Betty Dodson Transcript

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Looking at Women's Orgasm Over the Last Thirty Years

This is a transcript of Dr. Betty Dodson's presentation during the "Orgasm - Recent Models and Methods" symposium at the 1998 joint conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality and the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (Los Angeles, November 11-15, 1998).

This symposium was moderated by Dr. Beverly Whipple. The other presenters were Dr. Herbert A. Otto and Dr. Kenneth Ray Stubbs. We made this transcript with the permission of Dr. Dodson, and this entire transcript is Copyright © 1998 by Betty Dodson.

Dr. Beverly Whipple: Now we're going to look at women's orgasms over the past 30 years with the expert on women's orgasms, Dr. Betty Dodson. She was formally trained as a fine artist, and left a successful art career to design and facilitate sexuality workshops for women in the early 1970's. Betty's groups used masturbation as a way for women to become orgasmic, along with genital show-and-tell process that helped women to heal negative images about their sex organs. Her groundbreaking book Liberating Masturbation was self-published in 1974 and became a feminist classic. Her book Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving, published in 1986, became a Crown Quality Paperback and was revised in 1996. She contributed to the collection Women of the Light and in 1992 she received a Ph.D. from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. Dr. Dodson has also produced two videos: Selfloving -- about her workshop -- and Celebrating Orgasm, which documents her innovative sex coaching. She has a private practice in New York City and I'm sure you'll enjoy hearing from her.

Dr. Betty Dodson: I hate to stand behind a podium -- can I get out there? I always feel like podiums are a barrier. It's been a while since I've done any talking -- I'm so busy masturbating [audience laughter] -- and I always think I should do this academic thing of using notes, but I'm just gonna talk instead.

I'm all those things that they [gestures to other panel members] don't like -- totally addicted to my clitoris. You folks are fabulous, it's just that I'm an old lady now, dammit, and I'm set in my ways; you're never going to get me off my clit [more audience laughter].

I want you to know, Beverly, that I have discovered my urethral sponge. Bingo! But I don't call it a spot. It's that little spongy tissue around the urethra, and I can't come from stimulating it, but it does feel good. By the way, I always have to do first person, because I believe that down deep we're teaching what we really like. I know I am. What I like is a vibrator on my clitoris and some kind of a dildo pressing against the urethral sponge while I'm working the PC muscle and rocking the pelvis and getting a full breath going. Goddamn if that don't take me places I want to go again and again and again! So that's basically what I've been teaching my private clients.

I've stopped doing the workshops; I don't know if you know, but five years ago I couldn't walk - I wore out my hip joints. My analysis was all the workshops I ran for 27 years I masturbated standing up, and so I would be rocking the old hip joints with the vibrator and whipping around the room, and I eventually wore out my hip joints. So now I have new stainless steel ones, and I'm sure I'm good for another 20 years or more of masturbating standing up.

One thing I find fascinating is a girlfriend of mine who says she can come from vaginal stimulation only, and she's nearly 40. The only time I remember being able to do that was in my 20's when the hormones were wildly pumping and I was romantically in love. That's when I think all kinds of incredible things can happen to women, because we're so in love we go out of our bodies. We're in our minds, we're in our emotions primarily. I would be so crazy about whatever little boyfriend I was focused on -- addicted to, obsessed by -- that any kind of contact was ecstatic because of all this emotional stuff. But by the time I got halfway through my 30's I needed more stimulation, and that's when I discovered intercourse with manual clitoral stimulation simultaneously. Whoa! What a great deal that was! Then later on at 40, I got kind of grumpy with men because of feminism, and I spent more time with women. I also had more sex with women; we got down with our vibrators and dildos. That was another era with lots of orgasms. Now that I'm 70, my primary affair is with me. I was telling my roommate last night that I'm ready to break up with myself [audience laughter]. There are days when I wake up and announce, "I'm not going another day with you if you unless you shape up and change." [more audience laughter]. So, even my love affair with myself isn't perfect.

