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Sex Is More Than Bumping Genitals: In Conversation with Betty Dodson

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The following is an excerpt from Sex From Scratch: Making Your Own Relationship Rules, the forthcoming book by Sarah Mirk.

Betty Dodson opens the gray door of her Madison Avenue apartment and looks me up and down. “Hello, Amazon,” she says, then offers to make me a drink. The 83-year-old sex activist is known for being direct, brassy, and unabashed in her language; during our 45-minute interview, she uses the word “fuck” seventeen times. The apartment where the legendary author of Sex for One is host to masturbation workshops and is clean and sparse — Dodson’s twenty-something live-in boyfriend Eric moved out a few years ago. While still devoted to the physicality of life, in the past decade Dodson has discovered the thrill of the internet. Her main joy these days comes from answering teen’s sex questions on her website, speaking without censorship or media filters for the first time in her life. Over vodka cocktails in her quiet home office, she talked about womanhood, religion, and the fake orgasms of the sexual revolution.

Two Words: Honesty And Lube

Dodson: Honesty is never natural. We all want to cop a plea or skirt the issue.

I came to New York to be an artist and tried the whole marriage thing and the monogamy thing and the sex was lousy. I didn’t want to have a family and my husband agreed and then as soon as we got married, changed his mind. Everyone was having children and [long, angry sigh] it’s hard to be different. Back then, I was much more traditional. To break these rules and deal with your family and friends — everyone’s got a very strong opinion on how to live your life.

I never had the desire to have kids. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be an artist. I did not want to be a wife and I did not want to be a mother. I helped my mother raise my little brothers and I saw what her life was like. Thankless. Oh my God. You want to talk about the most important job in the world? Raising a child. And we treat it like shit.

My husband finally came home one night, it was my birthday, we were having dinner at my favorite Japanese restaurant, and he said, “Oh I don’t know how to tell you something.” And I said, “What?! Spit it out!” And he said, “I fell in love with my secretary.” And I said, “What? Just fuck her! Have an affair!” I thought that would be good because it would get him turned on. He was terrible in bed, a premature ejaculator. But every once in a while, he could fuck like a dream. It would be better to have it always bad or always good, but to have it be mostly bad and sometimes good, ugh. I would say to my therapist — I was in therapy — I’d say, “It’s a breakthrough! We’re having our breakthrough moment!” And then, nope, back to the preemie.

And of course, I was inhibited as much as he was. Oral sex? Nope. Manual sex? Nope. But sneaky masturbation, that got me through marriage.

I left a fabulous art career. I was good, I had two successful art shows. And the next thing my mother knows is I’m running masturbation workshops? My mom, she lives out in Wichita, she says, “Betty Ann, have you lost your mind? What do you mean they don’t have orgasms? That’s absolutely natural.” It was natural for her; she was orgasmic.

There’s a whole other aspect to that — my father was not circumcised. It’s a whole different fuck when you’re with an intact man. The foreskin is moist, it keeps the whole glans sort of satiny and soft, they can glide, not do the friction fuck. Don’t forget to use lots of lube. Lube! Lube is the number one sex toy in America as far as I’m concerned. I would never have sex with anyone without additional lubrication.

You Can’t Fix Your Hair During A Genuine Orgasm

Dodson: I was part of the sexual revolution. I was going to sex parties and watching people have orgies and whoa. The women were all faking orgasm and the men were all cumming. It was clear to me. The women were all [Betty launches into a flamboyant physical reenactment of an orgy] “Uh! Uh!” then fixing their hair and the men were all [thrusting] “uhh uhh!” The women were all frilly and fluffy and concerned about how they looked. It was not acceptable. Absolutely not acceptable. It was so unfair! For the guys to be cumming and for the women not to be. They had no idea what an orgasm is or how to have one. And it starts with masturbation.

I got involved in the feminist movement and then I found out the feminists didn’t want to deal with sex either. Still don’t.

I want women to have independent orgasms. I want them to understand their bodies. I don’t want them to go out into the world and let some well-meaning but stupid little jackass who doesn’t know what they’re doing, fuck ‘em. Teen pregnancy! They don’t have any information. We send our little girls out into the marketplace totally unarmed, totally helpless. They don’t have information, they don’t have birth control, they’re drenched in stupid ass religion!

Right now, we have a whole slew of teenagers coming up the pike who have been raised on abstinence only. And they are fucking. They are having sex. And it’s penetration sex — they’re either giving blowjobs or taking it up the ass. Making the man happy and not having anything for yourself? That’s as ancient as the Bible.

It’s gotten worse since the sexual revolution. We went into this religious mode. Look at Bush and company. We’re still carrying on with the religious freaks.

I don’t talk too much about it, but I honor the goddess of sexual love and abundance, and I’m an atheist. I respect the ancient religion, back when we had things worth worshipping: sex, life, and celebration, the stuff that was never written down. But if you go back and look at the art, she’s there, she’s everywhere. We are the power. We give birth. And boy does that piss mankind off. Damn!

