American women are finding relief from the stress and anxiety of life under Covid‑19 with remote self‑love coaching
The New York city health department recently released a coronavirus memo telling residents, “You are your safest sex partner”. Betty Dodson, 90, the “godmother of masturbation”, agrees.
Before the pandemic, the nonagenarian’s Bodysex course was fully booked until 2021, with a waiting list of thousands of women eager to fly into New York from all over America to learn how to have a perfect orgasm.
Now it would be a breach of social distancing rules for 20 strangers to strip naked and breathe heavily while crammed into a small space. So Dodson’s techniques have gone online — Zooming in, so to speak, on the G-spot.
“I’m not a doctor or an essential worker but I felt like I had to do something for women during lockdown,” said Carlin Ross, 47, Dodson’s sex-coach sidekick, who leads virtual workshops from the attic of her home in Summit, New Jersey. Her husband and five-year-old son “know not to come upstairs when mummy’s working”.
Dodson, who lives alone, argues that self-love is more important than ever now.
“Pleasure is healing. With modern life people go on retreats to slow down their brain,” she said. “They say meditate, I say masturbate, which is a form of meditation.”
Ross agreed that climaxing is more crucial in times of stress and anxiety. “Orgasm is a boost to the immune system — we get the oxytocin, the endorphins, and sleep better,” she said.
People have the time to practise during enforced lockdowns, she added.
The profiles of Dodson, a bestselling author, and Ross, a former lawyer, skyrocketed in January after they taught Gwyneth Paltrow about female pleasure on her Netflix television series, The Goop Lab. Paltrow turned pink as Dodson coached the actress on working her pelvic floor muscles.
Ross, who was filmed having an orgasm on the programme — “now everywhere I go I’m like the Joan of Arc of orgasms” — explained the methodology of encouraging women to examine themselves.
“Women never look at their genitals,” she said.
“We never see them in art. You go into the Met [the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan] and it’s a penis parade.
“If you’re really going to experience pleasure the first thing you have to do is look and feel.”
Under Dodson’s expert eye, Ross has taught 30 women over video calls since the lockdown began.
“I can connect to more people all over the world and it seems more intimate,” she said.
Similar to the in-person instruction, the virtual guidance is full on and requires clothes to be off.
The students first submit a “sex essay”, setting out their sexual pasts and desired futures, and receive a $150 (£120) “vaginal exerciser”, designed by Dodson and called Betty’s Barbell, in the post.
Then the customers have video consultations, including a “genital show and tell” and one-on-one masturbation guidance.
The online customers have ranged in age from 27 to 74 and work in everything from banking and technology to farming olive groves.
“A lot of women are just out of a divorce and want to do something for themselves. They don’t have the orgasms and pleasure they want. That’s what it’s all about,” Ross said.
Pinning down the perfect orgasm over Zoom or Skype is cheaper. The traditional weekend workshops cost $1,000 whereas the online course is $500. Clients also tend to be less nervous online. “The technology gives us a greater sense of independence and control because you can just shut the computer whenever you want,” Ross said.
The prospect of hackers breaking into the video calls — as has happened for school teachers wrestling with remote learning — was not a concern, she added: “It would be kind of erotic.”
Dodson, who started teaching women in her apartment on Madison Avenue in the 1970s, hopes that her workshops will be able to resume as normal next year.
“It is so inspirational, sitting in the room with the women,” she said.
“Everyone is in their bodies and what we’re doing is getting to the core of our humanity – right down to your clitoris.”
The coronavirus has propelled sex coaching into a new phase, making it more accessible and less stigmatised, said Ross, who plans to continue the online classes once lockdowns are lifted.
Across America, sex coaches are tweaking their services and transferring their tutorials online, charging from $80 to $300 a session for classes over the internet.
“In some high-end Los Angeles and New York places it’s a lot more,” said Joseph Kramer, a sex educator based in Oakland, California.
“It’s really been amazing the number of Zoom classes but unfortunately most people don’t have the skills necessary to really do well at using it,” he said.
“People aren’t educated at looking at other people naked online. They fall into the porn gaze and they forget their own body which is not what you want to happen in a class.”
Jaiya Ma, a sexologist in Boulder, Colorado, says business has soared with new customers signing up and more people wanting to train as sex coaches through her Erotic Blueprint programme.
“We have a giant boom happening and it’s because we adapted for sex in the time of Covid and coached all our sexuality coaches to adapt,” she said.
Ma, 42, has seized the opportunity to increase her prices, charging between $250,000 and $1m for “personal 360-degree mentorship” packages.
“During this time a lot of people realised they need to change, that things were not working, or people came to the realisation, ‘let’s make this better, even hotter’,” she said. “People want to dive in.”
Kramer, 73, has seen the popularity of his online video classes in orgasmic yoga and erotic massage shoot up: “People say that this is the time to learn erotic touch, for example, with my partner, my wife, my husband and that’s been very good.”