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Sex for One

The Joy of Selfloving

By Betty Dodson, PhD
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Sex for One by Betty Dodson, PhD

Sex for One (1987) is a part-memoir, part-guidebook by Betty Dodson, a pioneering pro-sex feminist and masturbation advocate. Dodson recounts her own erotic journey and offers a step-by-step approach to embracing self-love.

Key idea 1 of 8

Masturbation can liberate us from sexual repression.

Before Betty Dodson became a sex educator, she, like many women, believed that her sexual pleasure should come from her partner’s penis. Cultural sex-negativity had conditioned her to deny the pleasure she got from masturbation. She believed her sexuality didn’t truly exist until she had sex for the first time with a partner, at age twenty.

For the rest of her twenties, in the 1950s, Dodson’s ideas about sex were drawn from Freudian psychology and marriage manuals. The available resources on sex at the time taught her that masturbating too much was infantile behavior; mature sex meant having vaginal orgasms within a meaningful relationship. So when she fell in love and got married at age twenty-nine, she couldn’t understand why her sex life wasn’t fulfilling. She’d hoped that orgasmic sex would be part of her married life. When it wasn’t, she blamed herself.

The key message here is: Masturbation can liberate us from sexual repression.

Dodson later realized that, although she said she’d married for love, she’d really exchanged sex for economic security. She’d hoped to please her husband, but she worried he wouldn’t love her if she were honest with him about her sexual desires. The couple’s sex life worsened, and Dodson began to believe she had no value at all – since providing sex was her unspoken end of the bargain. The lack of communication and shame intensified her sexual repression. Ultimately, they divorced.

It was then that Dodson began the erotic journey that would change her life. In her first post-marital relationship, with a divorced man named Blake, she started having rampant, experimental, exploratory sex. Together they spoke honestly about sex and masturbation, discovering that communication and sharing are at the core of true intimacy – which both of their marriages lacked. 

Dodson had further breakthroughs: she realized that when we limit our idea of what constitutes romantic sex, we limit our sexual satisfaction. She also realized that society programs us to feel ashamed about touching ourselves. She resolved never to give in to sexual guilt again, and began masturbating more – not less – with Blake. They even masturbated together to learn more about one another’s sexual responses. 

Dodson began to regard the first time she masturbated, rather than the first time she had intercourse, as the first time she had sex. If masturbation is as monumental an experience as penetrative sex, then it must be taken seriously as a profound form of self-love, rather than disregarded as a mere substitute for “something better.” When we know what feels good for us, we build confidence, and we let go of our inhibitions with partners. 

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