Let me give you some examples of women I've worked with in the last few years. I'm doing private counseling now, which I call sex coaching. My sex background was based upon groupsex in the sixties and seventies. People are absolutely right when they say swingers and gay people have more sex and as a result, they learn more about sex. I've been straight, I've been gay, I've been a swinger; if it was sex I was there and I did it, and it was all good. For me, there's no such thing as having bad sex. I've learned from all of it, and the whole trip has been incredible.

So, with the private sessions, I feel most of our histories are so much alike. We're all repressed and most of us have an idealized image of what an orgasm is supposed to be like. Most women think it's some kind of an epileptic seizure, and they're supposed to go ape shit; that really isn't how it happens for everybody, and it sure isn't like what we saw Sally and Harry doing up there on the monitor. Sex can be highly passionate but seldom is. I talk with my client long enough to get her comfortable, and we laugh a lot. If she's feeling uptight about her body and she's nervous about sex, laughter is the best. Even those of us who are professionals aren't that comfortable with sex. You can't live in this creepy society and not have some kind of dumb repression.

So we talk long enough for me to get an idea of who she is, and then we do genital show-and-tell -- a genital exam. Let me give you an example. I had this couple come to see me. They were in their early 70's, cute as could be, both retired, and having a good time. They travel around, go to parties, and they're taking sexuality workshops, so they also wanted to come and have a session with me. When we talked, she was all over him; she was telling him what he liked, and what she liked. He couldn't open his mouth or get a word in edgewise. She liked him to get a hard-on because it turned her on and made her feel like she was desired. That was her arousal. So this poor guy was under all of this pressure to "get it up," to make her feel like she was really hot stuff -- you know, the old heterosexual problem. Women want men to get hard and make love to them while they lie there passively.

I suggested they experiment with sharing masturbation, taking a vacation from these fixed images of sex always being intercourse. When we did the genital exam with her, I learned that neither one of them had ever looked at her genitals. It was extraordinary: she had never seen her clitoris, or her vaginal opening, or her peehole, or any of that cute stuff. When I get them on the floor with the bright light and the mirror, they were both transfixed. It was like finding a new toy. Can you imagine our own bodies being so undiscovered? So that was their big breakthrough -- he had never seen her clitoris, and she had never seen her clitoris. How she had been masturbating was fascinating: she laid on her side, brought her hand back from behind, put it between her legs and, and diddled her clit. She said, "There's a spot back here"; she thought it was "back here" [gesturing to buttocks], so I got down and looked. She was diddling her clit from behind which was very awkward. Where do these weird patterns for touching ourselves come from?

I had another young gal -- this was a recent client -- who came in at 23: gorgeous, beautiful body, toned, muscles, aerobic, everything was functioning beautifully. She had a boyfriend she was crazy about, and she'd been having intercourse since she was 16, but she never had an orgasm. A lot of times I think that they're having little ones. I see this happening a lot; I'll have a session and we'll start the practice and they're using the vibrator, the dildo and pumping the PC. As I'm watching, I'll see their body snap from an orgasmic reflex and I think, "Oh, she had one." Then afterwards when we talk, she usually says, "See, nothing happened."

There was another client who had a huge full body orgasm, and when I said, "Whoa! That was dynamite!" She claimed that nothing happened. She kept coming back, and after the fourth session I said, "Darling, if we have another appointment we'll have to admit we're having an affair" [audience laughter]. Hers was a case of extreme pleasure denial. I can only hope she has learned to live with the fact that this beautiful thing happening in her body is an orgasm.

Back to the young 23-year-old, I'm thinking "At 23 I'm not going to use the big, heavy, plug-in massager because she's so young; I'm going to stay with manual stimulation." Then I go into my theoretical mode with a theory: If she learns by hand, then her boyfriend can do her by hand, and then they can have partner sex where he gets to participate -- you know, all the stuff you're "supposed to do."

