Case Narrative

A Consenting Juveniles narrative is a first-hand account reporting the words of the research subject on his or her experience.

Betty Dodson

A sweet memory that I cherish to this day

Source:   My Romantic Love Wars: A Sexual Memoir
by Betty Dodson, 2010

Betty Dodson is an artist, author, and sex educator. In 1968, the Wickersham Gallery in New York City featured Dodson in the first-ever one-woman show of erotic art. She later turned her career to teaching sex to women. She is best known as a pioneer in women’s sexual liberation, and particularly for her work advocating masturbation. Her first book, Sex for One: The Joy of Self-Loving, sold more than a million copies. Now in her eighties, she continues to offer sex counseling for individuals and couples in private practice in New York.

The following is an excerpt from Chapter One of Dodson’s memoir, adapted with permission by reorganizing events into chronological order.

In many ways, I was a lucky kid growing up in Kansas during the thirties and forties. My sexual beginnings were healthier than many others I’ve heard. First off, I was raised by an orgasmic mother who believed masturbation was a natural activity for children— a big plus. My parents were not religious, so I was never threatened with a punishing God who could spy on me. Mother never panicked over her children’s natural sexual curiosity, and as a result, I have sweet memories of childhood sex games. I believe innocent erotic play with my brothers and a few kids in the neighborhood were key ingredients in my ability to be social and sexual as an adult.

Mother was a strong-willed petite beauty who never hesitated to speak to her mind. Her sweet feminine smile with pursed Clara Bow lips could spew a torrent of rage directed at anyone who behaved unjustly or threatened her children. Although typically concerned with appearances and what the neighbors might think, she was also an excellent role model for independent thought. She came from pioneer stock— women who worked and fought alongside their men as equals while the covered wagons moved westward. They raised their children, planted crops, managed livestock, and knew how to handle a gun.

My three brothers and I loved to hear Mother tell the story about the mama pig. When her father and older brother went to town for supplies, it was a three-day trip that left her older sisters and mother to manage the farm on their own. Mother was five years old at the time. Around two a.m. on their last night alone, all five women were awakened by the mother pig’s squeals. Taking a lantern and the shotgun, Grandmother Crowe went outside. In the moonlight she could see a mountain lion perched in a tree over the pigpen. The sow was up on her hind legs making a terrible racket, fiercely defending her piglets. Grandmother set the lantern down on the ground, calmly took aim, and fired one shot. The big cat dropped to the ground with a dull thud. The following morning when the men returned, they found a dead mountain lion with a bullet hole right between its eyes.

Mother’s family was predominantly Irish mixed with a bit of Scottish and who knows what else. Father’s family was mostly English with a dash of Native American. In those days, being part American Indian was kept quiet, so I have no history as to the tribe my ancestors came from. One of my paternal cousins said I might be one-sixteenth Native American – something I hope is true. It not only spiced up my European roots, but it also meant that one of my relatives was sufficiently open-minded to marry an indigenous woman.

My Dad Frank was a big, handsome man who was very talented in art and music. He was blessed with a magnetic personality, a dry sense of humor and was liked by everyone. Both of my parents loved to party, and in the forties when Kansas was still dry, the local bootlegger delivered whiskey to our front door. On many nights, barbershop harmony filled our small house as the grown-ups sat around the kitchen table singing the old songs while drinking Bourbon and smoking cigarettes. My parents loved to sing, and quite often I’d get recruited to lead a song while Mom and Dad harmonized.

Growing up with three brothers allowed me to be very physical as a child, spending time outdoors developing my muscles. I played as an equal with boys, which added to my feelings of entitlement as I grew older. At an early age I learned to defend myself by fighting back: tripping, scratching, biting, and pinching, so I could hold my own with most of the neighborhood bullies. Except for getting felt-up by a friend of my parents as a teen, I was never sexually abused.

