column from author/activist
Carol Queen

The Royal Treatment

Higher (Sex) Education
Or Up the Skull & Bones

I speak at colleges and universities on a very frequent basis. I try to do as many college gigs as I can because in the colleges and universities of today are the leaders and citizens of tomorrow. I want them to laugh at my jokes, buy my books, shop at Good Vibrations, and have better sex than their abstinence-only high school sex ed classes prepared them to have. I want them to make a different world in the not-too-distant future. I want the people of this country to be more sexually sane, and to do my part, I hit the road whenever I can. I hope people will see me on a TV show, no matter whether or not they could afford or get into college. This fall I did the History Channel not once but twice, appeared on a Toronto debate show called Test of Faith, and I’ll be popping up fairly regularly on Canada’s SexTV (which airs here on Trio). I’m a media whore mainly because I believe it means something to get out there and contribute a sound bite to the cultural dialogue. But it’s something special when I get to speak to people especially students -- directly. In fact, this week I am doing not one but five college classes.

But it’s more special than usual when I get to travel to Yale. Yes, the Yale, the appointed President’s alma mater one of the beautiful and scholarly places that puts the ivy in Ivy League. I went there last week to do three lectures, one called a "Master’s Tea," at which the students actually drink tea and discuss intellectual topics. I pulled out my discussion of "PoMoSexuality" for that one, based on the idea that our culture loves oppositional ideas but that not all of us live on opposite ends of the gender or sexual orientation continuum. The sexes are not "opposite," not all of us are completely gay or straight, and the sooner we figure out how to honor and acknowledge this kind of diversity (I sometimes call it "sexual multiculturalism"), the better.

Walking onto campus for the first time I really did catch my breath: it is the sort of gorgeous old campus I dreamed all universities looked like, back when I was a bookish kid in the sticks of Oregon. I went through a gate with lovely nude female angels carved into either side, their mighty wings spanning the arch on top. That gave me my intro at the Master’s Tea: "I noticed coming through the High Street gate that John Ashcroft hasn’t yet been to campus to cover up the angels."

Did I speak to a future president or Attorney General at the Master’s Tea, or were those people all off at a Skull and Bones meeting? I’ve written here before about visiting George W. Bush’s prep school in Massachusetts, a high school with an art museum to rival (or, frankly, top) those of most US cities, including not one but two shows with edgy and sexual work. Amazing that conservatives rail against that which is explicit, except when it comes with a high-class pedigree and hangs in their own homes. This is one of the odd facets of the history of censorship, the well-to-do assume themselves immune to the dangers of sex, the images that so inflame the hoi polloi.

That being the case, and many Yale students having been raised in a degree of cultural sophistication unknown to kids who wind up at your garden-variety community college, my evening's presentation, while slightly raucous, was well-received and not marred by the kinds of hoots and hollers I sometimes expect from younger audiences. And I was waving dildos and vibrators in the air practically the whole time! Yes, I was personally responsible for instigating much of the raucousness; it’s a good way to keep people's attention, I find, and when you back it up with intellect and useful facts, is a presentation style that stays lively and teaches that sex talk can be accessible and fun. Oh, yes, there’s always some sort of pedagogical underpinning to my madness, even when I say things like this: "The penis actually has two legs, called crura, that extend into the body they sort of anchor it, which is why none of you guys have pulled yours off yet."

There is, I confess, an exhibitionistic thrill to getting a big laugh at Yale.

The next day I spoke (getting a few fewer laughs) to the doctors and other personnel at the student health center. Then it was back to New York for a conference at Columbia and a visit with Betty Dodson.

Dr. Dodson Tells You What To Do

Long-time readers will know I’ve known Betty Dodson for many years (15, I think), and that I love and respect her enormously. She has a new book out, Orgasms for Two (following her previous, hugely successful Sex for One) and in preparation for meeting her, I read it on the plane. Before I tell you what I thought, I have to catch you up on a fantastic and somewhat controversial element in Betty’s life. A few years ago, after a couple of decades of masturbation workshops, fuck-buddies, and determined solo-hood (during which she criticized her coupled-up friends for becoming ensnared in "pair bondage"), Betty got herself a partner who's far more than just a fuck-buddy. Eric is her live-in puppy, and he’s forty-something years younger than she is.

