I’ve been lucky to work closely with my professional mentor for several years in a personal and meaningful way. Technically, I completed the certification process to be able to teach her BodySex workshops but what really happened is much deeper. I have been given an open door to share space and learn intimately’ from a woman who has broken all the molds since she landed on this earth.
Her given name is Betty Dodson but her spirit can be named in one word-authentic.
I have never been in the presence of a woman who is so completely unapologetic about who she is and so confident about her past, her opinions, and her desires.
She is most assuredly comfortable in her own skin. She’s comfortable enough in her own skin to jump into yours and tell you how amazing and beautiful your soul is. She’ll also jump in and set straight anything she thinks need some Betty Wisdom.
It is refreshing. It is inspiring. It is scary as shit. (And yes, it is so intimidating af.).
It isn’t that she doesn’t have a care in the world; it is rather, that she doesn’t judge her past decisions and actions and she doesn’t hide from her opinions and desires.
She owns them. Confidently.
At times her strength feels a bit in your face and the energy of her power hits you like a freight train, but that mightiness is wrapped in love. Self love. Love for you. Love for women. Love for future generations. The details aren’t always as important as why she is saying them. She is saying them because she stands firm in love.
The concept of confidence and authenticity can be allusive to me. When I try to describe my confidence it changes like a chameleon. It feels squishy and malleable at times. Other moments, it feels like a disco ball shining in all directions. I’m often told I am authentic and genuine but in some private moments, I, too, feel a bit lost when identifying who I really am in those moments when I am existentially searching.
I’ve experienced different kinds of confidence. I have professional confidence that looks academic and sounds stoic. I have friendship confidence that feels like a cozy blanket. My motherhood confidence is like a roller coaster with the greatest highs and lowest lows. My sexual confidence is orangey-red and swirls and pulses but it also hides and slows.
Women have an interesting relationship with confidence and authenticity. We know it when we see it. In her. We feel it inside of ourselves. Sometimes our confidence and authenticity is radiant and other times fleeting. We want it. We judge it. We are jealous of it. We don’t want THAT kind of confidence. We don’t want your confidence shadowing my confidence…. We are afraid of it. We are sad we don’t have it. We mourn the confidence we used to have. We celebrate it when it enlivens us. We seek it. We honor it. We forget about it.
So what does confidence and authenticity have to do with BodySex and Betty and Me?
Let me describe BodySex for you briefly. I’ll be writing a detailed account of my first BodySex workshop another week.
BodySex is a two-day workshop. Naked. It is a deep dive into your relationship with your body, your genitals, your orgasm and self-pleasure.
In a nutshell, it is epic transformation.
Some background to what got me standing on Madison Avenue trying to summon the courage to walk in to a room of naked women.
When teaching at William and Mary, I used two of Betty’s books in my class. I loved her. I loved what she did. She is a pioneer in my field. A legend. I also thought she was dead. I was sitting in a AASECT conference (sex educators, counselors and therapists) and heard a PhD candidate (Lisa Myers) describing her dissertation describing Betty’s latest BodySex workshop.
She wasn’t dead! I literally went on the website she provided that moment, got Carlin’s number and signed up for the last slot in her last workshop of the year.
I booked my flight and the next thing I know I was undressing in my idol’s apartment foyer on Madison Avenue. SCARED SHITLESS. I’d been in the therapy world over 15 years at this point and deeply immersed in the world of sexuality. I thought nothing would stretch me or challenge me because my comfort level was so deep.
I was wrong.
I was greeted at the door by the beautiful and naked Carlin Ross. She is Betty’s partner, in charge of all things Betty, a lawyer, a mother, and now a dear friend. Carlin is a tremendous force in and of herself. She also has given us Betty back and helped bring Betty’s work to this decade and expand her vision and reach.
But back then…she was unabashedly naked and warmly welcoming. And she knew. That this is the hard part.
Undressing and walking in the infamous Betty living room and finding a seat amongst the circle of sisters. Who are also all naked.
This is usually the part of the description where I am met with jaws to the floor, shock, “OMG not me!” and wonder/judgment about why I would do this.
I’ve been asked the point of it. Asked what I got out of it. Questioned what would make me want to do something like that.
I thought I knew why I signed up. To meet Betty. To be able to say I worked with her. Learned from her. To meet Carlin and see if we could partner up somehow. To see if I could stretch myself professionally.