My brother Rowan was five years older than me. Mother lost her second baby boy two years before I was born. My two younger brothers and I are barely two years apart, so little Betty, Billy, and Dickey were like stair steps. Billy and I were mistaken for twins because we looked so much alike. With all six of us sharing one bathroom, we didn’t have the luxury of much privacy, so there was minimal modesty in our working class family. I had seen my brothers naked many times, and Mother wasn’t at all prudish about running from bathroom to bedroom with a skimpy towel that didn’t hide much. Daddy was the only one who kept the bathroom door closed when he took a dump, but while he was shaving, I didn’t hesitate to sit on the toilet to pee. Family nudity around the house remained casual until I adopted excessive modesty as a teenager. Drawing from nude models in art school eventually freed me from feelings of shame about my naked body.


One of my primal childhood sexual memories goes back to when I was around five years old. Besides occasionally getting into bed with Daddy on Sundays to snuggle, I also loved to curl up in his lap while he read the newspaper when he came home after work. He always tapped one foot to some silent song in his head, so it was like getting rocked, only different. The cigar smell mixed with his natural scent was compelling and somehow reassuring. While sitting in his lap I’d wiggle around until I got comfortable, hoping to feel the warmth emanating from his genitals. One time I must have hunkered down too blatantly because Daddy abruptly picked me up and stood me on the floor. He told me I was too big to be sitting in his lap. After all, I wasn’t a baby anymore.

Although momentarily devastated, I didn’t cry or say a word because my five-year-old self understood that on a sexual level Daddy was off limits. Fortunately my parents were having an active sexlife, so affection for my father, with all its sexual undertones, was taken in stride. At that point, I simply transferred my erotic interests over to my two younger brothers. Most of the sex games with them and a few neighborhood kids were playing the traditional games kids played like “house” and “doctor.”

We also invented other games like the time we made a blanket tent in the backyard. My two little brothers sat on one side and I sat on the other with my girlfriend. Wearing our bathing suits, we’d spread our legs and then take turns lobbing a tennis ball into each other’s crotch. It sounds silly, but I’ll never forget how exciting it was when the ball landed just right, and I’d feel a sexual “ping” from the impact. We also played “drive the car into the garage” which was our youthful version of adult intercourse. We’d put my little brother’s penis inside our outer vaginal lips, making a miniature human hot-dog. Sometimes these games were intense with sexual sensations, but most of the time we acted goofy and screamed with laughter and joy.

There are no memories of having an “adult” orgasm during those young years. It was just a feeling of wanting to touch myself followed by the sensation of being finished or satisfied. As a matter of fact, my childhood name for my genitals was “tickle” and that’s a pretty good description of what sexual arousal felt like then. Those genital tickles and tingles were the first healthy signs of my budding sexuality. As a child I could enjoy these pleasurable sensations without being punished, humiliated, or made to feel guilty over this natural curiosity. I’m convinced my guilt-free childhood masturbation and harmless sex games were important aspects of why I was easily orgasmic as an adult.


Another primal sexual memory was the time I got to play “Feelie” with my older brother Rowan. I must have been around eight. He was either twelve or thirteen. We were out on the screened-in front porch under a blanket when Rowan asked if I wanted to see this new thing he could do with his penis. “Yes,” I said without hesitation, I definitely wanted to see. He took my hand, put it on his soft penis, and told me to “hold it.” To this day, I clearly remember how velvety the skin felt, and how thrilled I was when the first throb of blood pumped into his newly potent sex organ. As his penis grew in my curious child’s hand, it seemed to have taken on a life of its own, and in no time it had tripled in size! Rowan said it would shoot some white stuff as he began to move his hand up and down on top of mine more rapidly. Waiting with wonder I held my breath; eyes wide open in the diffused rose-colored light under the red blanket. Suddenly, the cover was pulled back, and sunlight hit us like a slap in the face. There was Aunt Grace, Mother’s sister and our family’s only religious fanatic— a Pentecostal who spoke in tongues with a direct line to Jesus. Aunt Grace had never married and was still a virgin at forty. Her prune mouth was twisted in an expression of complete horror as she spied both of our hands on Rowan’s erect penis.

