(Updated and revised October 21, 2014)
The original version of this chapter – an article on ‘Masturbation’ -Â has been one of the most-read on this website for many years. Obviously, many have unanswered questions about this issue.Â
Masturbation is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not something to be particularly proud of, either (Matt Groening)
In my pastoral counseling practice the subject comes up regularly, almost always without any prompting from me. Men and women are concerned about the fantasies – of real or imaginary people – as they ‘do it’. For some women, and a few men, involuntary orgasms are a problem – while dreaming, or, for a woman recently, while she does her floor exercises. In discussions about human sexuality on Internet discussion groups it’s second to homosexuality. (Put the words masturbation + Christian into Google and you’ll get 30 million responses!!!). Â So a lot of people are worried, angry, confused, guilty – or just plain thinking – about masturbation.
–> A single woman, in her forties, a staff-member in a fundamentalist church came for counseling. She’d been referred by her senior pastor, who didn’t know her ‘problem’, and she didn’t want to tell him, but she said she ‘needed to talk to someone about something.’ She sat nervously on the edge of the chair, briefly sketched some aspects of her history, and then paused for a long time. Eventually she stammered: ‘Actually my problem’s a terrible one. My church preaches that I’ll go to hell for doing this… It’s the ‘big M’.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘masturbation’… (She later told me she walked out of that discussion ‘walking on air’, ‘free as a bird’, released from all her fears on the subject)
–> A woman used to attend an Australian Baptist church, but she’d come late, leave early, and sit by herself. The pastor never got to meet her. One morning, as she was leaving early, she commented to another lady – who happened to be the pastor’s wife (but she didn’t know) – that she enjoyed coming to this church, because the pastor was so ‘hot’ and she enjoyed pleasuring herself while he was preaching. The pastor’s wife didn’t offer any sort of judgmental reaction, but passed the information on to the pastor!!
There’s a brand of milk in Australia called ‘Big M’. On the ‘Net, there’s also a big M, masturbation. The following (from various online discussions) are typical:
* ‘I am a born again Christian and pornography is probably the one of the toughest issues that I and probably everyone else face. The Lord let me know that pornography was no longer something I needed nor was it EVER good for me. I used to be the guy with a drawer full of Playboys in the bathroom and I would masturbate every day! Although I threw out every shred of pornography and cleaned out my hard drive, my addiction to masturbation has in no way been broken. The Devil is sneaky and it’s absolutely true that he attacks from behind and little by little people become enslaved. I am not concerned any longer about salvation (I am a believer and know the grace of the Lord – that is faith and not works)… I have remained a virgin through all of this for which I am VERY thankful, but I NEED some help all of this stuff.
* ‘Hi fellow Christians, there is a question that has been bugging me for the longest time, but have not spoken to anyone (except my husband) about it because of its intimate nature: if masturbation is a sin, how is a woman ever to attain orgasm (it is a known fact that most women cannot reach orgasm during intercourse) then? I mean, sometimes I wonder, not at all intending to be blasphemous, why is it that men can achieve orgasm during intercourse and most women cannot? I mean I understand the physiological explanation, but if masturbation is a sin, then it makes me (as a woman) feel that (do I dare say it?) that God *gulp* is not very fair about this!’
* ‘I have been wondering why God made the mechanism of women menstruating and men having wet dreams and yet call it “unclean” as in the book of Leviticus. I guess the “unclean” here refers to poor hygiene and not sin. Regarding masturbation, I know that lust is a form of adultery and thinking about the act before putting it into action may be a sin, but what about “fantasies”? Are fantasies sinful? And if it’s just the action and mechanism alone, is masturbation still sinful? I believe some of you out there would think that God does not give boys penises to “play with themselves” but eventually make love with a women and masturbation is actually misusing the organ, then isn’t sucking our thumb, biting our fingernails sinful too? Men have sex drives and it is very very difficult to control it, and if the penis is only for sex alone (as well as urination) then why did God give us the ability to erect (babies as well) even if we are not having sex? Why does he give people sexual feelings before marriage?’
