“Get naked and come in.”
Those were the first words I heard. “You’re Raffaella from Chile? I bet Betty you’d be the first. You’ll get certified, right?” said Carlin Ross. The entrance was a hallway with silver hangers, I chose one and left my belongings. Since the creation of Bodysex in the 1970s, thousands of people had performed the same rite.
The corridor led to a large and bright room, with a soft carpet, where there were now fifteen BackJack floor chairs forming a circle. Next to each chair was a tray with napkins, water, tissues, almond lube, implements for the experience of pleasure and masturbation. There was also a small library, and a fireplace with an altar with candles, drawings of vulvas and what I think are reminders of her life. On the walls hung paintings painted by Betty: portraits of her naked mother and other drawings.
Back to the body
I was having a hard time. I felt stagnant, my relationship was tortuous, I had constant cold, headaches and wadding pains. He needed something to die so that something else could be born. He knew that any change had to start with the body. And then, on the same day, two extraordinary opportunities appeared. My friend José Vidal, choreographer and dancer, invited me to join his dance company in a creation project based on Dante’s The Divine Comedy. “Do you want to move again? You would have to attend all the rehearsals, leave at least part of your practice and adjust the schedules. Are you willing? Think it over and answer me…”
I had nothing to think about. I could dance again in my forties! I got on the subway crying with excitement. And when I got home, I was waiting for an email from Carlin Ross telling me that I was accepted to go and get certified with Betty.
I had applied months ago, after knowing the work of Bodysex through the therapist Almudena Martínez. For me it was a dream. I would go to New York to take the workshop for a weekend, spend a few more days studying alone with Betty and then I would have to develop a thesis that I could write in Chile. The only obstacle was the money. The two-day workshop cost $1,200; an individual session, another $1,500; and two days of intensive study with Betty (by myself), talk about a privilege. To that should be added two trips to New York, for the workshop and for the presentation (workshop) of my thesis at a Menla Retreat. Just now, because of the dance, I could work less time on a paid basis. It was a mess. I would have to ask (another) credit from the bank. But that didn’t discourage me. Despite the financial effort I would have to make, I was so fucking happy and my two sons were too, happy and proud, as they say.
When I told my partner about that moment, his reaction was hostile. In part it was thanks to that hostility that I dared (at last!) to leave that relationship that did not bring anything good to my life. Instead, José Vidal, my sons Gabrieand Roberto (yeahh single mom of two), friends, family told me how proud they were of me. In general, people who know me and love me well, understood that this was an opportunity for growth and liberation, congratulated me and were happy for me.
Dressed in lipstick
After Carlin Ross invited me to undress, I took off my clothes, nervous. In order not to feel so naked I left my earrings and a red necklace, and I painted my mouth with a Ruby Woo lipstick. All very red, blood red. Then I took my notebook, a pencil and a towel, and I went from the room of the chairs in a circle to a room from where they were calling me. It was Betty’s bedroom. At one end was her bed; at the other was a desk and a shelf full of books. There were my two hostesses, naked, each sitting on a towel. Betty, at 86, looked splendid, comfortable, happy and full of vitality. Imitating them, I folded my towel and took a chair. As soon as I sat down, they started asking me about my life. Much more than details about my work, my motherhood, my studies or my emotional situation, they wanted to know what I was like and what I was doing there.
The circle of the vulvas counting Betty and Carlin, that weekend would be fifteen. Women of different sizes, shapes, races, religions, sexual orientations and nationalities. Each with its own particular motivation. A woman who had never seen her vulva, a trans man who came to say goodbye to his. The youngest of the attendees was 26; the oldest, 78. The five continents were represented. We joined the search for new wisdom and the feeling that something important had already been set in motion. Some more nervous than others, we all went through the “undress and enter”, and, from the beginning, without traps, we were slowly entering the nudity. There wasn’t much to hide behind. When we got naked, we not only took off our clothes, but also some defense mechanisms. The lipstick was no longer just a stain on my lips, the hoops an extension of the ear and tattoos a fragment of my life journal exposed to be read.
Together we form a circle, a closed space in which to share thoughts, secrets, personal stories, traumas, desires, searches, yearnings for liberation and pleasure. We sat, as Betty told us, in the position of the goddess: crossed legs, straight back, tits outside. And we started with breathing exercises to coordinate the group in the same rhythm. I remember staring at a vulva-shaped black candle that had brought the coloring to my left. It was lit on a silver tray located in the center of the circle, next to the traditional white candles that Betty keeps burning, symbolizing purity and healing. We were complete strangers, but there we were, naked, eating strawberries and cheeses, and talking about our private lives, our bodies and the breaks that had brought us there.