“Sweet Jesus!” she gasped, “Your mother’s going to hear about this the minute she gets home.” She stomped off the porch saying she was going to pray for us, but forgiveness didn’t sound like much of a possibility. According to her reaction, we had committed such an atrocious sin that it was doubtful divine intervention would help.

Despite Aunt Grace scaring us half out of our wits, my sexual exploration with my big brother wasn’t nasty or traumatic at all. Even though I was younger than Rowan, our game was consensual and mutually enjoyed. Today it would most likely be labeled “incest,” but for me it remains a sweet memory that I cherish to this day. While I’m sure Aunt Grace did what she promised, Mother never said a word to me, and I was smart enough not to bring up the subject. Mother did say something to Rowan because a couple of times I tried to get him to play “Feelie” again, but without any luck. He was always too busy playing with the other kids.

Not long after our front porch scene, one evening after dinner, Rowan was with some of the neighborhood boys and girls in the vacant lot next door. While watching on the sideline, I saw they were running around grabbing each other’s crotches. The boys were yelling and laughing, and the girls were squealing as they played a kind of genital tag. So little eight-year-old Betty Anne ran amongst the group and making my move, I squeezed one of the boy’s warm, squishy balls. He glared at me. “Hey Rowan,” he yelled, “Get your little sister out of here.”

I was furious they wouldn’t let me play with them. When I stormed into the house and slammed the door, Mother asked me what was wrong. After I told her what had happened, she explained that girls, who played those kinds of games with boys, ended up with bad reputations. A fairly mild admonishment, but it had an effect on me. It would be years before I would throw my “good reputation” to the wind. Still, I will be forever grateful that Mother didn’t go ballistic over our natural and healthy childhood sex explorations.


Mother was also always available to answer any sex question, and often my girlfriends would ask her questions too. She had such a lively sense of humor that we were able to laugh about sex instead of having it being so serious all the time. One afternoon my girlfriend and I asked Mother what we should do when boys blamed us for giving them “blue balls” – a pain in their testicles. We were entering puberty and had just started petting. They always tried to get us to “do them” or “go all the way.” Mother laughed and said, “Tell them to play with their peters and come inside the glove compartment. That will empty their balls, relieve the ache, and it won’t mess up the car seats.” We howled with laughter over that one for days.

Other childhood sex games involved a best girlfriend. Having a same-sex friend to share in the exploration of sex was not only fun, but also reassuring. We were conspirators confiding in each other, sharing intimate details about what we were feeling “down there.” We speculated for hours about what would happen when a man put his “thing” inside us, and what would it feel like to have a baby come out of that tiny hole between our legs. We looked at our bodies with wonder and watched the first wisps of pubic hair appear. We touched our budding breasts and practiced kissing, while talking about which boys we liked best in school. The grownups smiled and called it “girl talk,” but we were having detailed “sex talk” as we tried to make sense of all the mysterious changes happening to our bodies. Speculating about grown-up sex was titillating and also terrifying, which only added to our excitement.

There was a phase in intermediate school, around the seventh grade, when I was part of a girl gang that met after school frequently. We sneaked a few puffs from cigarettes and talked about sex and boys incessantly. One afternoon, they wanted me to draw a picture of sex. Using colored pencils, I drew a woman lying on her back with one arm flung over her head exposing her underarm hair, which signaled adulthood. The man was holding his body above hers with arms that were as stiff as the pole-like penis that disappeared between her legs. I very carefully drew blood alongside her body to indicate she was a virgin— an ideal we all aspired to at that age. The barbaric notion that first-time sex hurts and causes a woman to bleed continues to this day. One of the many advantages of playing sex games was practicing vaginal penetration with fingers, and later on using tampons that gradually opened my vagina long before I ever had intercourse.


