Revolution in the Garden
Reprinted from the July 4th, 2005 Chicago Sun Times
by Laura Berman
Sometimes history takes two steps forward and one step back.
We live in a world where I'm able to have a full-time career as a sex therapist. This column would not have been possible as little as 30 years ago. But there are stops and starts along the way, and I can't help but wonder if we've gone into neutral at the moment when it comes to our sexuality.
Today's climate of abstinence-only initiatives and the increasing objectification of women in the media makes me worry that we're traveling back in time, rather than forward. I was reminded of this the other day as I looked through a new book.
Have you had a great orgasm today? This is the question Dell Williams poses in her new memoir, Revolution in the Garden (Silverback Books, $22.95). It's also the query that propelled her into the heart of the women's movement, with her special message that every woman deserves sexual pleasure. It's in part because of work like Williams' that we are where we are today -- both as a society and as women.
A feisty 82, Williams maintains an unwavering belief in knowledge, advocacy and experimentation for women's sexual health and intimacy. She also believes a vibrator is a woman's best friend. I wholeheartedly agree. Under the guidance of Betty Dodson in the early '70s, Williams discovered the pleasure that a vibrator and little self-exploration put in every woman's hands. It was a life-changing experience. So Williams headed over to Macy's to buy her "personal massager." Trouble was, she couldn't find it. After the sales clerk kindly directed her to it, she inquired what she would be using it for. The story goes that Williams mumbled something about her back but felt the whole store was watching her and knew her real intentions. She felt ashamed.
The experience -- combined with the memory of her first truly incredible orgasm -- crystallized her calling in life: to give every woman who wants to improve her sexuality access to the products that can help her, free of shame and humiliation. Sexual pleasure renews us and connects us to others and ourselves.
I fear the message is getting lost in our current zeitgeist. Sex is shrinking back into a territory that is off limits and taboo. However, anybody who hasn't had sex in a while could see Williams' point. Those in touch with their pleasure are generally happier, easier people to be around. It's as if Williams tells us orgasms can save the world. Can they?
I personally admire Williams for jump-starting the trend that gives women access to the devices of our pleasure. Today we take it for granted. But just 30 years ago, when Williams founded Eve's Garden, her female-friendly sex shop in New York, it was the first of its kind. Now it has its own Web site.
As Williams herself put it after she participated in the March for Women's Lives in Washington, D.C.: "I marched and, I'll tell you what, at 82 I'm pretty damned tired of having to go out and tread this same old ground all over again." But no battle was ever won overnight. We just have to make sure we don't stop trying.
Laura Berman, Ph.D., is a sex therapist and director of Chicago's Berman Center. Have a topic you'd like to see addressed in a future column? Efirstname.lastname@example.org.
ABOUT DELL WILLIAMS...
She was born at a time when women had only just gotten the vote - and she grew up to march along side Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and Flo Kennedy. She served honorably in the U.S. Army during WWII - and got censured by the FBI in the 1950's for her work defending The Hollywood Ten from charges of Communism.
Her career has taken her from posing as an artist's model, to assisting the legendary producer Norman Corwin, to being at the top of the New York advertising world. She has journeyed from committed agnosticism to becoming an ordained minister.(Dell Williams and author Lynne Vannucci pictured right)
Most significantly, in 1974, she opened up the first woman-owned and -operated erotica boutique in the United States and helped to break open forever the boundaries that once confined women's sexuality, and defined the ways in which we were able to joyfully express and satisfy our desires. Revolution in the Garden: Memoirs of the Gardenkeeper is the funny, touching, remarkable story of Dell Williams, founder of Eve's Garden. It's available a eve's garden or most bookstores!
EVE'S GARDEN WEBSITE! http://www.evesgarden.com