I Went To A Group Self-Pleasure Workshop & It Actually Wasn't As Uncomfortable As You'd Think

Suzannah Weiss

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I sheepishly undressed in the midtown Manhattan apartment of legendary feminist sex educator Betty Dodson. I’d signed up for one of her famous Bodysex workshops, where women strip down and open up about their body image and sexuality. Oh, and there’s a “genital show and tell.” And a group masturbation session.

Dodson’s been holding Bodysex workshops since 1972, after a porn magazine and an Oster vibrator gave her a sexual awakening. She’d always felt insecure about her long labia, but after a lover showed her photos of porn models who looked like her, she began to embrace her vulva. This same lover also introduced her to her first vibrator, which gave her a newfound sense of sexual independence, according to Hallie Lieberman’s Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy. She began preaching masturbation as a route to liberation at feminist conferences and in feminist magazines, though her unapologetic sex-positivity earned her criticism among some second-wave feminists.

Entering her apartment felt like peeking into history — and becoming part of a new chapter of history myself. For 10 hours over the course of the weekend, we named our vulvas, described our fantasies, gave massages, and humped pillows. Here’s what I learned from these unique two days.


Vulvas Are Extremely Diverse, But They All Get The Job Done

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

I knew vulvas came in all different shapes and sizes, but it wasn’t until the “genital show and tell” — where we spread our legs in front of each other and Dodson told us what kind of vulva we have — that I realized how different. One person’s labia made a heart shape, another’s hung down on one side, and another’s weren’t even visible. Some clits were hidden while others proudly stuck out. I couldn’t believe they were all the same body part.

I also realized that the kind of vulva someone had didn’t say anything about them. The size of someone's body didn't correlate with the size of their genitals. And a woman with one of the less visible clits said she was very sensitive. Our genitals may come in many different forms, but they all get the job done.


All Fantasies — Even The Weirdest Ones — Are Normal

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

When we talked about sexual fantasies, Dodson did not hold back. She shared fantasies about incest, bestiality, and pretty much everything the rest of us were too scared to admit we’d fantasized about. It was such a relief to hear my own twisted mind wasn’t damaged beyond repair. I wish more people shared their fantasies so the rest of us could realize we're normal.


There's No Such Thing As A Bad Orgasm

Ashley Batz/Bustle

During the masturbation session, I started to feel intimidated — not because I was masturbating in a group but because the other women seemed to be very loud and into it. My orgasms were quick, quiet, and unprofound. I thought there was something wrong with me. But then, another woman told me she was the same way, and she felt great about it! That’s when I realized: What really makes you enjoy sexual pleasure is appreciating what you’re feeling, not striving for the biggest, best orgasm possible. A good orgasm is one you savor.


Giving Your Vulva A Gender-Neutral Name Is Empowering AF

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

When it came time during genital show and tell to name my vulva, I mentioned that my boyfriend called it “Miss Pussy” because it “wins the Miss Pussy contest” (according to him, at least). When Dodson asked if that was the name I wanted to go with, I realized I wanted something more gender-neutral. As a non-binary person, I take issue with the idea that vulvas are inherently feminine. We settled on “Storm,” which captured not only the gender-neutrality of my vulva but also its strength. It felt like I was reclaiming a body part that had all these gendered ideas imposed on it and redefining it myself.


Masturbating In Front Of People Is Actually Not That Weird

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

You might think it would be uncomfortable to masturbate in a group of people. But doing it makes you wonder why it needs to be hidden. Nothing the other women did was offensive to me. After all, we were all doing it. That’s pretty much true of masturbation in general, so why do we act embarrassed about it? Maybe if more people got naked and masturbated together, we’d have less shame and more confidence.

The number-one takeaway from the weekend? Everyone looks, fantasizes, masturbates, and orgasms in their own way — and none of these ways is wrong.