The villain of my youth was an old friend of my parents named Clark Edwins. For years he dropped by our house without warning, arriving with a bottle of bourbon and a dozen Kansas City sirloin steaks. They would all gather in the kitchen with a bottle of whiskey on the table, singing and talking late into the night. Meanwhile I’d worry that Daddy might go on a bender. He was a periodic drunk who would disappear for a couple of days. Then he’d come home and everything was okay.

When I was fifteen, I had a sexual encounter with Clark that I never mentioned to a soul because I’d been part of the conspiracy. He owned a used car lot with a crummy office, and sometimes my folks would drop in for a drink after grocery shopping Saturday afternoon. They’d sit inside the office having a drink with Clark while I roamed the lot, checking out which car I was going to buy when I got a job. That particular day I spied a fire engine red Ford convertible with white sidewalls. Oh, how I wanted to slip behind the wheel of this dream car. With all the open space in Kansas, I’d learned to drive at twelve and now had a restricted driver’s license, which meant I could only run errands for my parents and couldn’t drive at night.

I headed back to the office, and smiling sweetly, I asked Clark if I could take the red convertible around the block a couple of times. He said sure, the keys were under the mat in the front seat. As I dashed out the door, Mother called after me, “Drive carefully, Honey. Don’t be too long because we’re nearly ready to leave.”

My heart began to pound with excitement as I got inside the car and felt all over the dirty floor looking for keys— nothing. I went back inside and told Clark the keys weren’t there. He pushed his chair back from the desk and slowly stood up to go look with me right on his heels. We were standing alongside the car with the door open when Clark pulled me toward him as if to give me a hug. But his other hand suddenly moved down to my crotch and, since I was wearing shorts with cotton panties, it was easy for him to slide his big dirty hand inside one leg, pushing a grubby finger in between my virginal labia. Well, nearly virginal.

I’d played doctor with my little brother and best girlfriend Mimi, but this was different. Besides feeling the prickly heat of extreme humiliation, I was struggling with the biggest dose of conflict I’d ever experienced. An unspoken deal was being made: if I let him cop a feel, he’d give me the keys. For a few seconds, I fought a moral battle between my desire to drive the car or to remain virtuous. The car won! Swallowing my pride, I held my breath, waited a few moments, which seemed like an eternity while he poked around, and then I pushed him away. Rearranging my clothes while barely hiding my disgust, I held out my hand and asked if I could have the car keys now. Clark felt under the floor mat and looked inside the glove compartment. After a few seconds he stood up and said, “They must be in the office.”

As I walked behind him through the car lot, I glared at his back, wishing him dead with worms crawling over his rotting corpse. When we got back to the office he looked inside a drawer and then apologized, saying his partner must have taken the keys. I was sure he was lying, but even worse— I felt like I’d been tricked. My hatred for this man was at a passionate peak as I stomped out the door and stewed in the backseat of our car until my folks came out.


Later that same year, I found myself defending my close girlfriend Erlene’s honor. I was still flat-chested and didn’t menstruate until I was sixteen, but all of my girlfriends had come of age. Erlene got her period at twelve, and her small breasts showed through her tops even when she wore an undershirt.

One day after school, Erlene came home with me to draw maps for our geography class. As we walked into the kitchen there was my Mom, Aunt Esther, Jane, the next-door neighbor, and Clark. They were drinking and laughing— feeling no pain. Seizing the moment I asked Mother if we could have a drink too, and she said yes. I knew this was something Erlene never got to do in her house because her mom was religious. Mother made us two drinks: mostly ginger ale with a splash of bourbon and lots of ice. As we were leaning against the kitchen sink sipping our grown-up drinks, Clark came over to fix himself another one. He spied Erlene’s little tits as he put the bottle down on the counter. In a nonchalant manner he reached over and cupped one in his hand and smiled as he said, “What could be sweeter than a young girl’s breast?”