What I got out of it? I transformed entirely. When you share that level of safe, intimate, authentic sharing, you have no control over it. You WILL CHANGE. It is almost involuntary. I walked out of the second day of the workshop, personally changed and professionally inspired. My relationship to confidence and authenticity grew to a place that is almost indescribable.
In that two-day circle, I cried. I laughed. I was terrified. I was turned on. I let myself unfold into vulnerability. I surrendered to Betty’s guidance.
I received. Love. Strength. Gentleness. Fierceness.
I was supported. In my grief. In my questioning. In my struggles. In my joy.
I talked about motherhood. About my body. About my marriage. About my professional fears. About my orgasms. About my dreams.
Our nakedness at first was a thing. Then it wasn’t. At first you do the look around. The comparison. Then the nakedness allowed us to release ourselves from our lives. No indicators of our stature, wealth, work, families. No clothing, no jewelry, no shrouds. Just ourselves. Raw, authentic, soul-to-soul.
I heard 12 other women’s sadness, celebrations, fears, grief and questions. I shared mine with them. I learned, I explored, I received, I opened.
Betty and Carlin have this magical dance between the two of them. Betty says her truth. Her history. Her philosophy. Betty has opinions. Lots of them. Some are profound. Some are shocking and perhaps offensive to some. Carlin interprets, tempers and helps Betty hear more and see easier as her aging crops up unexpectedly at times. She is so damn youthful in her vigor, her mental acuity and her ability to connect soul to soul. Her eyes and ears give tell tale signs of her 88 years. Their dance as friends and partners is magical. Their professional dialogue and rapport is unparalleled and adds to the magic of the workshop.
I wanted to share this magic with everyone. I tried to. I was met with A LOT of resistance. The nakedness threw a lot and they couldn’t get past that element. The genital show and tell seemed outrageous. And for the rest who stayed with the story, describing erotic recess seemed surreal.
And I get it. It was a stretch for even me. I know I don’t ‘look’ like someone who would do this, I wasn’t raised in a community that this sort of thing was known let alone acceptable. I don’t even live in an area that embraces self-help let alone this level of self-exploration. I know I work within sexuality for a living so I have a deeper comfort level than most but professional training only takes you so far—the rest is personal. Profoundly personal.
I was sick to my stomach leading up to it. I was a nervous wreck checking in with the doorman. I was weak-kneed opening the door that said “Come on in….door is open. BodySex is here.”
Still I did it. And I firmly believe you should too.
The BodySex community is tight. We support each other. We share stories of resistance and of acceptance. We need each other to help each of us carry on the message-personally and professionally. There is a knowing when you meet someone who has experienced a BodySex circle. Because each who have sat in the circle, know the transformation and new relationship with confidence and authenticity is palpable and almost indescribable.
Some 2500 women have sat in Betty’s famous living room and “shared the circle”. There are BodySex facilitators in over 20 countries right now. That is tremendous. Mindboggling to me. I want that number to grow. I want more women to experience BodySex. I want others to know what I know-through the experience. I want BodySex to expand to men, non-binary, trans. It is slowly moving in that direction.
I signed up to become a BodySex facilitator and went through Carlin and Betty’s training certification. Went to another BodySex circle. The “advanced one”. Again, more, deeper, lasting change. Growth. Learning. This past summer I traveled to Menla and met with a group of around 50 women who had attended a Circle or were also BodySex facilitators. That incredible experience is a whole other article….
I tell you this because BodySex may sound strange to you. Scary. Bizarre. Depraved. But I can tell you. As the girl next door, your best friend, your wife…it is one of the most amazing, self-examination, empowered journeys I’ve ever had the deep courage to embark upon and I’m grateful I did it. It changed my personal life and informed my professional to a level I could not have reached without it.
Are you interested in learning more about what BodySex is? What my first circle was like? Curious because it sounds interesting or interested for yourself/a loved one? Wondered what ‘crazy thing Dr. Juliana’ is doing now? Doesn’t matter why—just stay open to the idea. Know I get the possible hesitation as well as the intense interest.
So what is confidence? The answer to me is the magic within us. I can’t define it because it is different for each of us. I can’t nail my own down because this power source within me swirls and changes. I now see that this swirling is part of the process not a symptom of the brokenness of it.
