Artist, sex-educator, writer, and feminist, Betty Dodson originally began her career as an artist. In 1968, the Wichita-Kansas native entered the sexual arena with the first one-woman show of erotic art held in New York at the Wickersham Gallery. Three other exhibitions followed and in 1973, Dodson produced and presented the first feminist slide show of vulvas at the 1973 NOW Sexuality Conference, New York in which she introduced the then revolutionary idea of an electric vibrator as a pleasure device. She next went beyond the art world with her groundbreaking book, Liberating Masturbation: A Meditation on Selflove which became a feminist classic. Her subsequent work, Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving, sold over a million copies and became a mainstay in some feminists’ circles.
Sex for One is in part, a memoir of Dodson personal journey for a healthy sexual self-image. The book also utilized her provocative and powerful images of couples making love, individuals exploring their bodies and close-up drawings of vulvas. In 2002, she published Orgasms for Two, a work embracing partner sex. Most recently, she released My Romantic Love Wars: A Sexual Memoir, an e-book which details her experiences with America’s Sexual Revolution, the women’s movement and her feminist sexual activism with bodysex groups that she conducted over a span of 25 years.
Dodson has spent decades helping women and men understand that self-love is both healthy and beautiful and a portal to sexual freedom. Her work with sex-positive feminist, Carlin Ross, encompasses every aspect of female sexuality and continues to attract legions of admirers.
Francesca Miller spends 15 minutes with world renowned sex educator, author and artist, Betty Dodson to discuss her career and views on erotica today.
Q: A Women’s study class introduced me to Sex for One and I still have my original copy. Can you talk about the early responses to Sex for One?
For some, I was their favourite dirty joke, but many others appreciated my honest approach to a taboo subject.
Q: How has your work been greeted by the religious community?
Ignored as you might expect.
Q: There seems to be a generational divide between women and masturbation. Younger women and teens seem to embrace it along with sex toys and pornography, while older women still have issues with it. Can you speak to that?
Since I answer questions from girls and women the world over, I have to disagree with your assessment. Far too many continue to believe they will get their orgasms from Romeo’s penis once they find Mr. Right and “fall in love.”
Q: You are the first woman to refer to yourself as a sex-positive feminist. Can you discuss your brand of feminism versus what some consider traditional feminism? Have you noticed a change in the way other feminists respond to your work?
I can’t take full credit for that term. In the 80’s I joined an academic group of women who wanted to counter WAP (women against pornography) by creating FFE (Feminists for Freedom of Expression). Neither group lasted that long. However, I continued to use the term “Sex Positive Feminists” in my articles while others dropped it.
Unfortunately many feminists feared the subject of sex as a divisive topic. It took me 40 years of teaching women how to have orgasms with masturbation to finally enter mainstream feminism. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Q: In your workshops, you invite women to look at their vaginas and embrace their beauty. I’ve noticed that some women have their vulvas surgically transformed to fit the image of adult film actresses. I live in Los Angeles and have even ads on the radio for cosmetic vaginal surgery. Can you talk about it?
I didn’t have women looking at their “vaginas.” That’s the birth canal and we would have needed a speculum. Instead we viewed the outer form of the vulva to see we were all different and also quite beautiful.
Since women are so insecure, they see their boyfriends masturbating to porn and they imitate what they think men want. Most porn stars not only get their inner lips trimmed but they also have breast implants, liposuction, laser treatments and numerous other procedures to look good on camera. Labiaplasty is just another way plastic surgeons make money from foolish women trying to please men.
Q: The popularity of erotic romances like Fifty Shades of Grey has led many women to self-pleasuring and “battery-operated-boyfriends”. Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey? What do you think of literary erotica?
I enjoy well written erotica. However Fifty Shades was poorly written and it did the SM community a disservice. This subculture is always clear about consent and boundaries. Fifty Shades was the ultimate in romantic crap that we might call female porn.
Betty Dodson is a pioneer in women’s sexual liberation and has for more than 30 years been conducting workshops to help women (and occasionally men) overcome their reservations with their sexuality. An accomplished author, Betty’s first book Sex for One has sold more than a million copies.
I’m Lee Rene, a jazz-loving author of dark Young Adult novels. I had the good fortune of being born in sun-kissed Los Angeles. In my past literary life, I worked a lifestyle writer for magazines in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Vancouver as well as entertainment journalist and movie reviewer in print, on-line, and on radio in the Los Angeles area. I’m a student of American history and my works are usually set in the past. It’s ironic that my first published novel is an erotic romance written under my nom de plume, Lee Rene. Although I’ve attempted writing romances in the past, I found my voice in the world of erotic literature. The New Orleans Hothouse is the first of many stories. It’s my sincere wish that lovers of dark romances join me on my journey.