Betty is indeed old enough to be people’s granny, and she uses her years to exactly the same effect my old granny did: to tell you what the fuck to do. In this case, Betty uses her age, prestige, doctorate in sexology, and years as reigning queen of masturbation to tell you how to fuck. She knows that most people in America don’t fuck as well as they should, and dammit, she knows why! So listen to your old Aunt Betty and don’t interrupt. She’ll tell you all about why it’s invigorating to have a young lover, how to make sure you know what you’ve got and how to use it, how to have bigger and better orgasms. She freely admits she’s not an expert in coupling she’s got no long-term success unraveling that mystery, and her relationship with Eric will last "as long as it’s good" but she knows that most people don’t get enough plain talk about sex, and that’s what she dishes out in Orgasms for Two.

I’m about to start reviewing books on my website (, and I jotted some notes about Betty's book so she could be my first entry in the new "What I’m Reading" section. Here’s what I wrote, after closing the book on the plane:

Betty’s taking on the many erotic possibilities of partnersex in Orgasms for Two. Two things make this book really unique: first, her relationship with Eric and the fact that she writes so candidly about their sex life. I got to know Eric even better through her narrative than having met him; it is a charming portrait of an unusual partnership (and almost all of the book’s beautiful line illustrations depict him, as they show different positions and ways to fuck). Second, Betty is over 70, and like any granny worth her salt, she’s not afraid to speak her mind. "Ofor2" presents Betty as a candid "reader of beads," teaching as much by her usually spot-on analysis of what’s wrong with sex and couplehood as by suggesting what couples should do to explore new possibilities. Betty believes in teaching by example (as do I), and the reader gets to know her well. In the end we benefit from her positive instructions about masturbation, touch, arousal, lubrication, and positions, but also from her incisive criticisms of a society that is masturbation-and pleasure-phobic and unwilling to give us good information about our bodies and our sexuality. Betty is also fiercely feminist in spite of the mixed response she’s had from mainstream feminism. She rakes the Vagina Monologues over the coals for forgetting to say much about the clitoris. And I loved her visit to a group of young women having a bridal shower.

My two favorite lines: "People who love and explore sex are no different from food connoisseurs, dedicated scientists, or other people who devote time to pursuing a particular interest" and "For every Sleeping Beauty created through female repression there is a sexually uninformed Prince Charming under a lot of pressure to awaken her." I also love her comparison of sexual performance to a golf swing. Hey, guys, you practice that, don’t you?

Surprises: The book is substantially hetero-focused; not just, I think, because she’s hetero-involved right now, but also because she figures it’s hetero couples who most need her fierce brand of "Aunt Betty" tough love.

Qualms: Betty is not crazy about water-based lubricant and much prefers vegetable oil, and she recommends this strongly without much acknowledgement that it isn’t the best choice for everyone -- some women have a hard time with oils.

Especially of note: Her take on the g-spot, which will irritate many of the self-styled experts of the last ten years. She is cranky about all the attention paid to the g-spot compared to that received by the clitoris; as far as Betty is concerned, g-spot mania is just another proof that we are taught to be vaginally focused, while the main erotic center for women is the clit. (She doesn’t say "most women," either she remains unconvinced that there are fully orgasmic women who really prefer vaginal stimulation to clitoral.)

Betty is unique in sexology not just for her choice of lovers and lifestyle, but also because she truly made her own path: first teaching masturbation to women, and more recently doing individual coaching sessions. She had just come from one of these when I had dinner with her, and she told me about a woman who was sure she couldn’t feel anything sexually and when Betty asked her to demonstrate how she touched herself, the woman gave a couple of soft, desultory swipes at her clit and sighed, "See? Nothing happens!" This is the "Sleeping Beauty" woman in all her passive glory no one's awakened her, and she’s not going to awaken herself, either.

Not until Betty gets hold of her, that is. Of course by the end of the session the woman’s coming like a cat in heat. Sometimes you need not just higher education to make up for our system’s appalling lack of sensible sex education you need a couple of hours with Betty. It might just be the highest education of all.

For more on Betty Dodson’s new book Orgasms for Two see the interview and chapter excerpt in Naked Brunch.