We’re going to talk about Betty White and handjobs

Earlier this week, as I felt both blue over Betty White’s death and inspired by all the remarkable things she said and did in her 99 years, I wrote what I thought was a sweet, innocent little piece as a tribute to the beloved comedian.

In that piece, I noted several of White’s secrets to living a long, happy life and then offered 17 additional tips that I had come up with, based on examining the advice of others and my own experiences.

Admittedly, none of my suggestions were groundbreaking, but (if I have to say so myself) the piece felt useful. After I published it, many people told me they enjoyed it.

But apparently not everyone was quite so charming.

Special Tip # 8 – “Allow yourself a few vices, whether it’s Betty White’s aforementioned hot dogs or Hallmark Christmas movie or an occasional handiwork from a stranger, and enjoy them without remorse or apology or explanation to anyone, even yourself” – rubbed a bunch of people the wrong way. (Punk very much meant.)

A man tweeted to me: “Wanted to share what I thought was a very good list with my family (including my 2 teenagers). Since 99% was regular content, I’m sorry you had to fail at # 8 ( handjobs). Your secret intention? … people forward it without reading it? Disappointed. “

Another person who also works in the media, and who has since blocked me, tweeted that the line about handjobs was “vulgar” and demanded to know if it was some kind of “sick joke”.

Nor were they the only ones.

To answer the above question: No, I had no “secret intent”, and yes, that line was at least partially meant as a joke. But I honestly did not think so many people would be so “disappointed” or outraged by the word “hand job.”

“I’m still frustrated at how puritanical our culture is, or rather pretends to be, since so much of that ‘piety’ is fabricated, hypocritical and completely false.”

To be clear, I do not really consider handjobs to be a load (or hot dogs or Hallmark movies, for that matter). Instead, I commented on what our culture sometimes describes as problematic (or unhealthy, or just plain silly), arguing that we should find and enjoy what gives us a little pleasure, especially right now, with things so bleak. , as they are.

It was also a nod to the fact that even though this country is obsessed with sex, we still have a hard time discussing and embracing it in honest, healthy and non-judgmental ways. I have spent the last 10 years talking and writing and hosting two different podcasts about sex and sexuality. Much has changed over that decade, but much has not changed – and I’m still frustrated at how puritanical our culture is, or rather pretends to be, since so much of that “piety” is fabricated, hypocritical, and utter. False.

I imagine that most people (unless they identify as asexual) consider sex – including needlework, presumably – to be an integral part of a happy and fulfilling life. And being able to claim it for ourselves, without being ashamed of it, is just as important to me.

The fact that a father did not want his teens to read about handjobs, to the point that he would refuse to share my post with them, says a lot. Unfortunately, I’m sure he’s not the only parent who’s feeling that way. But handjobs are exactly what we should be talking about with our kids. They are not “vulgar” or “sick”. On the contrary, no matter what gender you are and whether you are with a stranger or a partner or just alone, handjobs are one of the safest sex acts you can participate in as there is very little chance of transmitting an STI and virtually no chance of getting pregnant.

What’s more, all this pearly grip feels particularly ironic, perhaps even disrespectful, in light of White’s own approach to comedy. She was notoriously playful and loved a “naughty” joke, as she would say. Just check her out on William Shatner’s roast. Or hosted “Saturday Night Live”. Or her literally hundreds of other appearances and routines filled with cunning (or less cunning) dirty references during her nearly century on this planet.

A little swollen catapult from Betty’s mouth was especially nice – and hit so hard – because she was so sweet that we never saw it coming until it hit us on the head. But sweetness and sex can exist side by side, and that was exactly Betty’s point. Just because she was seen as America’s favorite grandmother, did not mean she was deprived of her sexuality. Let’s also not forget how ahead of its time “The Golden Girls” was when it came to exploring women’s sex lives – older or otherwise. In fact, in many ways, the sitcom’s openness, its humor, its inexcusable approach to the characters’ sexuality, and all the joys and challenges that came with them – all of this remains as radical today as it was in 1985, when the show premiered.

This is not the first time I have witnessed the urge to launder the lives of a celebrity after they have died. When George Michael passed away in 2016, I wrote a piece that celebrated his sexuality – and how vocal he was about being a “filthy gay fucker” – and I also received a ton of hate mail for it. People wanted to know why I had to take “all those things up” and why I could not just “focus on the music.” It’s the same reason I think mentioning a hand job in a piece inspired by Betty White is entirely appropriate: There’s nothing shameful about sex. These people loved it and loved talking about it (as their own words and their own work make it clear). And if we pretend they did not, it does them and us a disservice.

When we look past or away from the whole of who someone was, we only get a part of their story. Each person is a complex creature made up of countless beliefs and experiences and longings, ignoring those we dislike – or those we have been programmed to think are indecent or “vulgar” – erasing it all by who they are was and what they offered us. It also reinforces the idea that sex is dirty or deviant, and we know it’s just not true, even if we refuse to admit it.

Ultimately, I want us all to talk more about sex – whether it’s a hand job or something else that may be among our carnal passions – and I want us to do it with honesty and humor and daring. When it comes to our desires, we still have a lot to find out, a lot to share and a lot to learn. Celebrating people like Betty White – people who are willing to go there and do it in a way that does not feel prescriptive or intimidating or judgmental – is crucial for us to break down taboos and stereotypes, find out, who we really are and what we really want, and hopefully live happier and more fulfilling lives. The more we follow their trail and commit to talking about these things, the better off we will be. I promise!

Who knows how Betty would have felt with my silly little tip about handjobs and hot dogs. I would like to think she would laugh, but really, I hope she’s too busy chasing Allen Ludden on some king-size cloud to worry about it.

Noah Michelson is the head of HuffPost Personal and hosts “D Is For Desire”, HuffPost’s love and sex podcast. He joined HuffPost in 2011 to launch and monitor the site’s first vertical dedicated to queer issues, Queer Voices, and continued to oversee all HuffPost community sections before switching to creating and operating HuffPost Personal in 2018. He received his MFA in poetry from New York University and has served as a commentator for MSNBC, BBC, Entertainment Tonight, Current TV, Fuse, SiriusXM and HuffPost Live. You can find more from him Twitter and Instagram.

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