For women, being heard and seen for who they are and what gives their lives pleasure and color has never been at the forefront of societal importance. In fact, for much of history, no matter your country or culture, women have been told to quiet their desires, disassociating from their naturally sexual and sensual selves.
It wasn't until the feminist movements of the 1960s where women began taking their health, wellbeing, and sexual needs into their own hands. This sexual revolution, led by women such as Helen Gurley Brown, began to peel back the conservative layers laid down by generations of men dictating the sexual roles of women. A decade later, in the 1970s, sex educator and author Betty Dodson began her private practice, where she coached thousands of women on pleasure, not only teaching them about their bodies but how to orgasm.
Helen Gurley Brown
Author and Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown became a revolutionary sexual icon in the early 60s, liberating women from their traditional roles and expectations of marriage, children, and housewife duties. Her 1962 book Sex and the Single Girl became an instant best-seller, though not without criticism and controversy. Brown advised young single women on love, open sexuality, career, fashion, entertainment, and the benefits of unmarried life in a time where the idea of women being independent, influential, sexual beings was frightening to conservative society. Brown pioneered the idea that all women have intense sexual desires and could even have fun with sex. She wanted to thoroughly purge the idea that women were "old maids" and had no sexual desires of their own out of society and, most importantly, out of the minds of women everywhere.
Brown represented something large and powerful, the idea that women were independent, sexual beings who had a right to take charge of their own pleasure. Women could be the provocative, sexual aggressors, just as men could. Helen Gurley Brown, according to author and sex expert Joan Price, "represented an affirmation that women were sexual, and not recipients of sex to get a man. They had intense sexual feelings and desires."
Her openness, sexual power, and encouragement of women's agency and control was a key component in the development of the women's health movement that continues today.
Betty Dodson, often referred to as a masturbation icon became a revolutionary driver in the women's health movement through her teachings of female self-stimulation. Beginning in the 70s, Dodson's workshops became a safe, open space for women to learn and explore their own anatomy in a place without shame. Because of the society and language we've built around sex, most women feel ashamed to honor their bodies and sensuality, often not knowing what their female anatomy looks like or if their genitalia is so-called "normal" looking.
Dodson breaks down these walls, barriers, and misconceptions. In her workshops, women would gather naked and examine each other's vulvas to see that they are different colors, shapes, sizes. Affirming that all vulvas are beautiful, normal, and deserve to be pleasured. We are, after all, our safest sex partners. And learning how to masturbate effectively is one of Dodson's main lessons.
The relationship we have with ourselves is our most important sexual relationship, and to do this, we must become active participants in our own pleasure. Leave your shame at the door (and never let it back in) because shame, according to Dodson, is the killer of all things pleasurable.
What they taught us is that the vital roles these two women made for the evolution of women's health cannot be understated. After millennia of having their sexual nature pushed down and forgotten, women are learning to reconnect with their bodies. Though it can be difficult and may need some guidance, as Brown and Dodson have shown, women are finally learning how to accept their bodies, be knowledgeable about their bodies, and honor their sensuality and pleasure.
Brown and Dodson have illustrated the importance of being in charge of how you feel as a sexual, creative being. You should be independent, know who you are, have a positive relationship with yourself and your body. Sex can be used as a tool for fostering self-discovery and an intimate connection with the self.
Knowing how to stimulate yourself is a much-needed form of self-care that blossoms into other corners of your life. Research has shown that having orgasms is linked to less stress, boosted hormone levels, better sleep, heightened sense of smell, increased brain activity, and even curb appetite.
Last but certainly not least, Brown and Dodson expressed the importance of communication, teaching us how to learn and ask for what we want, and bringing women together to connect, heal, learn and have these critical conversations in a safe and loving space. Helen Gurley Brown and Betty Dodson, we thank you endlessly.
Resources: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/26/style/self-care/betty-dodson-masturbation.html https://www.vogue.com/article/enter-helen-brooke-hauser-interview https://www.today.com/health/helen-gurley-brown-more-cheerleading-sexual-free-all-941622 https://www.britannica.com/biography/Helen-Gurley-Brown https://www.vogue.co.uk/beauty/article/betty-dodson-self-pleasure-guru https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/05/11/helenis