Erlene’s face went white then turned bright red heading for purple. I gave Clark a shove and told him to keep his hands to himself, but the-son-of-a-bitch reached over and nailed her other tit. Mother and Jane were sitting in our breakfast alcove and couldn’t see us. Aunt Esther must have gone to the bathroom because she wasn’t in the kitchen at the time. As I saw my girlfriend squirm under his uninvited touch, rage consumed me. I grabbed the butcher knife lying on the cutting board and pressed the point against Clark’s belly.

“You better get out of here before I shove this knife in your stomach,” I snarled in a surprisingly steady voice. A rush of power surged through me as I applied just enough pressure, so the knife made a dent in his fat gut.

“Now, Betty Anne,” Clark whined, “Don’t be foolish. Put the knife down. You know I’d never hurt you or one of your little friends.”

“Yeah, well I’m going to hurt you if you don’t get out of here right now,” I said as I pressed slightly on the knife aimed about two inches above his belly button.

As Clark started backing away from me, he was talking softly, trying to calm me down. But I was calm. My fiery anger had turned into cold deliberation. The minute he opened the screen door, he turned and bolted down the back steps. Erlene’s eyes had widened into navy blue saucers above her gaping mouth. Mother and Jane were yapping away and had missed the whole incident, but Aunt Esther was standing off to one side by the door that led into the dining room and had taken it all in. Clark got into his car and as he drove off, I heard him strip the gears.

“Where’s Clark going?” Mother asked, looking out the window. At that point, Aunt Esther walked back into the kitchen laughing so hard she could barely speak.

“You’re not going to believe this Bess, but Betty Anne just backed Clark out of the kitchen door at knife point.” She doubled over again, laughing even harder.

“Betty Anne! What on earth is the matter with you?” Mother asked. Esther’s laughter was contagious, and Mother could barely keep a straight face.

“He grabbed Erlene’s boobs and embarrassed her half to death,” I said with righteous indignation. “I hate that man. I’ll kill him if he ever does that again.”

Then I left the kitchen with Erlene in tow. We went upstairs to my room, and the minute I closed the door, we proceeded to howl with laughter talking ninety miles a minute. I had an adrenaline high and the feeling was euphoric.

Later that night over dinner, Mother said I couldn’t go around stabbing all the men who made passes at girls because it happened all the time. She didn’t want me to end up in jail for manslaughter. However, she didn’t blame me for being angry and assured me that Clark would never do anything like that again. From that day on, old Clark was super polite when our paths crossed. For the rest of the week I was Erlene’s hero. All the girls at school wanted her to tell the story again and again until it was replaced by another incident when some old guy exposed himself on the playground at school.


My fighting skills were put to good use during high school years. The first incident of attempted date rape also happened when I was around fifteen. Like most young girls, I loved to spend hours kissing in a parked car, but I didn’t allow any petting below the waist unless I was in love. This guy was just a date. Although Daryl was bigger and stronger, we wrestled in the front seat of the car with him trying to get inside my pants until I slammed his head against the window. He silently drove me home, and we never spoke to each other again. Naturally, I never mentioned the incident to another soul.


After I started menstruating, Mother became more traditional and controlling. When I was parked outside the house, necking with a boyfriend after a date, she would blink the porch light more than once to signal it was time to come inside. No matter how much I pleaded with her to stop, she continued this humiliating procedure until I left home. The craziest part about her obsessive concern that I would get pregnant was her recommended method of birth control “not going all the way.” Years later when I asked her why she never mentioned condoms or the diaphragm, I found it was because she actually knew very little about contraception herself. She had used the unreliable method of withdrawing before ejaculation, which led to six pregnancies. Four of us survived.

As a teenager, I managed to hold the line on not going all the way because I knew that was how girls got pregnant and ruined their lives. Mother had made that all too clear. But kissing was great foreplay for masturbation. After a date, I would enjoy satisfying myself in the comfort and safety of my own bed while dreaming of my “wedding night.” At the time I struggled with my weight, wore braces, and had very little breast development along with a light case of acne and thin straight greasy hair that would never hold a curl.

