Liberating Masturbation

Confession: The author of the book I’m about to review gave me my first orgasm.

Well, not personally. Actually, it was her first book that gave it to me. I was 19 years old, and I’d never had an orgasm. Oh, I’d had sex a few times, mainly with my high school boyfriend, and he’d had plenty of orgasms. I’d masturbated since before I could walk, but not yet to *completion.* I did have involuntary climaxes occasionally when I rode a horse or did kip-ups in gymnastics. But no full-fledged voluntary orgasms until my first semester of my sophomore year at Yale. That was when I read a book that was most definitely not required reading for any of my classes: Betty Dodson’s Liberating Masturbation.

No I didn’t date any Skull & Boners during my sojourn at Yale, but I was seeing a gorgeous young math genius on the crew team named Steven, tall and sensuously lean, with long flowing blonde hair and eyes the color of an unspoiled lake. The only problem was that Steven was very shy, and since I was fairly shy too, our evenings tended to be pretty dull. But I was infatuated with his golden athletic beauty and dazzling numerical brilliance. And one night, when I let him stay over in my tiny little dorm room in my tiny little single bed, we had sex. I don’t remember much about the sex. I think it wasn’t bad, but I know it wasn’t orgasmic.

When Steven left for his early morning math class, I remember lingering in bed. Lazily, I started to touch myself, picking up where Steven had left off. But I didn’t know what to do. Not exactly. So, being a bookish girl, I reached for a book. We were reading Antony and Cleopatra in Shakespeare class. Though I found the play to be quite erotic, I knew old A&C wouldn’t tell me what I needed to know at that critical moment. Nor would my psych or philosophy textbooks or even my French Fleurs du Mal. So I pushed them all aside for a little illustrated pamphlet I’d picked up from one of the women’s consciousness raising groups so popular back then.

This was Liberating Masturbation. I perused a few paragraphs as I continued to touch myself. Within less than a dozen pages, I’d received a lesson in female anatomy like I’d never been given before. In a smart, friendly, no-nonsense style, Betty told me exactly what and where my clitoris was (nobody else ever had!), and how to touch it to make it feel wonderful. She told me to relax and breathe deep, something I’d never thought of doing with sex, despite my years of yoga. So, I relaxed and breathed deeply, as I stroked and played with myself like I’d played since I was a baby, but this time I followed Betty’s instructions, pushing myself farther. I inhaled and exhaled deeper and deeper, and rubbed and tickled and poked and pulled, licking my fingers and feeling the power, checking back with the book for ideas, breathing more and more deeply, rubbing faster and slower and then faster again, until lo and behold, the proverbial dam burst, the bed shook, the dorm room spun, and I bounced off the cliff into orgasm. My first full-fledged, voluntary orgasm.

I remember feeling awed and amazed, like I’d gone through a personal revolution right there in my tiny, overprotected, little dorm room bed. I knew I had passed through a “rite of passage” that none of my anthropology books dared describe. I felt blessed, or maybe just lucky, like I’d been given a gift from God, or the Goddess, or Nature, a pure pleasure that I didn’t have to work for, didn’t cost any money, didn’t have any calories and didn’t require *faith* in myths or suppositions. I marveled that something so easy could be so explosive, yet so gentle. And I remember realizing I was hooked, that at that point, after 19 years of life on earth, I had become orgasmic. I knew, right then and there, that no matter what happened, the rest of my life would include these exquisite explosions of pleasure, that pretty much whenever I wanted, I could enjoy a little piece of heaven on Earth. It was all just as close as my fingertips.

I remember drifting blissfully in that tiny little dorm room bed, as if I were Cleopatra floating down the Nile on her perfumed barge toward Antony, her erotic destiny. Then I remember glancing at the clock and realizing that if I didn’t get out of bed that minute, I’d miss that Shakespeare class! So I threw on my clothes, picked up my books and left–a New Orgasmic Woman–then, now, and forever, a proud citizen of Betty Dodson’s Masturbation Nation, joining her “on the barricades” against sexual ignorance and repression.

Betty’s Liberating Masturbation was eventually revamped and renamed Sex for One. It became a classic. Over the decades, it has helped millions of women like me to have their first orgasms. And it has eased the guilt and opened the minds of many others, male and female. Like another bestseller of its time, The Joy of Sex, it carried the sexology research of Dr. Alfred Kinsey, along with the pioneering efforts of Victoria Woodhull, Emma Goldman and Margaret Sanger, into the burgeoning self-help arena. It reached the masses, grabbed them (gently) by the cajones, and stoked the Sexual Revolution.