Show and Tell
After entering confidence, we begin one of the most important rituals in Bodysex: Show and Tell (sample and account). It’s about looking between your legs, showing yourself the vulvas and talking about them, of their different sizes, shapes, colors and styles, so exquisitely varied! Just that, just to recognize that this diversity exists, is a holy remedy against the feelings of shame that many have been carrying. With the help of a round mirror and a lamp, we recognize each part of the vulva, while the others look. Betty characterizes each vulva based on drawings from Master and Johnson’s first book on the sexual response: Gothic, Renaissance, modern, Baroque, Heartfelt, and more. They each choose a special name for their own. That day was born in my body Anais, name associated with fertility, sacred prostitution, healing, wisdom, considered Goddess of War.
During this exercise some cried with emotion, others sincere the rejection they had always felt for their vulvas. Every time one said something even slightly negative, another spontaneously countered: “What a great clitoris!” “Look at the texture of those lips!” “Form a perfect heart”. “That pink tone is amazing!” Even a piece of toilet paper stuck to Betty’s lips was a cheerful laugh: “Oh, how beautiful, it comes with a surprise gift!”.
An erotic break
The second day we met again in a circle and we told how we felt after the first day. Most of us described how well we slept. Then, Carlin gave us a demonstration of the Rock and Roll
orgasm: fantasy, deep and rhythmic breathing while exercising the pelvic floor muscle, and vaginal penetration with Barbell, a stainless-steel tool specially designed by Betty. Then came the background dish: Erotic Recess, a group masturbation ritual. Some we use the hand; others, the legendary vibrators Magic Wand of Hitachi (always with condom). These tools were on the trays next to us, along with almond oil, gloves, lubricants and disposable tissues, for every personal need. One of the most exciting aspects of Erotic Recess was the wave of orgasms: when one woman started to cum and her moans reverberated through the circle, another came and then another, resulting in fantastic harmony. Women sound like goddesses when they have real orgasms. A sense of play permeated the room. It was pure joy. And crying and laughter. In that circle I was the woman on the left, on the right and in front of someone. I couldn’t stop having orgasms, old and new. My voice exclaimed something like “Oh, my God!” I thought in a low voice, but Carlin said to me later: “I knew you would be one of the screamers! Great moaner!” My painted Ruby-Woo lips frowned, perfect and trembling, of pleasure and security.
It was the first time I spent more than five hours just masturbating. I felt no performance anxiety and had full-body orgasms. I discovered that I could have one orgasm after another, and that, with each new orgasm, my body is sensitized a little bit more, and more inside. Until I got blood on my face! But best of all was the opportunity to observe the sex life of other women in action, through a lens without filters. See us experience, enjoy, without seeking to impress or seduce. Simple and yet intense. That night we all went drinking to close the workshop. But the experience wouldn’t end yet for me, I had a week of work left alone with Betty.
I was there, I did that and I got the T-shirt. The next day, Betty was waiting for me naked, smoking and having coffee. We talked for a while about my work and then she showed me her photo albums, told me stories about her life and the birth of Bodysex one on one (one by one). She showed me how, with all delicacy, she asks for access to the body of the woman
with whom she works, how she guides her, confirming step by step the consensus, teaching her to touch and feel her body to enter the pleasure. I gave myself body and soul to the experience. As the T-shirt that gave me that day “I masturbated with Betty Dodson”; that is, “I masturbated with Betty Dodson”. Although in my case I should say rather: “I masturbated Betty Dodson”.
Betty saw me and showed me who I am; she recognized my work and my love; she celebrated me; she helped me to trust myself and the world; she gave me a community of unique, free, generous women; she gave me a family that cares for me where there are no fairy tales or ornaments. Since I met her, my life hasn’t stopped having a new purpose and helping me to get better. I have new patients, from other countries; I keep dancing; my twins are happy, big, curious… are fine, with me at home. I have been able to talk about those things that had me choking, I set limits to what hurts me. Yes, I still lack. I lack the love of a partner, which I miss, I still have sorrow and a very tight bond with death and anxiety.
This post is an excerpt from an article written by Raffaella di Girolamo and published in The Clinic newspaper in Chile.
Original art by Patricio Vera
See links below to read the full article in Spanish and English.