Sex For One: The Joy of Self-Loving – Book Review

By Betty Dodson.

Sex For One, in its third rewrite, is a guide to masturbation, intertwined with memoirs of Betty Dodson’s sexual development. Listening to some people’s sexual tales is just a form of voyeurism, but in this case, it’s a real lesson in liberation.

First published 1974 under the title Liberating Masturbation, this is the book that made Dodson into an icon of female sexuality.

The idea here is that masturbation is the foundation on which so much else is built, so it doesn’t stay focused on pure masturbation; it actually becomes a guide to a comprehensive view of sex. Dodson’s work was mind-blowing in the 70’s and 80’s, it was still powerful in the 90’s, but it is now one of many great pieces that could be more important historically than it is practically. She argues constantly for the reader to accept that masturbation is a legitimate and healthy act of loving oneself. This is a message that for many people is already well internalized. Of course there are many others who have cultural hang-ups or trauma that keep them away from self-play. In each case her argument needs some tweaking.

This book is essentially written for women, even though it provides a detailed how-to guide for males as well as females. I do think that (straight) men can gain a lot from learning about quintessential female sexuality, but it defines masturbation as an act of sexual pleasure, not a relief mechanism. For many men (and some women) this does not cover a common motivation.

Something that has to be noted is the vulva drawings reproduced here, where her art contributes to her theory and visa versa. Her drawings is used to reinforce her positive body image ideas based on the diversity and individual style of real vulvas.

So this book has a lot to live up to, being in some ways a pillar of sexual awareness for so many women. It may be a bit of a diatribe in places, but let’s not forget that this is the manifest of the woman who may have kick-started masturbation into the positive female consciousness.

And then there’s the issue of the millions of mirrors that were purchased thanks to her inspiration to get down and take a good look at the nether-world.



  •  Written by a seasoned sexuality educator and group facilitator
  •  Includes memoirs and rich anecdotes
  •  Beautiful drawings of vulvas
  •  How-to guide to masturbation for females and males



Three Rivers Press, 1996 (originally published in 1974)


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