator, author, and artist. She started a career in art, holding in 1968 the first one-woman show of erotic art at the Wickersham Gallery in New York City. In a couple of video interviews, she describes her sexual ignorance at the age of 35, which would have been the year 1964, and it would seem her quest for knowledge would turn into a life-long career as she left the world of art and switched to sex education.

Widely known as a pioneer in women's sexual liberation, her fame has come from both advocating masturbation and conducting workshops for more than 30 years where groups of women would talk, explore their own bodies, and masturbate together. In 1974, she self-published a slim volume of 60 pages entitled "Liberating masturbation: a meditation on self love" in which she encouraged women (and men) to really understand their own bodies in order to have better sex – both alone and with partners. The book was considered a feminist classic for decades. Finally, Dodson reworked the material and republished it in 1996 under the title "Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving" (208 pages). This was followed in 2002 by the book "Orgasms for Two: The Joy of Partnersex".

Ms. Dodson is considered one of the founders of pro-sex feminism or sex-positive feminism. Feminism, in fighting women's oppression, was becoming radicalized against traditional institutions including pornography and some felt this was making the movement "anti-sex". The feminist sex wars of the early 1980s pitted anti-pornography feminism against pro-sex feminism and led to a division in the feminist ranks.

In 1994, Ms. Dodson received a Ph.D. in clinical sexology from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco.

Since Ms. Dodson has a Ph.D. in this field of study, I thought to define just what the heck that is. According to Wikipedia:

Sexology is the scientific study of human sexuality, including human sexual interests, behavior, and function. It is specifically a field of the research-based sciences; as such, sexology is distinct from the more general study of sexuality which may or may not incorporate explicitly scientific research methods.

In modern sexology, researchers apply tools from several academic fields, including biology, medicine, psychology, statistics, epidemiology, sociology, anthropology, and criminology. Sexology studies sexual development and the development of sexual relationships as well as the mechanics of sexual intercourse. It also documents the sexualities of special groups, such as the disabled, child development, adolescents, and the elderly. Sexologists study sexual dysfunctions, disorders, and variations, including such widely varying topics as erectile dysfunction, pedophilia, and sexual orientation.

Sexological findings, in spite of being scientifically-based, can still become controversial when they contradict "mainstream", religious, or political beliefs in a given society.

As an FYI, I am certain that the name most widely known to many of us would be Alfred Kinsey who founded the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University at Bloomington in 1947, now called the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. He became famous for his Kinsey Reports, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), in which personal interviews with thousands of men and women led him to conclude that our sexuality seemed shaped, not merely repressed, by social and cultural forces. Kinsey's reports, which led to a storm of controversy, are regarded by many as an enabler of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.

Betty's message
Michael Castleman, a journalist, describes Dodson's start as a sex educator in this 2002 article, Too sexy for her rocker:

Dodson made her first splash as a sex educator in 1973 at the National Organization for Women's first conference devoted to sex. Before an audience of more than 1,000 women Dodson, then 43, presented a slide show entitled "Creating an Esthetic for the Female Genitals." People were not sure what to expect. She clicked the first slide, a close-up of the well-groomed vulva of one of the 15 friends who'd posed naked, legs spread, genitals wide open for her. The audience gasped. "All our lives," Dodson proclaimed, "we've been led to believe that our c**ts are nasty, ugly, smelly, and shameful. But I'm here to show the world how beautiful they are."

The audience was shocked. Some booed when Dodson used the word "c**t." But she pressed on, promoting her view that women's genitals are a joy to behold. As the slide show progressed, the heckling died down. At the end of Dodson's performance, the audience gave her a standing ovation.

That presentation certified Dodson as a sex educator to be reckoned with. She made more heads turn the next day with a workshop called "Electric Vibrators for Masturbation." Those appearances launched Dodson on a 25-year-long career producing weekend workshops around the world, bringing her message of assertive self-loving to thousands of women. Her motto is: How we make love to ourselves determines what we bring to partner sex.