* Woman on Internet newsgroup:Â ‘Sexual release is just as important as any kind of emotional release. Saying that you shouldn’t masturbate is like saying that you shouldn’t cry when you’re upset or hurt, or that you should hold in anger and other emotions. I see no difference between sexual release and emotional release. Not releasing will only result in stress and health problems. And I know that I need no more stress in my life. I figure, if something helps a person relieve stress, clear their mind, and make them feel better (that doesn’t hurt others, mind you), then more power to them’.
* The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994 pp. 564-566) lists six ‘Offences against chastity’: lust, masturbation, fornication, pornography, prostitution, and rape. Masturbation (to which most space is given of the six!), ‘is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action’. However, some ‘psychological and social factors’ may ‘lessen or even extenuate moral culpability’…
’10 Things You Didn’t Know About Orgasm’ from a TED talk by Mary Roach:Â
* One woman would touch her eyebrow and orgasm every time
* Another would orgasm every time she brushed her teeth (she believed she was possessed by demons and got sick of it so switched to mouth-wash for oral hygiene)
* An Israeli researcher found that sexual intercourse cured a man’s constant hiccuping (Roach’s suggestion for unattached hiccupers: try masturbation)
* Medical research suggests that frequent masturbation produces fresher sperm
* Kinsey did a survey of strength of ejaculation in (I think) 200 males: many just dribbled, but the record was 8 feet!
Why is masturbation so controversial for most Christians? Is it simply a ‘rub and tickle’ that may be good for you? Or is it a habit designed by Evil Powers to induce destructive guilt and/or rob us of our ‘sexual purity’? How did masturbation get such a ‘bad rap’ from so many Christian preachers? Certainly it’s almost a universal problem: 90% of adolescent and adult males masturbate (‘the other 10% are liars’). Females? Who knows? Estimates vary from 30% to 90%.
AnÂ Encyclopedia of Sexual BehaviourÂ notes: ‘No form of sexual activity has been more frequently discussed, more roundly condemned and more universally practised than masturbation.’
Conservative Christian Approaches
For many conservative Christians – Catholic, Protestant and others – ‘self-abuse’ is the misuse of the body, which is the temple of the indwelling spirit of God. God intended the process of procreation to be pleasurable, but to seek that pleasure as an end in itself is – to varying degrees, depending on the group – deadly folly. According to traditional medieval theology, the body and its pleasures are to be treated with disdain. If you ‘abuse’ yourself you may go insane or blind.Â The Jansenists, in the seventeenth century held that the human body is inherently evil.Â Indeed the derivation of the word (LatinÂ manusÂ – hand, andÂ stuprareÂ – to defile) has a pejorative connotation. Pope Leo IX forbade masturbators from being admitted to sacred orders. Aquinas believed masturbation was a worse sin than rape, incest, and adultery. (Reason: in these other sins procreation is a possibility. I read of a teaching brother in a Catholic boys’ school say: ‘Son, do you realize every time you masturbate, your emission is killing thousands – possibly millions – of babies!’ Yahoo Answers says there are 40 to 600 million sperm in ejaculate: ‘an entire generation if you think about it’).
I found this somewhere: ‘Scientists compounded the fear and loathing – like the 18th century Swiss physician Tissot who believed that blood-flow changes during any kind of sex would cause nerve damage and perhaps insanity; masturbation was especially hazardous. (Those who cared for inmates of insane institutions noted how they frequently masturbated). In the first published psychiatric text published in America, physician Benjamin Rush attributed mania, seminal weakness, dimness of sight, epilepsy, loss of memory, and even death to masturbation. Anti-masturbatory devices became available, including a tube lined with metal spikes that fits over the penis. Until this century, young men in Catholic institutions were sometimes put to bed in straitjackets or with their hands tied to bedposts to make sure they didn’t do it. Then there was Kellogg, the cornflakes man, who invented the cereal as one element of a diet he thought would quench the sex drive. For those masturbators whom snacks could not cure, Kellogg suggested circumcision without anaesthesia. Finally, around the turn of the 20th century, physicians started to realize that masturbation was not the evil earlier generations thought it wasÂ (despite Freud, who said masturbation may cause a neurosis characterized by fatigue, worry, and lack of physical and mental alertness). Still, it was not until 1940 that a respected textbook, Diseases of Infancy and Childhood, removed its discussion of masturbation from the chapter titled “Functional and Nervous Disorders.”‘
For modern conservative Christians, the first question usually is: ‘What does the Bible say?’ They have probably heard preachers and camp-fire youth speakers quote these texts: 2 Corinthians 7:1: “Let us cleanse ourselves of all filthiness of the flesh.” Ephesians 4:22: “Laying aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit.” Romans 6:12: “Don’t let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts.” 1 Peter 2:1: “Lay aside all evil.” Verse 11: “Abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul.” Then, if the preacher is warming to his (women don’t preach on this, much) theme, he’ll cite the story of Onan and some passages from Leviticus.