As the title indicates, Sex for One is the quintessential self-help manual (pun intended). Its message is self-revolutionary: If you can help yourself to the greatest sexual pleasure, you really don’t need to kow-tow to the demands of an unreasonable husband, or wife, or religion, or government. No wonder masturbation is still so taboo.

Betty hit a bullseye with that first manifesto. But, unlike so many “sexperts,” she hasn’t cranked out a library of sexual self-help books. Now, after decades of doing her world-famous workshops, videos, lectures, articles and photo collections, she has written a *sequel*: Orgasms for Two. Yes, the woman who gave us the best in autonomous pleasure is now sharing her intimate view of doing it with somebody else.

Why did it take so long for Betty to count from One to Two? Only Betty, and possibly Crown Publishers, knows for sure. Though I’ve known Betty for about a decade now, I can’t say I know for sure. But I’d guess it’s because right now, Betty has a sex partner who really, deeply inspires her. Not that she hasn’t had a wonderful variety of what sound like terrific sex partners of all ages and genders throughout her long erotic life. But her current love, Eric Wilkinson, sounds very special, and it’s not only because he’s about 47 years younger than she is.

That’s right, Betty is now 74, and her live-in lover of six years is 28. Many might find that appalling. I find it refreshing. Still, it’s radical. Five decades would even be a big multi-generation gap if Eric were the gal and Betty the guy. But when the female partner is almost 50 years older than the male, most of society is too shocked to shut their mouths, let alone treat the couple as role models.

Any author of a self-disclosing, self-help book is, of course, a role model, and Betty is no exception. Thus, this might be the most revolutionary aspect of Orgasms for Two. It treats a relationship between a female senior citizen and a guy who hasn’t yet seen 30 as normal, sensible and sexy. It’s way beyond the paltry erotic dreams of modern feminism. Not that it’s perfect. Betty is nothing if not a realist, and she describes the problems, along with the pleasures of coupledom. Some of the difficulties do reflect their difference in ages. Still, it sounds like a remarkably good, loving, healthy relationship. If ever any of us doubted that a hot sex life keeps one youthful, we only have to look at Golden Gal Betty carrying on like a teenager with a guy who practically is one.

Betty often calls their bond a “mentor-student relationship.” But she isn’t ashamed to say she’s his “sugar mama,” or that he’s her “puppy.” The term “boy toy” doesn’t seem quite fair since Eric does work hard at his job as Betty’s personal assistant. Though they do have different sets of friends, and separate bedrooms and offices now, they seem to be, for the most part, inseparable (and this from a woman who used to scold me for spending too much time with my Max!). They seem to have a lot more in common than many couples where both are in the same age bracket. They share interests in art, literature, philosophy, yoga. But their chief common interest is sex.

As an apprentice approaching a master, Eric came to Betty to learn about sex, and that he has. According to Orgasms for Two, he’s also teaching the teacher a few things, including how to feel sexy at seventy-something. He’s also taught Betty a thing or two about screwing. Though Betty references various relationships throughout her erotic history in order to illustrate sexual issues or positions, her most descriptive and loving literary portraits are of coupling with Eric. Betty might be a “wise woman,” but she’s eager to learn, especially when it comes to sexual pleasure.

Betty & Eric

Like her first book, the second is filled with engaging personal stories and drawings that illustrate Betty’s eminently practical advice. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a confessional self-help sex maniac myself, but I’ve always felt that pleasure-pushing Betty has done far more for real women than so-called regular feminists like Gloria Steinem and Naomi Wolfe who primly hide details of their own erotic lives, as they equivocate about female sexuality. Betty doesn’t equivocate, and Betty doesn’t hide. By giving women the physical keys to unlock their own eroticism, as well as the secrets of her own sexual success, she has liberated several generations of women, and quite a few men as well.

