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Feminist Sex Educator Betty Dodson Has Passed

By Lori Perkins

The headline doesn’t begin to tell you who Betty Dodson was.  Force of nature is an understatement.

I met Betty when she was already in her 80s, but still teaching her female-centered self love classes in the oval living room of her Manhattan apartment. I was hoping to do some books with her (still might work with her estate) and was blown away by her amazing life force as she smoked her cigarette and showed me all the things in her apartment that brought her joy and has made her who she was. She was still on fire.  

I came of age in NYC in the 70s, and was an active participant in the feminist movement, so Betty’s  “radical” embrace of female masturbation at a time when men weren’t even sure women had orgasms was something I knew about decades ago.  When her book, Sex for One, became an underground bestseller, I was so glad it existed.  Decades later I taught a sex positive class for a chapter for NY NOW and found myself stunned to be telling women about the book and her classes (which were legendary).

So I was thrilled when Gwenth Paltrow’s Goop featured Betty on her Netflix show this year and when the esteemed NY Times ran an incredible profile of her in March, just as the pandemic really started and we were on the cusp of really understanding how important embracing Sex for One was going to be for a whole new generation.

I also was able to get Betty a spot on the annual LAMBDA Literary Awards show three years ago as a presenter, and even with all those amazing, wild presenters, Betty’s joi de vive outshone them all, and left us all in sex positive stitches.

Her legacy lives on. Before she was a sex educator, she was an artist and I believe that the New York City Sex Museum is in the process of putting together an exhibit of her art work that will open in December.  That is going to be the perfect tribute.

But in the meantime, rewatch the Goop episode and remember that this one woman almost single-handedly brought female masturbation into the mainstream.


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