Onan’s sin (Genesis 38:4-10, 46:12, Numbers 26:19, 1 Chronicles 2:30) was not masturbation but failure to impregnate his dead brothers’ wife, Tamar. Under the Mosaic law, if a husband died without his wife having a child, the man’s brother was required to marry her and try to get her pregnant, so she would not have to suffer the disgrace of being a woman without children. But Onan didn’t want any children of Tamar to be heirs to his brother’s estate, so he practised ‘coitus interruptus’ to prevent her from conceiving. His punishment wasn’t for masturbating or coitus interruptus, it was for deliberately disobeying a specific requirement of this ancient law.
Then there’s Leviticus 15:16-18: ‘When a man has an emission of semen, he must bathe his whole body with water, and he will be unclean till evening. Any clothing or leather that has semen on it must be washed with water, and it will be unclean till evening. When a man lies with a woman and there is an emission of semen, both must bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.’ (See also Deuteronomy 23:10).
This moral/ceremonial requirement of the law has to be put into the context of Israel’s purification rituals. ‘Who shall stand in the Lord’s holy place? Whoever has clean hands and a pure heart…’ (Psalm 24:3,4). Most religions have ceremonial rites associated with washing, and Israel was no exception. The Israelites put ‘unclean’ things into five categories: some foods, diseases (especially leprosy), bodily discharges, dead bodies, and idolatry. I remember reading a book by a Dr. Macmillan (‘None of These Diseases’ – I think it’s still in print) which says that Jews have always had higher survival rates (eg. during the Black Death) than others because of their purification laws. For example in many Greek and Roman cities the rubbish dump was located in the middle of the city. But the Israelites were instructed to take their garbage outside the city. Similarly with washing your hands after touching a dead body. These purification rites do not condemn masturbation (if anything, a ‘discharge’ is accepted as the sort of thing that frequently happens).
In anÂ e-bookletÂ aimed at men, Evangelical theologian Mark Driscoll doesn’t mince any words about masturbation. The Mars Hill pastor states: ‘What I am not counting as masturbation is the manual stimulation between married people whereby a husband and wife enjoy pleasuring one another’s genitals, as taught in the Scriptures, either orally (Song 2:3;Â 4:12) or with their hands (Song 2:6). I am also not classifying as masturbation self-stimulation done with the blessing and in the presence of one’s spouse …. What I am referring to by masturbation is self-pleasuring done in isolation that is usually also accompanied with unbiblical lust.’ If masturbation is done alone and accompanied by lust, then it is a sin, Driscoll maintains.
Summary:Â The Bible says nothing specifically in favor or against masturbation. Sorry about that.
Masturbation and pornography are not evil in themselves according to many liberal Christians. After all, it’s your own body and your own private life and may be a form of very safe sex.
I found these somewhere:Â Â
* ‘Kinsey and the latestÂ Sex in AmericaÂ report show there’s a whole lot of shaking going on. Today’s sex researchers have come to grips with the fact that masturbation has important physical and emotional benefits for both men and women.’