Even though Orgasms for Two is subtitled The Joys of Partnersex, Betty never stops singing the praises of jacking and jilling off. “In a sex-positive society,” she writes, “both partners would start off with some degree of sex for one skill before attempting sex for two.” This makes complete sense. Indeed, this is what many people do these days. So why do the words sound so radical? Perhaps because our oh-so-sexy society, far from being truly “sex-positive,” still publicly regards masturbation as perverse or, worse yet, a sign of loneliness and desperation. Even though almost everybody masturbates, even though half the videos on MTV seem designed to encourage whacking off, nobody talks about it. Well, actually, some of us do (Seinfeld, Stern, Dr. Joycelyn Elders, to name a few), and those of us who do are all Betty’s children. That’s why we call her the Godmother of Masturbation.

Masturbation can be as pure and simple as a finger rubbing where it feels good. However, like most human activities or hobbies, this one can include accessories. Tennis has its balls. Surfing has its boards. Dining has its knives and forks. Masturbation has its “adult toys.” Though Betty’s open-minded enough to say, “Whatever turns you on, as long as it’s not hurting anybody,” she does strongly recommend use of a few special items for gourmet wanking.

Betty’s most beloved instruments of female pleasure are and always have een the big plug-in vibrators that are sold in pharmacies where they masquerade as “massagers” to “relax tired muscles.” Well, they’re good for massaging your aching back, but they’re great for massaging your throbbing vulva (though the packaging doesn’t say a word about that). The plug-in massagers are 100 times more effective than all the battery-operated vibrators, pocket rockets and pearl divers out there. Betty’s favorite brand is the Hitachi Magic Wand, and no, they don’t pay her a penny for endorsements.

I’m right there with her on the plug-in massager being “women’s Viagra.” As our foremothers were once revolutionized by electric can openers, so we have been by electric vibrators. As a sex therapist, I have found the plug-in massager to be the answer to a pre-orgasmic woman’s problems and a pleasure-seeking woman’s dreams. In Orgasms for Two, Betty goes into considerable detail_with the help of her own graphic drawings_to describe just how to incorporate a massager on the woman’s clitoris (usually with a little towel, cloth or panties in between to take the edge off the strong vibrations) into sexual intercourse positions of all kinds. Guys enjoy them too. But for women, they can be miraculous.

An idyllic Betty Dodson moment: A loving couple watches a porn orgy as they jack and jill themselves off. No, the girl isn’t covering her cunt out of modesty; she’s using a cloth to diffuse the Magic Wand’s vibrations, as per Betty’s advice. From Orgasms for Two

My own favorite plug-in massager is my old Panasonic Panabrator (which readers may recognize from my video Vibrators & other lovers. Max picked it up for me at the local Rite-Aid in the early days of our courtship, and I must say it helped him to make his case for sharing my life. Unfortunately, Panasonic doesn’t make these beauties anymore, so I have several Hitachi Magic Wands (a very close second) to fill in.

Another extremely effective sex toy is one that Betty designed herself: Betty’s Barbell is both a terrific pleasure toy and a practical PC-muscle exerciser. The PC (pubococcygeus), also called the pelvic floor or kegel muscle, is the muscle that you squeeze to stop yourself from urinating. It’s also the one that contracts and releases before, during and sometimes after orgasm. Like building up your biceps allows you to lift more weight without strain, exercising your PC muscle lets you have bigger, deeper, longer, more satisfying orgasms, and gives you better overall pelvic health. You can exercise your PC muscles with or without Betty’s Barbell_just squeeze and release! But having something solid and well-formed to squeeze makes it a lot more fun.

My own Barbell has become one of my favorite dildos. It’s so good that my PC exercise sessions always end with an orgasm. The shape is elegant and discreet, like a regular little barbell except the ball on one side is larger than the other. What sets it apart from other sex toys is the weight. Most dildos are so light that they pop out if you don’t hold them in. The Barbell, made of polished stainless steel, weighs almost a pound. Once inserted, it stays in place, even through the most explosive orgasms. Not only is it effective, it’s ultra-durable. While most sex toys seem built to break after a few uses, Betty’s Barbell is “a family heirloom that can be passed down from grandmother to granddaughter.”

Betty’s Barbell

Betty also recommends gobs of oil. Masturbation’s Mama loves massage oil like Chevron and UNOCAL love the other kind. She doesn’t like the non-oil lubricants unless you and your partner are not fluid-bonded, in which case she (sort of reluctantly) admits that you ought to use condoms, and thus water-based lube. But since you’re fluid-bonded with yourself (aren’t you?), for masturbation, Betty says “fill’erup!” with that sensuous massage oil. I agree, to a point. Certainly, oil or some kind of lubricant is vital when a woman is dry or tense, and it’s mandatory for most anal sex. But when it comes to vaginal sex, sometimes a woman’s natural juices are more than lube enough.

