“It’s not fair that women don’t get to orgasm.”
—Betty Dodson, sex innovator and activist
So, for all of us who’ve ever faked an orgasm. For all of us who came late to the dependable power of the clitoris. For all of us still trying to maintain capacity, potency, and sexual vitality.
For all of us, there is Betty Dodson.
She was ribald and norm-busting. She was an art student who was raised on a farm in Kansas with three brothers. She was one of a vanguard of feminist women (read about the others in our series here and here) who found their stride and their calling in the sexual revolution in the 1970s. She celebrated sex of all kinds, but focused on the special role of the clitoris in female orgasm. She died this year at 91 on Halloween morning, just as outspoken and bawdy as she had lived. “We need to embrace death like it’s our final orgasm,” she said in 2014.
Of course Betty migrated to New York City from the farm to work as an artist. Kansas could not contain a personality the size of Betty. After participating in several sexual swap meets, she noticed that even the most uninhibited, free-loving women struggled to orgasm. Thus began Betty’s focus on the clitoris and its ability to allow women to dependably orgasm and to release them from dependence on men for sex. She developed a workshop to teach women about their own body parts as well as how to masturbate effectively—the Bodysex workshops. And thus began her life’s “work” of modeling unapologetic, unbounded sexuality.
The workshops were a place for women to overcome embarrassment and body-shame and to experiment with pleasuring themselves. Clinical studies suggest that they continue to have a 93 percent success rate in helping anorgasmic women achieve orgasm, not just by experimenting with clitoral stimulation but by confronting “repressed shame, guilt, and other negative feelings associated with body, genitals, and sexuality, and the repressed sexual pleasure and desire,” according to an article in Jezebel.
She also gave sex a wide-open, shame-free space to roam. She described herself as a “heterosexual, bisexual lesbian.” She enjoyed a 10-year affair with a man 50 years younger (which she broke off because she didn’t want to be another Hugh Hefner) and ended her life with Carlin Ross, 47, her business partner with whom she demonstrated the Bodysex masturbation method live on camera while filming series 3 of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Lab Netflix series.
During the segment, she corrected Paltrow’s emphasis on the vagina as the source of sexual pleasure for women. When Paltrow enthuses that the vagina is her favorite subject (her company sells a candle that is supposed to smell like her vagina), Dodson interrupts: “The vagina’s the birth canal only. You wanna talk about the vulva, which is the clitoris and the inner lips and all that good s*** around it.”
While most of us, who still live on a metaphoric farm somewhere, can’t quite follow Dodson in her naked masturbation workshops and few-holds-barred sexual experimentation, we can all be grateful for her promotion of the clitoris to celebrity status.
As you may have noticed, this is the approach we espouse at MiddlesexMD as well. Whether you use it for self-pleasure or to enhance variety during couple sex, it helps keep all your sexual organs responsive, hydrated, and healthy, and it puts women on an equal footing in the sexual sphere—we can take care of ourselves just like a man.
There is also something to be said for a healthy, shame-free enjoyment of sex and our own bodies. For an example, look no further than Betty.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten. Read more about and from her here.