* ‘Masturbation is a normal, natural activity throughout life,’ says Robert Pollack, a psychology professor at the University of Georgia. ‘It may even contribute to mental health and not doing it may lead to psychosexual problems. For men, masturbation or regular sex is good for the prostate and can prevent painful prostate blockage. For women it can help reduce cramping and for both men and women has been shown to have a healthy effect on the immune systems as well as reducing overall tension and helping emotions. Besides being healthy for the body, a private grope can help both a man and a woman better understand their own sexuality. If you can learn to lie back and enjoy it and really pay attention to the pleasure it gives your body – no one knows better than you what gives you maximum pleasure – you can share that knowledge with a partner and have more mutually fulfilling sexual pleasure sharing. The self-awareness gained from masturbation makes it a central feature of many sex therapy programs.
* ‘Evolution may have even designed us to be masturbators. Notice when you are standing where your hand falls if you hang it in front of you. Apes do it, dogs and cats do it, elephants do it and even porcupines have been observed doing it, probably very carefully. One reason we may be so programmed, paradoxically, is to increase our odds of producing offspring. Older sperm can lose their ability to swim well. A good masturbatory flush guarantees fresh, robust sperm for mating.’
* ‘Storing seminal fluids for long periods can also cause prostate congestion, which in turn can lead to urinary and ejaculatory pain. Regular ejaculations, either through masturbation or intercourse, can help ward off this condition, also called non-specific prostatitis and, for obvious reasons, “sailor’s disease” and “priest’s disease.”’
* ‘Another reason why nature designed us to masturbate is to strengthen PC muscles, much like “Kegel” exercises. This is especially true in females where strong PC muscles are practically the sole factor in whether labor is easy and fast or long and difficult. Females masturbating regularly with multiple orgasms would develop strong PC muscles and should have easier labor.
* ‘Masturbation is also an ever-renewable health resource. In fact, the people who start the earliest and do it the most often are the ones who do it longest into old age. So, as with all sexual activity, it’s “use it or lose it.”‘Â
And so on…
But both conservatives and liberals may be missing the point. Conservatives may be wrong: not all masturbation is sinful. Liberals may be wrong: some masturbation may be harmful or even evil.
‘Lonely’ masturbation is self-isolating sex without intimacy. It dissociates the sexual act from a loving relationship, and is therefore often a symptom of a deeper problem. When an act is purely centered on self, it can become spiritually unhealthy. Many gays I counsel have a particular problem here.
Now, in the context of a marriage spouses caress one another for mutual gratification. And I know some couples who agree to masturbate to avoid being sexually tempted when apart. Those who travel on business are particularly vulnerable: I know men who masturbate to fantasize about their wife and to prevent thinking of other objects of sexual fantasy or to avoid getting involved with porn in lonely motels. And masturbation can provide a non-destructive genital outlet when sexual intercourse is not possible e.g. for celibates, or those with sick spouses.Â
For Christians, I’ve found there are three broad issues.Â Â
First, the masturbation habit has produced heaps of bad shame, guilt, confusion and condemnation in a lot of people, particularly younger Christians. Most of it has been stoked by guilt-producing preaching. It’s the old story: the intolerant pharisee in us all majoring on sins of the flesh rather than on sins of the spirit, which are worse, according to Jesus.Â
The second issue is self-control – a product of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives (Galatians 5:23, 2 Timothy 1:7). If a habit has mastery over us – particularly if it is obsessive – it can be a serious problem. If, for example, you are going to great lengths trying to find nudity on the ‘Net to masturbate, that becomes a ‘bondage’. Without self-control we will never mature – in life or in the Christian life.Â Remember – ‘First a thought, then an act’ – so it’s a good idea never to read pornographic material alone (what consensual married partners do in private in this area is another matter).
The third issue is fantasizing, where we imagine general or specific scenes or persons as we masturbate. This is associated with the deadly sin of ‘lust’ – coveting someone else for our gratification (see Matthew 5:27-28). If a habit like masturbation becomes compulsive in this respect, it would be good to get professional advice.
A pastor’s wife in a happy marriage, but with a low-libidoed partner, tells me a helpful solution for her is this: once a week, when she knows her husband is out all morning, she runs a warm bath, adds perfumed bath salts, plays ‘sacred music’ and offers her sexuality to Jesus in an hour of pure ‘praise and worship.’ Beautiful!