Keep Fair & Keep Moving

Dodson: In my seventies, with Eric, it was perfect. He wanted to be an apprentice and great! I was more than happy to teach him. I’m proud of him; he’s doing well. It was the perfect time for me to have a live-in love affair. In your seventies, it’s not like you want to go out every night and fuck everyone you can get your hands on. That was my forties. Fifties, menopause, meh. I took a break from penetration and hung out with the lesbians. But I got bored with that, too, I don’t want to always have a role and negotiate everything.

Revisiting heterosexuality was, in a way, novel. I hadn’t done it for so long. Only this time, I had the power. In ways, it was like I was the husband and Eric was the wife. I got the whole picture of what that was like and it’s very unbalanced. He who makes the gold makes the rules. Unless you’re both working, earning an income, and putting it into a pot.

My challenge was not to abuse my power. So there were times when it got close to that, I would want him to do something differently. But I would always sit down and negotiate and I would always thank him for his work. Eric was working for me, so I was his boss, his teacher, his roommate, his lover. It was insane. I would never, ever recommend anybody do that. It was crazy! But I loved him and I loved it and we had a great ten-year-run. The last few years were rocky, I could tell he needed to move along.

It takes ten years to master any art form. He had all my information. If he kept hanging around, I would be crippling him. He would have been stilted. That’s what should happen with relationships and marriages. A lifetime? Crazy! We change, we shift, we alter. Forever and forever until death do us part? That’s like going to jail with a life sentence. Our relationship was fine for the time that we did it, but then he needed to move along. And he needed to be with an age-appropriate woman. You can’t fuck a granny for the rest of your life.

You Need Your Own Space

Dodson: I would never say “sleep with” someone. I would never sleep with anybody. I’ll have sex with someone, but I’m not going to sleep with someone. If they want to come over here and have sex, they have to leave. If they have to stay over because they’re from out of town, they have to stay in the other room.

I had a bed to myself until I was 29. Boyfriends always wanted to sleep over, but they always wanted to fuck first thing in the morning and I wanted to wake up and brush my teeth and have my own space and my own time. As an artist, I always had something on the easel that I couldn’t wait to get back to. And then, as a writer, I couldn’t wait to get back to where I left off. So I didn’t want someone hanging around. We’d have a date, he’d come over, we’d have sex, buh buh buh. My day is my own! I always need to be alone. You need solitude; you need privacy.

I’m less likely to engage in partner sex these days, just because of my age. I’m not going to do it with an age appropriate man or woman. They’re half dead! So it’s going to be somebody younger, which means they’ll have to be open minded. I do occasionally have sex with people these days, I’m open to it. Last night, I got picked up in a restaurant by this rather attractive Chinese man. Tall, good looking guy, articulate. We had this marvelous conversation; we took down each other’s phone number. He’s 50 and he knows I’m 80. I think I’ll wait and let him call me. I saw he had a wedding ring, not that that means anything. I can have sex with someone out of curiosity. I don’t need to be in love. Fifty-year-old Chinese man? Who’s in the computer world? Hm. Smart!

Sex Is More Than Bumping Genitals

Dodson: I’m branching out to where sex is much more than bumping your genitals together and [reenacts a gross makeout scene] nom nom nom slobbering and kissing nom nom nom. I’ve done that for thousands of years it seems. It has to be more of an intellect, it has to be more of a challenge, it has to have more of a meaning. Procreative sex?

Thinking about sex, drawing about sex, writing about sex, answering questions about sex, lecturing, talking; that’s all sex! You think sex is just fucking with genitals! Oh please, darling, that’s such a small part of it.

Women don’t understand their bodies. They don’t look at their pussies. They don’t know what their cunts are made of. They don’t know where their clitoris is. They think they have to cum from vaginal intercourse. I’ve been talking about this same stuff my whole life and I never get bored. Not when I get an email like — I had this woman show up on Saturday who said she had her first orgasm at 25 after reading my instructions on what to do. Are you kidding me? Do you know what kind a reward that is? 25 years-old and never had an orgasm in this world where we’re surrounded by sex sex sex!

On the website, oooo, we’re cookin’. We’re putting out the information that these kids really need. I get up in the morning and I can’t wait to get to the computer. I’m 83 years-old and I am dealing with thousands of people. I’ve been censored all my lifetime and now I’m not. My bliss and my ecstasy are helping these kids find some answers to their sex problems. Everything about that is orgasmic to me.

Sarah Mirk is a 27-year-old journalist whose work focuses on gender, politics, and good ideas. As an editor for national feminist magazine Bitch, she writes online daily about tricky issues of race, class, and sexuality. Her new book, Sex From Scratch: Making Your Own Relationship Rules is a love and dating guidebook that gleans real-life knowledge from smart people in a variety of nontraditional relationships. Due out this August from Microcosm Publishing.