She was known as the Godmother of Masturbation. She helped generations of women have millions of orgasms. She taught Gwyneth Paltrow the difference between a vulva and a vagina.
Now, Betty Dodson has died, at the age of 91.
Betty Dodson grew up in the Kansas Bible belt. She was always aware of the church’s teachings on masturbation.
"But even my liberal, intelligent friends put down masturbation, making clear that it was a second-rate sexual activity," she wrote in a Ms magazine article in 1974. "If there were any touching of my genitals to be done, my beloved should do it."
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Dodson moved to New York in 1950, studied art and married advertising director Frederick Stern.
"Quite typically, my marital sex soon got down to twice a month – but even then my husband would come too fast, and I wouldn’t come at all," she wrote.
It was only after Dodson and Stern divorced in 1965 that she began to fully explore her sexuality. She met an English professor, Grant Taylor, who convinced her that her vulva wasn’t deformed and encouraged her to have orgasms with his electric scalp massager.
Before long, she turned her focus to erotic art, and put on a show with life-size drawings of women masturbating. Friends told her that the artworks wouldn’t sell, and they didn’t. But she learnt a lot. Several men became very hostile at the sight of a vibrator in one of the drawings, while others weren’t aware that women masturbated at all.
"Why would they?" one asked.
Dodson started hosting orgies in her apartment, and soon she noticed something that bothered her. A lot of the women around her were faking their orgasms.
In the early 1970s, she started running Bodysex masturbation workshops in her living room. A dozen or so women would sit in a circle, have a "genital show-and-tell", and then learn how to orgasm.
"Everyone gets off," was how she later described the workshops.
Dodson would get women to give themselves orgasms using an electronic back massager. Her favourite was the Magic Wand, which she believed gave the best orgasms out of all the massagers she’d tested and could be bought from department stores.
"It remains my favourite vibrator to this day," Dodson declared in her mid-eighties.
Dodson released her first book, the feminist classic Liberating Masturbation, in 1978. It got women talking more freely about the topic than they ever had before.