Betty Dodson—artist, author, and PhD sexologist—is a sex-positive feminist and masturbation guru. She published her first book, Liberating Masturbation: A Meditation on Self Love in 1974, which quickly became a cult classic. Since then she has continued to be a pioneering voice in feminist discourse, writing several more books including the best-selling Sex for One (1987), Orgasms for Two (2002), and most recently, My Romantic Love Wars: A Sexual Memoir (2011). She has run her bodysex workshops for over 25 years in which women explore and discover their sexuality. Currently she runs and edits the masturbation site dodsonandross.com with Carlin Ross. We caught up with her to get down and dirty with masturbation, squirting, and self-loving.
You were a sex activist, author, and educator during the 60s. How has the discussion surrounding sex changed since then?
In the 60s I was enjoying group sex and doing my own brand of fieldwork having sex with the natives. The discussion about sex has gone backwards beginning with AIDS. Feminism became divided thanks to the porn wars.
What does a bodysex workshop involve?
Ten to 13 women gather in a nude circle to share how they feel about their bodies and orgasms. We learn masturbation skills and the best use of the electric vibrator for clitoral stimulation along with vaginal penetration.
You play with sexual definitions and labels, calling yourself “heterosexual bisexual lesbian.” Do you find any labels useful when talking about sexual identity?
Generally speaking, saying straight or gay tells us very little about the kind of sexual activity taking place. My latest sex label is: Heterosexual-Butch/Femme Lesbian-leather Dyke Masturbating Dominatrix Sexologist.
You talk about the vulva viewing time of your bodysex workshop as one of your favorite parts. What is it about the female genitalia that you find so beautiful?
Due to the general absence of genital imagery (other than porn) most women do not have any idea what is “normal” and since most of us are our own worst critics when it comes to the body, we assume the worst. I supply an artist’s vision of beauty by pointing out our different designs. I refer to Art Deco, Gothic, Danish Modern, etc., using architectural periods. The naming process is also very powerful as each woman gets a vulva portrait with Carlin’s iPhone.
I found your article on “stopping fucking” really inspiring and enlightening—sex at 85, wow! How was the experience of having sex at this age? Are you still sexually active?
I’ve only fucked with two men in my 80s. Now that I’m entering the second half of my 80s—I’m turning 86 in August—heterosexual coupling has become too labor intensive; starting with vulva grooming, extra applications of bio-identical hormone cream, and getting past criticizing my own aging body. Meanwhile, the orgasms I have with myself are wildly exciting and totally satisfying and I don’t have to look my best.
What was it like having a lover who was 40 years younger?
It was absolutely fabulous! We lived together for ten years and I had some of the best partner sex of my long career. We remain close friends today. Since he is now married and monogamous, he’s my adorable grandson.
You wrote, “For years I’ve stated that I’m married to a rent-controlled apartment where I’ve lived for the past 52 years.” What does independence mean for you?
The ability to live as I chose each day being true to my self and my mission: to create an army of orgasmic women who will take control of planet Earth, a sex positive matriarchy that honors life, liberty, and all forms of organic/orgasmic-happiness defined by each individual.
Can you tell me more about the importance of fantasy in sex?
One of the biggest problems for women have in building up sexual arousal is focusing too much on whether they’re close to coming and forgetting to feel what’s happening in their body. A sexual fantasy keeps the mind occupied with sexual images which will feed into enjoying better orgasms.
What are some of the wildest fantasies you’ve ever had?
Wouldn’t you just love to know?! I get paid extra for that.
What does “fucking like a feminist” mean to you?
Getting what I want, how I want it, when I want it, with whomever I please.
We talk a lot about the sexual pressure on women, what about the pressure on men? How do you think this is affecting conceptions of masculinity?
Smart men are thrilled to find a sexually sophisticated woman who knows what she wants and can clearly state her pleasure. But the project of “giving his lover an orgasm” is a losing battle. We are each responsible for our own orgasms. The best advice for men is to stop trying to give their lover a vaginal orgasm. That’s old fashioned. It’s her clitoris that triggers a woman’s pleasure. Have her show you how she likes to be touched, but it’s best if she handles it herself. The guy is doing what he likes with his penis, she too can do what she likes with her clitoris.
Where’s the craziest place you’ve ever had sex?
None of your damn business!
If you had one piece of advice for the younger generation discovering their sexuality, what would it be?
Each person will honor masturbation as the foundation for your sex lives. It’s how we master sexual skills and become proficient lovers. It’s also a constant companion throughout our entire lives so we can enjoy happy orgasms to the end.
This article was first published on Ladybeard on August 13, 2015. Betty writes on the myths and magic of female masturbation in Ladybeard‘s upcoming Sex Issue. Pre-order your copy here. It’s going to be awesome!
Main image by Katharina Bourjau.