Celebrating Betty Dodson, the Legendary Sex Educator
Celebrating Betty Dodson, the Legendary Sex Educator
Posted:March 04, 2021
This International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating the women we stand on the shoulders of. Women who fought hard for reproductive rights, women’s rights, feminism, and so much more. In this series we’ll take a look at two historical figures and one contemporary educator we admire—but of course, it’s an incomplete list because we could never stop talking about powerful women.
We’ve covered Monica Roberts, a journalist who covered and advocated for the trans community as well as Margo St James, the sex-worker and union organizing leader. Today, we’re talking about the life and impact of Betty Dodson, the legendary sex educator and nonagenarian who passed away in 2019. Her work and advocacy is still making waves today, so let’s take a look at her accomplishments.
Who Was Betty Dodson?
Betty was a second-wave feminist sexologist who taught millions of women to masturbate and enjoy self-pleasure. She originally began teaching self-pleasure workshops in her New York City apartment, and wrote books, gave webinars, and used the Internet to boost her teachings later in life.
Dodson was born in 1929 in Wichita, KS. Her mother worked in a dress shop, and her father was a sign painter. She had three brothers. She passed away October 31st, 2020, at 91 after suffering from liver problems. According to Dodson’s New York Times obituary, Gloria Steinem, another well-known feminist icon, said Dodson was a “brave and daring advocate for women’s right to sexual knowledge and pleasure.”
We’ve written about Dodson twice before, featuring her work and wisdom in “Masturbation Benefits” and “Masturbation Devices Throughout History.” She was a huge proponent of clitoral orgasms and her name is nearly synonymous with the Hitachi Magic Wand vibrator, a true classic and powerful orgasm tool. She used the wand during those apartment orgies and self-pleasure sessions for decades, but had a long erotic art career before. Let’s talk about the timeline of her work, and how it continues to resonate today.
Dodson’s Work Through The Decades
According to the New York Times, which Dodson has been featured in multiple times throughout her life, she moved to New York City in 1950 at the age of 20 to become an artist, working as a lingerie ad illustrator and art student. She married and divorced, and began attending AA meetings to cope with the alcoholism that developed during her “sexually unmatched” marriage. At one of the meetings she met a man who would teach her more about pleasure, with whom she would keep a sexual relationship until his death in 2008.
Her art career struggled over the next two decades, but her vaginal and self-pleasure workshops were beginning to gain notoriety. She would host sessions for women of all backgrounds and races, and help each one understand their anatomy. She used the Hitachi Magic Wand to help them better understand pleasure and masturbation, and especially orgasms. In 1973 she published “Sex For One,” a sort of combo memoir/how-to masturbation guide, which has now been translated into 25 languages.
“Masturbation will get you through childhood, puberty, romance, marriage and divorce, and it will see you through old age,” she wrote.
The New York Times recalls Annie Sprinkle, a 1970s porn star, talking about Dodson’s impact, saying that she “popularized the clitoris and clitoral orgasms and gave the clitoris celebrity status.” Thank you for that, Mrs. Dodson.
Many, many news articles have consistently reported Dodson’s “return” or second coming, if you will, because she kept working until she passed away last year. In 2014, The Guardian profiled Dodson, at which point she was living in the same apartment she moved into in 1962. According to the article, that’s where the magic happened—her original, women-only masturbation, "bodysex" classes took place there from the early 70s for 15 years. The Guardian reminisced on her 2010 memoir and her potty mouth, and her business partner, Carlin Ross. Ross is a former lawyer who helped Dodson bring her business and message online.
In March 2020, the New York Times again interviewed Dodson after the New York City Health Department released a statement with safe-sex COVID guidelines. “You are your safest sex partner,” the release said. And nobody could possibly know more about being a good sex partner with yourself than Dodson. At the time, she had been coaching Gwyneth Paltrow on the best way to orgasm, making the Goop owner who frequently talks about vaginas and sex and sells related products blush anyways.
“A real orgasm is something that no matter where it comes from, a woman takes for herself,” she said in that interview.
Dodson, by the way, was never too precious about her sexual orientation, describing herself as a “heterosexual bisexual lesbian.”
How Her Work Continues To Resonate
After her death, publications around the world mourned her passing. Elle, the Times, the Washington Post, Ms. Magazine, The Cut, Vogue, and so many more published recaps of her life’s work and achievements. Dodson’s business partner, Carlin Ross, continues to post online and keeps the pair’s website updated.
Dodson, however, knew when she was getting close to passing away. She stayed for several weeks beginning in the fall of 2020 in a hospital and rehabilitation center, while her partner continued the Bodysex courses via Zoom. Dodson wasn’t going to let the courses, revived in 2013, go quietly.
In a late 2020 article published in the Daily Beast, just weeks before her passing, the author recalled a previous Dodson quote.
“We need to embrace death like it’s our final orgasm,” Dodson had said in 2014.
And so she did, encouraging Bodysex participants to send their orgasm energy to her. Even though she’s gone, the thousands of orgasms she’s shepherded into the world in her lifetime, and the pleasure she helped so many women achieve, can’t be forgotten. It’s worth picking up a book of hers, and sending the next one up to the Orgasm Goddess herself.