The Christian conservatives have mostly been wrong. The relevant article in the respectedÂ Dictionary of Pastoral Care and CounselingÂ (Abingdon, 1990) says: ‘There is no evidence that masturbation, regardless of frequency, leads to physical or mental disorders. [Sneezing and masturbation] are both usually orgasmic experiences in which tensions are relieved… Never has a more harmless activity provoked more harmful anxiety.’
But is it totally harmless?Â Â
The problem with liberal thinking is its denial of the self-centeredness of this habit. This means that for years you know how to gratify self and when you are with your marriage partner, self may still be the focus of your sexual relationship. This is dangerous to a marriage because you may not be seeking what will make your partner happy but purely your own fulfilment. And let’s not ‘kid’ ourselves: pornography was created largely to simulate lust – and for masturbation. They both go hand in hand. You have to take control of your own life. Don’t let your sex organs do your thinking for you. My strong suggestion to those whose habit is out of control: feed your mind with good things (Philippians 4:8). Learn to pray well. Burn all your pornography and don’t ever buy any more. Get one or two trusted others to pray with/for you and keep in touch.Â
To teenagers I hear myself saying: ‘Sexuality is not evil. This is not something strange you are going through. God knows you are a sexual being and created you that way. God created you to have a blessed sexual relationship with your spouse. We were born with sexual urges and even if you you become a eunuch you’ll have a sex drive until you are old and grey. That is not sin. Puberty is preparing you for the adult world. You have new desires and you are in unfamiliar territory. The human body was created to be able to reproduce. Part of the reproductive process is stimulation of the genitals, and for men erection and ejaculation. In pre-Industrial cultures, when children reached puberty and they started maturing sexually, they married. When they got the urge, it was time to marry. Better to marry than to ‘burn’ writes an ancient Christian, St Paul. Today, there is such a great gulf between the first sexual urges and the age where a human is mature enough to accept all the responsibilities of marriage and a family. When nakedness is being hidden from children and adolescence, it is supposedly done so that the sexual urge will not be fed.’
To committed couples I hear myself saying: ‘Talk about your sexuality frankly with your partner. Learn what is pleasurable for you and teach your spouse: he or she hasn’t got your body, and they won’t know instinctively. For some women whose sexual needs are not as demanding as their male partner’s, and who need more time to climax, you may agree to offer the gift of frequency in exchange for the gift of time. Today’s glossy magazines promise mutual orgasms whenever you want them. Life isn’t like that for most people. Certainly mutual orgasmic experience is wonderful: but it won’t always be mutual – not even the crescendos. Orgasms – fast or slow, mild or wild – are not the basic goal of sex, but rather mutual love and intimacy…’
At this point some are asking, ‘OK. Rowland what do you really think about masturbation?’Â Â
This quote from evangelical counselor/ author Gary Collins would represent my own general position:
‘Christian counselors differ in their view of masturbation. It has been called ‘sin’, ‘a gift from God’, and an issue which is ‘no big deal… on God’s list of priorities…. Masturbation can… produce guilt; can be a means of escaping from loneliness and interpersonal (including sexual) relationships with others into a world of fantasy; can increase self-centredness and lowered self-esteem; and can stimulate and be stimulated by lust… Masturbation is rarely helped by a direct determination to quit. This focuses attention on the issue, increases anxiety, and makes failure more incriminating. Masturbation can be reduced by prayer, a sincere willingness to let the Holy Spirit control, involvement in busy activities involving others, an avoidance of sexually arousing material (such as erotic pictures or novels), a practice of not dwelling on harmful sexual fantasies, and a recognition that sin (including lust) will be forgiven when it is confessed with sincerity and sorrow… When there is open communication on the subject of sex, including masturbation… it will… not become a major problem… It’s high time we stop making such a ‘big deal’ out of masturbation and give it the well-deserved unimportance it merits.’
(Gary Collins,Â Christian Counseling, Waco Texas: Word Books, 1980, p.296, from Rowland Croucher,Â The Family: at Home in a Heartless WorldÂ (HarperCollins), quoted with permission).
And finally this: a quote from a medical doctor who counsels missionaries, Dr. Marjorie Foyle: ‘Masturbation is in my view often no more than a pressure cooker blowing off steam. Usually some life adjustment resolves the problem… [in times of tension] the pressure cooker blows: in anger, in masturbation, or in other ways.’ (‘Overcoming Stress in Singleness’,Â EMQ, April ’85, pp. 141-2).