Juicy is as juicy does. Betty is not too impressed by the hubbub over female ejaculation, and even less by the much-heralded G-spot. Thus, she’s particularly skeptical about G-spot female ejaculation. In a sense, she’s kind of old-fashioned in continuing to focus on the clitoris as every woman’s pleasure center. She’s also, for the most part, correct. I’ve long suspected that the G-spot is simply the backside of the clitoris, as Betty suggests. And though it feels great to a lot of women, myself included, it’s just not as reliable an orgasm “button” as Little Miss Clitty.

About squirting: As a woman who has ejaculated (and no, I don’t think it’s just pee; I think it’s a delicious combination of vaginal juices and pee), I can tell you that when I want to enjoy a really nice pleasurable climax, I like a regular, old-fashioned, clit-centered, non-ejaculatory orgasm. Or maybe two. Squirting tends to be what I call “performance sex”: fun, exhilarating, but more for my audience (of one or one million) than for my personal physical pleasure. Of course, for some women, it’s the opposite. They can’t help squirting when they come, and we need to thank goddess for the female ejaculation sexperts who, at least, help these ladies to feel normal.

Since Orgasms for Two is about “partnersex,” Betty has to tackle the subject of penetration. She winds up going back and forth (in and out?) about it. She adores it with Eric. And then there’s her beloved Barbell and a few other cherished items of insertion. But sometimes her passionate love affair with the clitoris seems to dull her to the deep pleasures of being screwed. “In all my years of observing female sexuality, I never once saw a woman doing clitoral stimulation until she was about to come, then grab a dildo and fuck herself to orgasm,” she writes in her chapter on female orgasm. And all I can say is, “Betty, come to my place!” That happens to be one of my favorite ways to climax. Though sometimes, I manage to “grab” a man.

Actually, Betty has been to my place. I remember her first guest appearance on my show. As she made herself comfortable on my broadcast bed, surrounded by my usual assortment of pillows, dildos, vibrators, feather boas and various sexual souvenirs, she carped, “Too much stuff!” Betty is a minimalist. Her own living room has virtually nothing in it but a clean carpet and a few highly mobile pieces of furniture. Not that she preaches the virtue of simplicity; she just practices it for herself. Somehow, she manages to keep most of her archives in one closet and all of her sex toys in a single silver trunk.

But she doesn’t just go for simple sex, not at all. She loves orgies–and is very strict in her definition; a true orgy must have five people or more–though she hasn’t participated in many lately. And she adores anal sex, something she seems to enjoy more than ever with her precocious apprentice stud-puppy. Though she’ll never be the Godmother of Anal (that title has to go to Cumisha Amado or Tristan Tamorino when they reach 74), she certainly gives hope to godmothers–and godmother-lovers–who want some. Her writings on anal love, both giving and receiving, are extremely personal, witty and, as always, eminently sensible.

Indeed, Dr. Betty Dodson is one of the sanest writers in the sex business. There are a lot of people writing and talking about sex these days, but very few make sense, and even fewer are really helpful. Having grown up in the sexual Dark Ages of the 1950s, Betty lit a lamp in the darkness to show us the way to women’s pleasure. Of course, she didn’t discover the way. She just illuminated it for many of us who couldn’t see where we were going, or even what we were doing.

There are those who say that bringing sex and masturbation out into the open, saying that it’s not “dirty” or morally wrong, takes much of the fun out of it. I have to admit that they have a point. Sex is often hotter when it’s naughty–especially when you’ve been brought up to believe that sex is naughty. But then I think of that 19-year-old girl that I was–so smart in school, but so dumb when it came to her own pleasure–and I have to thank Betty for lighting my way. Otherwise, who knows when or if I would have had my first orgasm?

DR. SUSAN BLOCK is a sex educator, cultural commentator, host of The DR. SUSAN BLOCK Show and author of The 10 Commandments of Pleasure. Visit her website at

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© February 22, 2004, DR. SUSAN BLOCK
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Susan Block, Ph.D., a.k.a. “Dr. Suzy,” is a world renowned LA sex therapist, author of The Bonobo Way: The Evolution of Peace through Pleasure and horny housewife, occasionally seen on HBO and other channels. For information and speaking engagements, call 626-461-5950. Email her at