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Artist, author, and sexologist Betty Dodson has been one of the principal advocates for women’s sexual pleasure and health for over three decades. After her first one-woman show of erotic art in 1968, Dodson produced and presented the first feminist slide show of vulvas at the 1973 NOW Sexuality Conference in New York City where she introduced the electric vibrator as a pleasure device. For twenty-five years, she ran Bodysex Workshops, teaching women about their bodies and orgasms. Her first book, Liberating Masturbation: A Meditation on Selflove, became a feminist classic. Sex for One sold over a million copies. Betty and her young partner Carlin Ross continue to provide sex education at This piece is excerpted from Dodson’s memoir, My Romantic Love Wars: A Sexual Memoir. W hen it comes to creating or watching sexual material, women are still debating what is acceptable to make, view, or enjoy. The porn wars rage on while most guys secretly beat off to whatever turns them on. Meanwhile, far too many feminists want to control or censor porn. Most people will agree that sex is a very personal matter, but now that sexual imagery has become prevalent with Internet porn available on our computers 24/7, I’d say—like it or not—porn is here to stay. The fact that pornography is a multibillion-dollar industry and the engine that first drove the Internet proves that most people want to see images of sex whether they admit it openly or not. After women’s sexual liberation got underway in the sixties and seventies, women turned against each other to debate whether an image was erotic or pornographic . Unfortunately this endless and senseless debate continues today. My first attempt at drawing sex was a real eye opener. In 1968, I had my first one-woman show of erotic art titled The Love Picture Exhibition. The experience raised my awareness of the many people who enjoyed seeing beautiful drawings of couples having intercourse and oral sex. Porn Wars Betty Dodson With my second show—of masturbating nudes—all hell broke loose. The show not only ended my gallery affiliation, but it was then that I became aware of how ignorant most Americans were about human sexuality . My six-foot drawing of a masturbating woman holding an electric vibrator next to her clitoris—an erect one at that—might have been the first public appearance of the clitoris in recent history. It was 1970—the year I became a feminist activist determined to liberate masturbation. In 1971, I had my first encounter with censorship when Evergreen magazine published images of my erotic art. A Connecticut district attorney threatened to issue an injunction if the magazine was not removed from the local public library. My friend and former lover Grant Taylor drove us to Connecticut to meet with the DA. His main objection was my painting of an all-women orgy. He pounded his fist on the page spewing out the words, “Lesbianism is a clear sign of perversion!” When the meeting ended, the press descended on me. I don’t recall what I said except that sex was nice and censorship was dirty and that kids were never upset by my art, but their parents often were. A few people complimented me on my words and art. One woman said she found my art “disgusting and pornographic,” but that I had a right to show it. Her comment was the most upsetting. Driving home, I remember asking Grant how anyone could call my beautifully drawn nudes disgusting : “Why can’t people distinguish between art that’s erotic and art that’s pornographic?” “Betty, it’s all art,” he said. “Beauty or pornography will always be in the eyes of the beholder.” He went on to warn me against making the mistake of trying to define either one. It was an intellectual trap that led to endless debates with no agreements in sight. After thinking about it, I knew he was right! That night I decided to forget about defining erotic art as being superior to pornographic images. Instead, I embraced the label “pornographer.” All at once, I felt exhilarated by the thought that I could become America’s first feminist pornographer. Thenextday,Igotoutmydictionaryandfoundthewordpornography originated from the Greek pornographos: the writings of prostitutes. If society treated sex with any dignity or respect, both pornographers and prostitutes would have status, which they obviously had at one time. The sexual women of...


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MARC Record
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