Official Web Site
Betty Dodson's official web site is a partnership between Dodson and Carlin Ross, a former lawyer who became a "sexpert". The site has a number of contributors as there are over 15 bloggers including Dodson herself writing articles on all sorts of topics relating to sex and relationships. There is a collection of videos detailing various aspects of sex which can be viewed for a fee. A connection to Good Vibrations, an on-line sex shop, sells videos, books and sex toys endorsed by Dodson. An on-line community offers a number of forums where users can log in and discuss what's on their minds. There are dozens of podcasts on about everything under the sun relating to sex.

An FYI about some of the videos: These videos are explicit and some of them can be found floating around the Internet for free. What's curious is that these videos pop up on porn sites but not on YouTube as they are too explicit. However, let me point out that explicit doesn't mean dirty. These videos are instructional - yes, they show everything and then some - but their purpose is not too titillate but to teach. Unfortunately, to teach sex, you have to show explicit things which explains YouTube no, porn sites yes. Looking? Go to Google video and type in "Betty Dodson". Masturbation is truly the "last frontier" and to see her work with somebody in a clinical manner to teach the techniques of self-induced orgasm or to lead a group of women is unusual. I watched one video where Dodson and a group of about 10 women, all naked and armed with a vibrator, went through the techniques of self-pleasure. I blinked several times, shook my head, and said out loud, "Whoa!" I am certain any one of us would find the idea of working with a hands-on instructor to be, ah, different if not controversial however I am reminded of stories of women who have reached adulthood and never had an orgasm. Controversial? Possibly. Necessary? No doubt.

I've never had an orgasm
Here are some emails posted on Dodson's web site:

I've Never Had an Orgasm - Sep 17/2010
I'm an 18 year old female, I've had two male partners. I've never been able to reach an orgasm, it feels close at times, but I push away because of the intensity, it feels so good that it sort of hurts. I and my current partner has tried a lot of different things. Is there something that I could be doing to reach an orgasm??

Married & Never Had an Orgasm - Dec 11/2010
Please can you offer me advice, I am 29 years old and dont really know where to go. I have been with my husband for 8 years now and married for the last year. I have never been able to orgasm, not with him, anyone else or on my own, if I have I have not known about it.

39 & Never Had An Orgasm - Nov 15/2010
I am 39 years old and I have NEVER had a orgasam, i have tried everything i can and ijust cant do it. I am married and I have talked to my husband about it and we have talked about it but there is nuthing he can do. I hate to have sex but i do it now and again. I have has a hystradrectomy about 4 years ago but that has nuthing ti do with it cuz i never had one befor then. I am at my wits end and I please need help.

27 and Never Had an Orgasm - Jun 6/2009
I am 27 years old, never had an orgasm. I'm married 5 years with 2 kids.

We may at first find any of this strange - Lessons on masturbation? - but imagine how strange it would be to be 20, 30 or even 40, married and with kids but having never had something as fundamental to the human experience as an orgasm. It's hard to believe but Dodson's web site certainly indicates there's more going on - or should I say not going on - than anybody would at first realise. Let's not forget how secretive we all are when it comes to anything to do with sex and if you're having problems, where do you go to get reliable information?

As I said, go to Google videos and type in "Betty Dodson" with the quotation marks. I just did it and got 242 hits so you are going to have a wealth of video clips to go through as Betty, sometimes with her business partner Carlin Ross, explains the ins and outs of all things sexual. - I'm sorry. I innocently wrote that then realised what a dumb double entendre it was: "ins and outs" of sex. [groan, slap forehead]

A series of videos on all sorts of topics with Betty Dodson

Podcast with Dr. Lori Buckley
Liberating Masturbation with Betty Dodson, Ph.D.

Final Word
Betty is now 82. She has been living with the same man now for 10 years, and that man, Eric Wilkinson, is 47 years her junior. (see Michael Castleman's article on this couple at the end of References) I think it goes without saying that Betty is living an unusual life in comparison with the rest of us, in comparison with whatever tradition considers as "normal". It may be easy to dismiss Dodson and what she does as being quite "off the wall" however, innovators who break new ground, non traditionalists who go against the grain and upset the status quo, are always looked upon unfavourably by the rest of us who feel disturbed when our "mainstream" is threatened.