If masturbation is addictive, as with all addictions there will be withdrawal symptoms. It will be hard for you. But I know you can do it because Jesus will give you the strength. And remember you are not alone. God will guide you (Proverbs 3:5,6) and bless you.
And a note from a netfriend:
The book SEXUAL SOLUTIONS recommends that teenagers or those inexperienced in intimate relationships, masturbate before a date or phone call. If you still experience feelings for the person you are dating/calling afterwards, you can be sure it isn’t lust or sexual only.~~
See here for one person’s summary about what the Bible teaches on Masturbation (you might be surprised!).Â
Note from a friend (who is a retired Baptist minister):
When fundamentalists say gays should remain celibate and not masturbate, I shake my head. It is almost a total denial of who are we are as people.
Actually it is very important for gays to masturbate for two reasons.
1. Before we go out to areas where we could “slip,” it is very important to masturbate before we leave home. While there are no guarantees, it does help to reduce the risk of picking up a virus or an infection. Whenever someone’s will and their emotions have an argument, their emotions tend to win just about every time. I have not been sexually active for many years, but can you understand when the [conservative denomination I belong to] Â said that gays, practicing or not are forbidden to lead, teach, do any ministry or do any act of Christian service, it meant that the HUGE effort I had put in for years and years to make sure I remained faithful to my marriage vows counted for nothing. That is when I took a huge step backwards away from the church.
2. Suppression of masturbation can lead to prostatitis or other health issues and they can be serious.
It is also one of the main reasons why I strongly support gay marriage. How much better to wait and fall deeply in love with another man, marry him and spend the rest of their lives together in a monogamous relationship; rather than cruise around gay bars and saunas thinking they can find love by having sex.
My verse for today on my desk is Ps 20:4 “May he give you the desire of your heart.” Can I be totally honest? The desire of my heart every day and every night is to be married to a lovely gay Christian man. I would spoil him rotten. It is never going to happen for me, but I really wish that happiness for all my gay friends.
A Sex therapist, Maureen Matthews, who writes each week in the Melbourne Sunday Age, said this (April 27, 2014):
* ‘In a recent seminar, visiting academic Dr Christine Kaestle, from Virginia Tech, spoke about “Masturbation: Conflicting elements of pleasure and stigma’. ‘The women who had integrated masturbation into their sexual repertoire reported they knew themselves better and felt it had a positive effect on their relationships, as they were able to communicate with, and guide, their partners.’ [She might be worth Googling for more…]
* ‘In your own sexual journey I recommend you read Dr. Betty Dodson’s classic book, Sex for One: The Art of Selfloving‘.
Betty Dodson is back. The pensioner once dubbed the “godmother of masturbation” thanks to her 1973 bestseller, Sex for One, is relaunching her masturbation masterclasses in New York. Now 85, Dodson wants to help the post-Sex and the City, post-Girls generation of women that she believes are not nearly as liberated as they think they are. “Most of them haven’t even seen their genitals in a mirror. You show ’em and they go ‘eek!’ Or ‘ugh!'”
Her comeback has caused excitement among a new generation of American women, many of whom are seeking inspiration from the feminist thinkers of the 1970s in the face of renewed attacks on women’s rights. “Yeah, I’m an overnight success at 85,” says Dodson as she breaks into a chuckle and pours me a glass of vodka. “People now say THE Betty Dodson.”
We meet in her rent-controlled apartment on Madison Avenue where she has lived since 1962. Dodson arrived in New York, fresh from Kansas, in 1950 to train as an artist; the walls of her living room are lined with her own paintings ofÂ erotic couplings and blown-glass sex toys. When she held orgies here in the 1960s (“there’s no furniture you can’t move”) she realised that many women were faking pleasure. Her original women-only masturbation – “bodysex” – classes took place here from the early 70s for 15 years with an ideal number of 13 per class.