After we did genital exam, we start off with her using her hand with lots of massage oil. She's got the PC going after we locate it, and the pelvic movements -- I tell her to "play like you're fucking: do the fucking motion," and everybody knows what that is. But, she didn't build up any sexual tension. She said, "This is what always happens -- nothing; it feels good, I enjoy it, but nothing happens." So I pulled out a little battery vibrator and she got it down there on her clit, and she's working her PC and she's pulling the dildo in and out and she's moving her pelvis and she's breathing and she says, "It feels great, but it's the same thing -- I'm not going anywhere with this."

So I thought, "Oh well, fuck theory." I bring out the big vibrator, plug it in, and say, "Now, this is a very powerful machine..." [audience laughter] "Just use a light touch, and keep it moving so that you don't numb out your clit." I gave her a washcloth -- doubled over a couple of times -- and she put that vibrator down on her pussy and bent it at a 90 degree angle. I didn't care if she broke it, I've got a case of them -- but I thought, "My god that's a lot of pressure!" But she just went "Ooohhh..." So I let her continue for a while. Finally I interrupted and said, "Why don't you try lightening up?" And she said, "Oh please, let me keep doing this, it feels really good." So I thought "OK -- shut up and see where she goes." So she's using the vibrator with the most pressure I've ever seen, and within about five minutes when I'm thinking, "She's either gonna come or the vibrator will break," she had a roaring orgasm and started laughing. Of course I laughed too; we both laughed ourselves silly.

When I have a client who's coming up and getting close, my comments at that point are "Uh huh, looking good, OK, all right, stay with it, stay with it honey, uh huh, oh good, you've got a roll here, uh huh, you're going good, yeah." It's never, "Come! Come!" It's not anything like a demand to get off -- guys, listen to this -- it's encouragement. It's "Oh, you're looking good, that's hot, that's good stuff, uh huh, you've caught a wave, ride it honey." And then after she comes, I tell her not to stop. That's when I have her lighten up, to keep breathing and pumping, and soar into another buildup. Usually women throw the vibrator to the side and say, "Oh, I did it! I came and it's all over." I tell them, "No, no, you're just warmed up -- you're just getting started." Then they can go on. And my 23 year-old did; she went on to another much bigger orgasm with less energy being thrown off -- there was more intensity inside her body.

Imagine watching women coming for 30 years! When I ran the workshops, I liked to come too. I didn't want to watch all those women coming and not get to have my own orgasm. Now when I do a private session, as soon as my client leaves -- if I'm in the mood -- I'll have my orgasm. It's always a turn-on to be in the presence of sexual energy. It's an honor and a privilege and it's arousing. Just because I get turned on, I don't think that makes me a dirty old lady. I'm able to be very much of a mother figure who's conscious of my clients boundaries when I'm coaching.

There was another older couple I worked with. She was in her early 70's and her husband was in his late 60's. She had never had an orgasm until I showed her how to use the electric massager. Since she felt masturbation was something that was private, she didn't feel comfortable doing it in front of her husband, so she'd go into the bedroom and use the massager alone. Meanwhile he would be sitting in the living room kind of rubbing his dick, getting turned on, listening to the old vibrator buzzing. When she'd call out his name, he'd jump up, run into the bedroom with a hardon, get on top, and they would fuck. After having one orgasm masturbating, she could usually have another one with him. They were thrilled with this new arrangement. So who's to say how we have sex?

People who are having lots of sex with more than one partner are usually more sexually sophisticated. To learn about sex we need to be intimate with more than one person. I know this is tough for people who are married and monogamous, but restricting sex to one partner rarely works. Seeing people having sex in groups would be a prerequisite for a complete sex education to my way of thinking. No one would mind doing any of these things if once a month we could go somewhere and agree to do safe, fun sex. If we could occasionally relax the rules and have sex with different people, and see everybody having sex together, we'd experience as well as see the vast differences.

It's been my experience that no two orgasms are exactly alike. The most common type is the "tension orgasm" where all the muscles tighten up until there's an explosion. Then it's all over. I call that one a "maintenance orgasm," kind of like my childhood orgasms when I held my breath and didn't move my body and came as fast as I could so no one would catch me masturbating. As a teenager, I did "sleeping beauty orgasms" with complete relaxation. I certainly didn't want to act sexy, so there was no heavy breathing and no humping because that would have damaged my "good girl" image. So we'd kiss and my boyfriend would fondle my clitoris while I remained passive and beautiful until all of a sudden -- the orgasm would come and get me. My attitude was, "I'm not responsible, I didn't do anything, my body did that."