Yes, I may shake my head in reading about Betty Dodson thinking some of this is a tad outrageous. But on the other hand, I must admit, if I think about it carefully, we are collectively hung up about sex. We're embarrassed by it. We hide it. We stigmatize it and we collectively support the facade where in public we all treat it as socially unacceptable. Nevertheless, it is very much a part of us. We can't escape it; it is always with us. We can try and suppress it; we can try to hide it, but in the end, it will always come back to haunt us. Betty Dodson may appear a little strange, maybe even crazy, but I wonder if she's not happier and more well-adjusted than the rest of us. Somehow it seems like she may be having a heck of a lot more fun in life.

The following materials are about sex. Some of these materials may be explicit. Of course, after a warning like that, I'm assuming you'll want to peruse them more than ever.

Wikipedia: Betty Dodson

Wikipedia: Pro-sex feminism or sex-positive feminism

Betty Dodson, the Grandmother of Self-love, to Join Host Sheri Winston on the "Juicy Pleasures" Radio Show on VoiceAmerica
Betty Dodson, the renowned sex educator who has brought the pleasures of self-love to thousands of women around the world, to appear on "Juicy Pleasures with Sheri Winston" on VoiceAmerica's Seventh Wave Network.
December 19, 2009

official web site: Betty Dodson with Carlin Ross
Betty Dodson and Carlin Ross are two intergenerational sex positive feminists whose dialogue on sexuality and feminism entertains and educates while delving into the Politics of Women’s Sexuality:
How denying women reproductive rights and easy access to birth control, restricting sexual choices, maintaining a sexual double standard with the two views of woman: Madonna or Whore, and defining women’s appropriate sexual response denies women a full life.

Books by Betty Dodson
Liberating Masturbation - 1974
Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving - 1996 (208 pages)
Orgasms for Two: The Joy of Partnersex - 2002 (256 pages)

Open Library
Liberating masturbation: a meditation on self love by Betty Dodson
Published 1976 by Dodson in New York. 60 pages
Table of Contents
  • The Romanticized Image of Sex 1
  • Sharing Masturbation 7
  • Going Public 11
  • Consciousness Raising 17
  • Becoming C**t Positive 23 (blogger's note: my asterisks)
  • Bodysex Workshops 29
  • Masturbation as Meditation

Wikipedia: Susan Block
Susan Marilyn Block, also known as Dr. Susan Block and Dr. Suzy, is an American sexologist, author, filmmaker, therapist, cable TV talk show host and cultural commentator. She is perhaps best-known for her television specials on HBO.

Book Review: Liberating Masturbation by Dr. Susan Block - 2004
Confession: The author of the book I'm about to review gave me my first orgasm.

Well, not personally. Actually, it was her first book that gave it to me. I was 19 years old, and I'd never had an orgasm. Oh, I'd had sex a few times, mainly with my high school boyfriend, and he'd had plenty of orgasms. I'd masturbated since before I could walk, but not yet to *completion.* I did have involuntary climaxes occasionally when I rode a horse or did kip-ups in gymnastics. But no full-fledged voluntary orgasms until my first semester of my sophomore year at Yale. That was when I read a book that was most definitely not required reading for any of my classes: Betty Dodson's Liberating Masturbation.
I remember lingering in bed. Lazily, I started to touch myself, picking up where Steven had left off. But I didn't know what to do. Not exactly. So, being a bookish girl, I reached for a book.

This was Liberating Masturbation. I perused a few paragraphs as I continued to touch myself. Within less than a dozen pages, I'd received a lesson in female anatomy like I'd never been given before. In a smart, friendly, no-nonsense style, Betty told me exactly what and where my clitoris was (nobody else ever had!), and how to touch it to make it feel wonderful. She told me to relax and breathe deep, something I'd never thought of doing with sex, despite my years of yoga. So, I relaxed and breathed deeply, as I stroked and played with myself like I'd played since I was a baby, but this time I followed Betty's instructions, pushing myself farther. I inhaled and exhaled deeper and deeper, and rubbed and tickled and poked and pulled, licking my fingers and feeling the power, checking back with the book for ideas, breathing more and more deeply, rubbing faster and slower and then faster again, until lo and behold, the proverbial dam burst, the bed shook, the dorm room spun, and I bounced off the cliff into orgasm. My first full-fledged, voluntary orgasm.

Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving by Betty Dodson - 1996 (208 pages)
From the Inside Flap
For more than 20 years, Betty Dodson has been dedicated to taking the shame out of masturbation, showing it to be a healthy form of sexual expression. With warmth and intelligence, and informative line drawings, Dodson explains how anyone can learn to fully enjoy the pleasures of self-love, pointing out that masturbation is still the safest sex.

book review: "Betty Dodson - Sex for One" by Betty Herbert - Jan 4/2011
Sex for One is something of a classic. First published in 1974, it encourages women (and men) to really understand their own bodies in order to have better sex – both alone and with partners.

I was expecting Sex for One to be a ‘How To’ guide, but it’s actually more of a conversation, exploring Dodson’s own journey and extolling the right to orgasm. What surprised me was how fresh and necessary its message remains, especially in these times of labial trimming and hymen reinstatement. Most women Dodson worked with had never taken a close look at their own vagina, and those who had often thought that theirs was somehow abnormal. She also found a huge amount of guilt around masturbation, and an assumption that it was an inferior form of sex. It’s hard to argue that much has changed.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who has ever thought that maybe their vagina is deformed, or that they don’t have a clitoris, or that they’re incapable of orgasm (all firm beliefs of mine as a teenager). Dodson’s take on sexuality is a joyous, practical one that will make you think hard about how liberated we really are.

Orgasms for Two: The Joy of Partnersex by Betty Dodson - 2002 (256 pages)
From the inside flap:
There are many sex manuals on the shelves of bookstores. They offer advice on being sexier, on giving him what he really wants, on making her wild with desire. Most of them are about as substantive as a filmy piece of lingerie. What is missing is a down-to-earth, realistic, honest book.

Betty Dodson, Ph.D., is an international authority on sexual self-help and the author of the multimillion-copy bestseller Sex for One: The Joy of Self-Loving. She has devoted three decades of her life to sexual liberation for both women and men.

In Orgasms for Two: The Joy of Partnersex, Dr. Dodson debunks the myths that keep us from having satisfying 'and mutually satisfying' sex lives. She shows us how to be happier and healthier through the benefits of pleasure, and she shows us how to get to know ourselves and our partners better, whether it's the inner and outer workings of the anatomy or the best sex toys to bring to bed.

She writes often from her own experiences, because she feels people learn best through example, and she writes from the knowledge acquired through years of working with women and men, teaching workshops, and doing research. The knowledge gained through reading Orgasms for Two is like having a kindly, remarkably frank guide tell you all the things you've always wanted to know but never had anyone to ask.

Open Orgasms for Two and see how rewarding it is to cast aside conventional beliefs about sexuality and begin to enjoy the best sex of your life.

"Everyone has a right to keep his or her sex life private. The reason I'm willing to go public with mine is because it has been proven to me time and again that the most effective way to teach something as subjective as sexual pleasure is by using the power of example. Since the seventies, I have shared my challenges and successes in the process of exploring sexual pleasure. What is happening to me in terms of my sexuality is not an isolated incident taking place in a vacuum. The chances are good that many other people are dealing with similar issues."

Although the idea of pleasure might be frivolous in a world that appears to be on the brink of horrible disasters, I believe one of our best hopes for survival depends upon embracing and celebrating human sexuality as a healing force." -Betty Dodson, Ph.D.

Salon - Mar 27/2002
Too sexy for her rocker By Michael Castleman
Betty Dodson is 72 and Eric Wilkinson is 25, and after three years together they are still hot and heavy -- and happy.
[my note: Castlemen is a journalist and a writer of medical and health topics including sexuality. (see his web site). In this article, he discusses the relationship between Dodson and Wilkinson, 47 years her junior. It's an interesting and amazing story. This is certainly not mainstream and this is certainly not traditional. As far as I have been able to find out, the two of them are still together today.]


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