This blog is the transcript of Episode #62 of “Under 10: A Mini Podcast on Intimacy”. Listen along here.
Last week I offered you a roadmap to help you when you feel triggered. Thank you for writing me – I’m so glad that was useful to so many of you! Episode #62 is the first in a two-part series about self-pleasuring and learning to connect with your body on your own terms. In previous episodes, I have encouraged you to identify what you want and communicate your needs in intimacy. Exploring your bod and learning to self-pleasure shows you what feels good and what doesn’t which is powerful for mapping what your needs actually are. In today’s show, I’m going to share a few personal stories to get us ready for this exploration. I’m so excited you tuned in.
I dedicate this episode to Betty Dodson, the Grandmother of Masturbation, who since the 1970’s has taught thousands of women how to embrace their bodies’ pleasure. Betty is the author of Sex for One, a revolutionary book first published in 1986 for all genders that takes the shame out of masturbation and establishes solo sex as a healthy form of expression. Years ago, I had the honor of meeting Betty. And getting humped by her. I will never forget that night.
The year was 2004. I was a young graduate student attending the Association for Women in Psychology conference in Jersey City. I had been struggling in graduate school so far. The dry, disengaged research style of mainstream clinical psychology was deflating my dreams. I not only didn’t excel in those classes but shrinking humans into predictive variables had nothing to do with why I had gone to graduate school. I was losing hope and turned to feminist psychology for help. Within moments of signing in with the warm staff at the registration table, I felt at ease. The next three days of presentations by brilliant feminist pioneers woke up parts of me that had gone numb. I felt I had found a home.
The Saturday night dinner, keynote and dance were the pinnacle of the event, a chance to unwind and play after the week’s labors. By evening, everyone at the conference poured into the ballroom on the top floor of the hotel to find a seat for dinner. We were greeted by a breathtaking vista. The room towered above the Hudson River. From our perch, we had a clear view of the Manhattan skyline twinkling against the dark night. I remember looking out the windows beyond the joyous chatter of the room and feeling my heart swell.
Soon after we finished the meal, the keynote speaker rose and took the stage. It was none other than Betty Dodson. She had wild, white hair that stood straight up with blue streaks in the front. She wore leather. Her voice was deep from what sounded like years of cigarette smoking. She was 75 at the time. And she opened her keynote with stories about all of the sexual positions she had recently been trying with her 20-year-old lover.
I was dumbfounded. I felt like no one in the room was breathing except for probably Betty, who was laughing about how she’d had two hip replacements over the years in order to keep up with her sex life. Up to that point, I had spent very little time learning about sex. I never discussed sex out loud with anyone, including my lovers. I felt good enough about my sex life and had no idea that I could ask for more. That night, the next steps in my education unfolded.
As her stories progressed, Betty talked about the circles of women that she first gathered in the 1970’s to teach about relating to their bodies without shame. She taught women about their anatomy, how all women’s bodies are different and equally beautiful and acceptable. And she taught women how to pleasure themselves while in circle with other women. My mind was blown. I knew I needed to know more.
I had only regularly masturbated since college. Prior to that, when I was 10 or 11, a friend of mine in grade school had showed me how to rub a pillow between my legs to get “that feeling”. She would do it next to me until she arrived at her little girl climax. I copied her but had no idea what she was talking about and just faked “the feeling” in order to look like I knew. It was years later, in my first year of college, when I actually discovered what was possible through self-pleasure. This time it was a college friend who told me that self-pleasure was like a meditation and a way to take care of yourself. I liked that. So I began to experiment with touching myself while my dorm mate was out of the room. I soon realized I could get to “that feeling” easily and quickly. It became a way for me to soothe myself during the stresses of college whether I had a partner or not. I never talked about it with anyone.
And there I was, ten years later, sitting in a room with leaders in feminist psychology, listening to this eccentric, blue haired woman talk openly about bringing other women together to touch themselves! Every cell in my body felt alert. She was candid, funny, brilliant, and powerful. And she wasn’t afraid to talk about things that I had never in my nearly thirty years heard named. I had no clue then that I would eventually follow in her footsteps. Only that listening to her, I felt alive. I could tell I wasn’t the only one.
Betty’s keynote ended to wild applause. When the music began for the evening dance, the room erupted. Though I was a novice when it came to sex, I’ve always known how to move my body to music. That night, I swayed my hips freely, giddy at the freedom I felt I had just been granted by Betty’s talk. I was already sweating when I felt someone come up behind me. I turned. It was 75-year-old Betty herself, shaking it as hard as anyone. It turns out that Betty Dodson is a very assertive dancer. She grabbed me by the hips and the best way I can describe it is, she humped and grinded me for the remainder of that song. It was awesome. I felt deeply honored and honestly, totally turned on. That woman knew how to transmit orgasm. I’ll never forget the intensity of being skin to skin with her for a few moments. It was a joy.
Masturbation is a pathway to freedom. And for many, it can feel incredibly intimidating, especially if you have been taught that it is wrong to touch yourself. Whether or not you ever self-pleasure but you are brave enough to listen to this, I invite you to consider that exploring your body with your own hands or other tools and toys is a way to meet yourself. Pure and simply that. A direct pathway to knowing yourself more deeply. No partner needs to intervene with their own agenda and needs. No authority needs to tell you the rules for your exploration or what you should and shouldn’t feel. It’s only you, your skin, your nerve endings, your sexual center and the privacy of the space you choose. The voices in your head that tell you this is weird or wrong or indulgent or dirty are not yours. They belong to a culture that is terrified of people being sexually empowered. Because when we are sexually empowered, we aren’t afraid anymore. When you know that you don’t need anyone outside of you to create waves of pleasure inside of you, the locus of control of your world shifts. The journey to get there may be scary, but the rewards will be endless in all parts of your life.
For this week’s homework, try a journaling exercise. Write about the earliest messages you received about self-pleasure. Did anyone tell you not to do it? Did anyone talk about it at all? If not, how did you learn about masturbation? And how did that impact your earliest sex or sexual explorations? Discovering your self-pleasure origin story is important to help you liberate your adult self-pleasuring practice. Next episode I will dive more deeply into details about how to initiate or deepen your sexual self pleasure practice. For now, gently investigate the messages you were taught. This is not an indictment of your parents or the culture in which you were raised. This is a making clear what your starting point is. I am excited to go on this journey with you.