Although she was described as one of theÂ “early feminists” by Gloria Steinem, she felt out of place in theÂ consciousness-raising groups of the time.Â “I always thought sex was a top-priority issue,” she says, pouring herself a whisky. “Feminists like Gloria Steinem thought it was private.” (She chuckles, “I love Gloria. IÂ used to call her ‘the general’.”)
Dodson has a mouth like a sailor and the easy manner of a wisecracking Scorsese character. She looks incredible, with a zest for life that belies her age. She credits “masturbation, pot and raw garlic”.
When you read Dodson’s 2010 memoir,Â My Romantic Love Wars, she doesn’t strike you as a swinging-from-the-chandeliers type. In 1959, she married Frederick Stern, an advertising director and pushed herself into sexual self-discovery when the marriage ended in divorce in 1965.
She says she was 37 before she met her sexual match, Grant Taylor, a 42-year-old English professor from New York University. Taylor convinced her that her inner labia lips weren’t deformed and introduced her to the idea of “electronic orgasms” (thanks to his electric scalp massager), as well as the idea of non-possessive love. “I’m aÂ romantic love junkie just like the rest of you,” she shrugs. “It’s a disease, IÂ don’t know how else to describe it.” She says that feminists are often the worst culprits. “They’re afraid of sex because they say it’s too controversial. But I feel it’s because they’re personally too conflicted. They don’t want to masturbate, they want Prince Charming. It’s Walt Disney. Puke. Barfarama.”
At her first group sex party on the Upper East Side, she admits she was “a typical Virgo at an orgy,” as she nervously removed her new black lace knickers and folded them under a chair.
But now, after 50 years at the frontline of the sexual revolution, Dodson’s work is being rediscovered by a new audience. Some are young, fashionableÂ types who seem to have it all but – she says – have never had an orgasm.
They’re usually too shy to attend the bodysex groups and opt for private sessions; she had a 25-year-old in yesterday for a lesson in self-love. “Poor girl had no idea. Never masturbated as a child.” Dodson says her biggest fans are fourth-wave feminists bored with the right-on, anti-pleasure stance they feelÂ third-wavers stand for; for them, Dodson’s message of rediscovering your power through getting into your body and independent orgasm seems much more attractive than banging on about childcare and sexual violence.
“In the workshop we share our orgasm with the group while being in control of our own clitoris,” she says, explaining that the class consists of aÂ “genital show-and-tell” followed by masturbation in a circle. Betty has been known to help out with her vibrator.
“No wonder I keep doing it. Are you kidding? The sounds, the sights, the smells. Fat, skinny, one tit gone. Women are so beautiful.”
In 2006, Carlin Ross, a former corporate lawyer came to interview Betty (who defines herself as a “heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian”) for her website. Ross, now 41, says Dodson was “one of the few sex-positive feminists and that had always intrigued me”. She recalls how, halfway through the interview, Dodson reached across the table and announced: “We’re going into business together. Shake on it!”
Ross gave up the day job and has now become (purely platonic) business partner and heir apparent to Dodson’s empire. She is archiving Dodson’s work online and can be credited with persuading Dodson to revive herÂ workshops. They began slowly last year, and cost $1,200 (Â£720) for a weekend. A teaching programme for women who want to spread the Dodson word was introduced this year. “Women tell me they worry their fantasies aren’t feminist enough. I tell them: ‘Honey, the dirtier and nastier, the better.’ I have aÂ Rolodex, a whole series. My fantasies are so dirty, they’d put me away.”
The trouble, she says, is that women are “so addicted to romantic love. It’s the heaviest drug in the world and we make long-lasting bad decisions because of it.”
She doesn’t believe in monogamy. “You get married, you give up sex. Pretty much count on it.”
She says the “best sex of my lifetime” was in her 70s when she was “training” a twentysomething called Eric. After 10 years she decided to let him go. “You have to let the young ones go. You don’t want to be Hugh Hefner.”
Her message – keep up a sexual relationship with yourself, you can have first-rate orgasms by yourself; stop doing what you think your partner wants to see in bed – seems more necessary than ever in an age when increasing pornification of our culture is making these ideals harder for women.
As I leave, she gives me a hug goodbye and tells me to “spread the word!”.
Betty Dodson’sÂ Bodysex workshops