In my fantasy I was a voluptuous movie star with a curvy body and full breasts. While my husband awaited me in bed, I would go over the details of my perfected beauty as I applied make-up to my flawless skin and brushed my thick auburn hair. Next I would go over the details of my exquisite lace nightgown and peignoir. Finally I’d enter the bedroom and standing before my husband, I’d drop the gown to expose my naked loveliness. That’s when I came! I never once fantasized what he looked like or what kind of sex took place. This romantic ideal conditioned me to be my own sex subject and object as I tried to achieve the impossible image of an unrealistic perfected beauty.

In high school there was a lot of dancing cheek to cheek and whenever I could feel a boy’s erection, which I found extremely exciting, he would be mortified. After advancing to “French kissing,” another favorite, I still only petted above the waist. Finally, I let my boyfriend Bob touch me “down there” because we were in love. Oh, so very slowly he would ease his fingers inside my panties while we kissed passionately. It took ages before he would actually touch my vulva, which was moist and throbbing as I pressed my body against the bulge in his jeans, savoring the delicious pulsations. My thighs would tremble uncontrollably before each and every orgasm. To preserve my “good girl” image, I never actually touched his penis with my bare hand, but he got to explore the mystery of a young girl’s sex organ. Meanwhile I was learning how to have orgasms from someone else’s touch beside my own.

My crush on Bob lasted throughout the last two years of high school, although we both dated other people. He was one of East High’s football heroes, a good-looking Italian kid who was also very sweet. I knew he was going with another girl at school who had a bad reputation. Girls who went all the way with boys were called “dirty legs.” In order to keep my good girl reputation, I knew better than to let a boy put his penis inside me. I had no idea that oral or anal sex existed, but I would learn about that later on as an art student in New York City.

Every so often, Bob would pass a note to me in school saying that he would show up late that night. After everyone in my family had gone to bed, I’d watch out my second story bedroom window waiting for him to pull into our driveway. When I saw his Dad’s yellow Dodge coup, I would silently sneak downstairs in my pajamas, open the door and jump into his big strong arms for an hour of hot smooching that included finger fucking for me. For the best part of two years, I had passionate orgasms with Bob in the front seat of his car. In the green glow of the radio light we’d listen to “Going to take a sentimental journey” as I snuggled up closer to better feel his penis throb and grow underneath his jeans.

Looking back, I believe it would have been healthier if I’d felt free to reciprocate with a hand job, so Bob and I could have shared our teenage orgasms. But this was how I’d interpreted the rules of morality in the forties. As a result, I grew up expecting to “get done” without ever having to do anything in return. This socially induced, female sexual passivity plagued me until my mid-thirties. Despite this, I’m grateful for a childhood that allowed guilt free masturbation and my healthy sexual curiosity to flourish. Although I couldn’t escape the general repression that surrounded me in Wichita, I believe my relatively healthy and active childhood sexlife set the stage for the extraordinarily creative adult sexlife that followed.


Years later when I was home visiting, Clark was in the hospital dying, and Mother wanted me to go with her to see him. At first I said no, but then decided to do it for her sake. There he was, a feeble old man, wheezing, about to take his last breath. I felt no anger, no pity – nothing. After a prod from Mother, I said a few words and thanked him for all the nice things he’d given me over the years.

“Remember how crazy I was about that red convertible in your used car lot?” I asked, wondering if he’d remember groping me. “Well, my husband just gave me an MG convertible for my thirtieth birthday, but it’s not red, it’s English racing green.”

Clark wheezed again showing no signs of remembering anything. I was the one who would never forget that day. Even after allowing him a five-second feel, I still didn’t get what I wanted. Yet throughout most of my adult life, I would bargain with sex again and again. Sure, I’d finally gotten my convertible, but the price I had to pay was living with a man who only did fast sex, which meant damn few orgasms for me. It would take years before I’d learn that bargaining with sex always ended with the same results— I never got what I really wanted.

Excerpt adapted and posted with permission of author.