So what have I learned about confidence from Betty, BodySex and myself?
A confident person…
- Is not afraid of making decisions and choices because of the unintended consequences.The what ifs. Decide what feels right and KNOW that you can handle the intended and unintended consequences of it all. Betty doesn’t think her past is full of only fantastic experiences and decisions but she is at peace that she made them and participated in them no matter what came her way. She is not a victim and she doesn’t mess with regret. I am often met with a great deal of dismay, questioning and surprise by some in my life for my travels and my career. But I couldn’t have been surer it was where I HAD to be. What I should be doing. This doesn’t mean I didn’t have concerns and that I wasn’t hurt by the judgment. What I find now is that I make good decisions when my heart is in the right place when making them. For me, I feel magic surging through me because I knew I am aligned with what I am supposed to be doing. Nothing about my career or travels is easy for me. Financially, with my family, the time of my life. Good decisions don’t always have great outcomes though. The key to confidence, then, is knowing you can handle when things go as planned and when things don’t. Embrace ambiguity and let go of outcomes.
- Has an opinion.She doesn’t hide. She shines. Betty tells you how it is. At will. A lot. But she owns it as her perspective and gives room for other people at the table. She has so much confidence in her stance; she doesn’t have to show you she is right by making you wrong. I have a history of compromising my values, opinions and desires for the sake of people pleasing and avoiding disharmony. That behavior cost me dearly although, during those moments, I thought I was gaining a lot like friends, popularity, romantic relationships, professional gains. In reflection, what I lost by not owning my opinions and voicing them with strength is far greater than what I gained. I lost the chance to share my gifts, to help others and to grow confident in who I am and am growing into daily. Owning opinions grows confidence in exponential ways.
- Shares her voice, her visions, and values. First you most know them and next you must share these gifts with those in your world. The caveat is that you do not own your voice by shutting down others’ opinions and bringing judgey stuff to the table. As the saying goes’ Stay on your side of the street’. It holds true in whatever context-mind your own business but please, please, own your voice. It is beautiful and it needs to be shared.
- Loves her body. Seriously. This does not mean you have to think every inch is perfect, but you need to love it. Every inch. Appreciate what your body does for you on a daily basis. Feel gratitude towards what makes your body unique. Fight the urge to dissect every flawed and imperfect part of you. Betty tells an amazing story of finding love for her vaginal lips. Yes I really did mean love every inch! When Betty was a child she feared that she wasn’t normal ‘down there’ because one vaginal lip is noticeably longer than the other. She felt immense fear and worry that someone would find out. Turns out she is quite normal and asymmetry is quite common. Betty now is proud of this uniqueness and feels like it is a perfect representation of her spirit. Outside of the box. Unique. Her.
- Embraces love and compliments from the world, from your spiritual center and from those in your life. So that story about Betty’s vaginal lip despair? Well it changed because a man told her that her lips were gorgeous. She talked with me about how it felt to have another validate something she couldn’t celebrate herself. Particularly from a man. In Betty’s words, ‘Who cares? I’m grateful’. Who cares she began to love a part of her body because someone else told her he loved it. It was her journey to accept the compliment and then own it herself. At 87, Betty has learned a great deal about life, about women, about self-love. When she speaks ‘who cares’, I listen.
- She celebrates others. When you are comfortable with yourself, you celebrate others. It is as simple as that. I seek out like-minded communities—of women, of men of non-binary individuals. All ages, all races, all souls. All over the world. I search for those who practice celebrating each other. Caring for each other. Highlighting each other’s unique gifts, magic and inner confidence. It is infectious and beautiful and affirming. I do not believe confidence remains bright if it is not shining on and alongside other’s soul lights.
We are all on different places in our relationship with confidence and authenticity. I invite you to see the growth in your confidence not as a staircase but as an upward moving spiral. You will move upwards and then feel some backslides. They aren’t regressions, though, they are areas where you are putting in extra time to build strength and momentum to catapult you up to the next phase. Sometimes we rotate around once in the spiral circle and other times we circle many, many times. This is all how it should be in this journey. As I continue in my journey around the world, I carry with me a bevy of lessons from Betty, BodySex but even more importantly, I carry within me m own spice of magic that fuels my soul and serves as a conduit of my confidence.
as always—x oh, Dr. Juliana