Eventually I got into a combination of tension and relaxation which I call the "rock and roll orgasm." That's how an athlete uses her body: your muscles are tense and then you let them go, then they tense up again and you let them go, and it's rhythmic. That's the whole idea of fucking, moving rhythmically, and breathing. So, I'm definitely into the rock and roll orgasm, but I whip out those little tension orgasms when the pressure is on. As far as I'm concerned, I don't have the patience to do the sleeping beauty, or the total relaxation orgasm any more: last time I tried, I just went to sleep. But I always say, "Whatever gets you off, go for it."

There are all these different kinds of orgasms, and we know so little about the body. Still, I go along with most of Wilhelm Reich's ideas about the autonomic nervous system. I know that when I have my orgasm it's my body doing it. My mind is contributing, certainly, and the older I get the dirtier my fantasies are. Maybe by the time I'm 80 I'll write a book about my sexual fantasies, because they're outrageous. I have a cast of creepy characters and animals and plants -- you name it [audience laughter].

Oh, I almost forgot. I have a new videotape out -- I always forget to do the commercial... I've done two videos; one is of the workshop I did for 27 years where I donated my hip joints [audience laughter]. But in the process I did get to see thousands of women coming, and it's been a joy -- my eyeballs are so happy with the things they've been able to see. Now that I'm doing private coaching... I always said I'd never work one-on-one, but I'm doing it now and I love it. It's as close as I'm ever going to get to partner sex, but at least it's always a new partner and I like that. Some of us need a turnover, and I guess other people don't. For me, if I've had sex with you five or six times I'm usually ready to move along. That's something you can analyze -- try to figure out what's wrong with me. Rather than being focused on what I'm doing now, I'm more interested in what's coming up. It's the pull to what I don't know or what might happen or to the mystery of the unknown -- that always gets me excited!

So anyway, my new tape is called Viva la Vulva and it is so cute! There are ten of us, and of course I'm the old lady. From 68 to the young 20-year-olds, and we're a mixed racial group; I've always wanted to get a racial mix in my videos and I finally pulled it off. We celebrate the 25th anniversary of when I did the first female genital slides for NOW at their big sex conference in New York City. In order to recreate that moment back in '73, we all got together and took pussy portraits, and it was fabulous. It turned out that most of the women were educators. They were very special women. So if you get a chance -- I don't know if somebody in the exhibit room has got the tape there -- but come up to me and I'll tell you how you can order the new tape. It's been great seeing you all again! Thank you! [applause].

Dr. Beverly Whipple: I just want to comment -- Betty, you're always wonderful, I enjoy listening to you all the time -- that what Betty was referring to in terms of the urethral sponge is what we call the G-Spot...

Audience: My question is for Betty. You mentioned that you stopped doing your workshops for personal reasons, and my question is whether anyone has picked up the torch.

Dr. Betty Dodson: I have been running a few groups, teaching teachers who want to start doing it. I see the work that I started back in the 70's filtering into different areas so aspects of it continue. Not in exactly the same form that I did it in; not that many teachers are going to want to have orgasms with their students, which I think is ridiculous, but understandable. When I started teaching, I wasn't involved in the academic world, but I'm very involved now. Coming from a background of fine art and sexual experience, I believe the more sex we have the better we'll be able to teach it. I'm teaching teachers now, and these people are great. They're better and smarter than I was at their age. They're asking better questions, they're doing more varied kinds of sex, and the gender thing is blown wide open. The people who are sexually sophisticated today are far more sophisticated than I was in the past. So my work will continue but in different forms with individual people making their own variations.

For more information on Dr. Betty Dodson's work, see her web site at More information on the toys Dr. Dodson mentioned in this presentation are available on our sex toys page.

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