The veteran sex educator Betty Dodson was well known for her pioneering sex-positive workshops and many television appearances, but was less acknowledged and appreciated as a talented and pioneering artist and illustrator. Originally from Kansas, she trained as an artist in New York, which was her home from the early 1960s; her first exhibition of erotic art was shown at the Wickersham Gallery in 1968. Though art became relatively less significant as her personal and group exploration of sexuality grew increasingly important, her creative skills were always central to her work.
Betty’s main claim to fame was her advocacy of masturbation as a crucial element of sexual pleasure, her three best-known books being Liberating Masturbation (1974), Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving (1987) and Orgasms for Two: The Joy of Partnersex (2002). Betty’s publishers were well aware of her skill as an illustrator as well as being an engaging writer, and the clear, sensitive, no-nonsense illustrations for all three books were drawn by her. They remain some of the best sex education illustrations ever created.
In her last years Betty Dodson’s creative skills were focused on material for experiential workshops, including cartoons and posters, many of which can be seen on the website she ran with her business partner, ex-corporate lawyer Carlin Ross.
In her long life she experienced almost every kind of intimate relationship possible. In 1959 she married Frederick Stern, an advertising director; they divorced in 1965. Her sensual and relationship life after the 1960s, often passionate and stormy but always courageously exploratory and painfully honest, is recounted in detail in her 2010 memoir Sex by Design.
Betty Dodson always questioned conventional ideas about gender and sexual intimacy, believing that far too much is made of labels. She usually called herself a heterosexual, bisexual lesbian, and looked forward to the day when we can all be just sexual.