Betony Vernon versatile and eclectic personality, has distinguished herself as an intriguing designer of erotic jewelry, a passionate sexologist, and a bold activist, becoming an icon that has redefined the world of eroticism and sexuality. With audacity, she challenges cultural taboos, paving the way for sexual liberation and the celebration of pleasure. Her voice resonates as an inspiration for all those who wish to embrace sexuality as an essentialpartof human existence
Image GIUSEPPE RISERBATO
Style DINALVA BARROS
Words MARCO NICOSIA
You define yourself as a sexual activist. How do you combine your instruments with activism?
When I first embarked on making my “jewel-tools” I thought everyone wanted to experience pleasure to the utmost and explore it as I do. I was so naive! I quickly understood there existed a great deal of ignorance and fear around our sexuality and more specifically our pleasure. So I realized that to continue following my passion I also had to become an educator and advocate for pleasure. I continued to sell my “classic collection” worldwide, but the erotic aspects of my creations continued to be frowned upon. I persevered anyway and carved out a niche that gradually expanded through collabo- rations with like-minded people in all fields, from doctors to collectors. As a designer, my purpose is to improve the quality of everyday life. Today I wouldn’t exist as an artist if I hadn’t become a pro-pleasure activist. Thirty years ago there were no galleries or traditional retail venues that supported my work. At the beginning of the century it appeared that a sexual revolution was underway. A few shops opened in safelocations in major cities, giving women the chance to finally acquire products for their own enhanced pleasure. They also began to understand their bodies like never before, but censorship no sooner put a stop to the movement. Many of the female-oriented stores are closed today. Coco De Mer, located in the heart of Covent Garden in London was the first and one of the last boutiques of its kind still open today. At the time that it opened, 20 years ago, pleasure-related boutiques were anything but chic and located on the outskirts of safe zones. They were also focused primarily on male pleasure. Today sexual products and pornography continue to be promoted primarily on the internet and the focus remains consum- eristic. Educational content is still banned, especially on social media and platforms like YouTube.
In your book,one finds poetry along side your tips. In which ways can sexuality be sacred and poetic?
In The Boudoir Bible: The Uninhibited Sex Guide for Today (Rizzoli International Publications, 2013) as well as in Paradise Found: An Erotic Treasury for Sybarites (Rizzoli, New York 2022), I write about sexuality in spiritual terms, as sex and spirit are inextricably intertwined. Making love is an art that opens the doors to another dimension. To enter this sacred space that leads to sexual, sensual fulfillment and of course multiple orgasms we must let go… and completely. This requires trust, which is poetry in itself, and desire is the ultimate poetic inspiration. I have been asked if the didactic aspects of my work could kill the mystery of love. We must stop confusing mystery with ignorance, because indeed sexual knowledge and understanding can only radically increase the magic and the pleasures we share when we have sex and make love to each other! If we remain ignorant in the subject of the erotic body and enhanced pleasure that is so central to our overall happiness and wellness, we can only count on spontaneity, which has a shelf life that lasts between a few hours and a few years and it doesn’t permit rela- tionships to truly evolve over time. Don’t get me wrong, one night stands can be great too, but deeper connections are hinged on trust, which is key to experiencing and providing even deeper and potentially transcendental pleasures. Many people, and from all age groups, are suffering today from the effects of fast sex. In a recent workshop I addressed the topic of dating apps and it emerged that consumer sex that does not lead to some sort of emotional and/or spiritual connection can leave us feeling unsatiated, frustrated, lonely and hungering for something more. Addiction may be the end result of this lack of connection, when fast sex with strangers is the only thing on the “menu.” The negative impact on our conception of relationships and their value is tangible. At the same time, the freedom that apps allot is exciting because we finally have a way to explore a wider variety of partners and make intimate connections that would otherwise not be possible. The important thing is to keep it real, check in with ourselves and the people we connect with intimately, as it is naive and irresponsible to think that sex is disconnected from spirit.
“Today, it’s more crucial than ever to talk about our sexual freedom as it is being taken away.”
Among other things, you are also a hypnotherapist.
When I started sessioning with individuals and couples, I realized that certain tools and techniques, including bondage, can induce a mild state of trance. This led me to deepen my research and bolster the effects of my ever evolving method with a certification in clinical hypnotherapy. Did you know that we are only using 5% of our brains at this moment? I am interested in what happens on the other side of the brain, the 95% commonly called the unconscious mind. Through my work in the sexual realm, I came to the tragic realization that sexual abuse represents a norm in our society. Addressing this topic is taboo and extremely complex, but it became, alongside pleasure enhancement, one of the most important services I provide for my collectors and community. Helping people to overcome the detrimental effects of abuse is part of my art and I couldn’t have developed my practice if my work as a designer had not revealed to me all of the things we have discussed together today. Hypnotherapy taps into the unconscious mind and it is an integral part of my practice as well as an essential aspect of my ongoing research on the benefits inherent to the emission of theta brain wave frequency [the brain waves incited by trance, meditation, and orgasm. ed].
Some feminist movements criticize pornography, arguing that it is violent towards women. What do you see as the main issues with it?
I am fully supportive of pornography because it liberated the female orgasm. However, I find that heterosexual pornography is 99% male-centric. It portrays women as objects, it is frequently violent and it never represents the sacred aspects of our sexuality. It used to take weeks to shoot a porn film, now it can be done in three days thanks to erection enhancers like Viagra. This really changed the market for pornography and exploded it onto the surface of the internet. The greatest problem with pornography lies in its accessibility to children and adolescents. As soon as a child can hold a phone in their hand, they are at risk of being exposed to pornography. By the time they reach adolescence they have had daily exposure to pornography and when they reach sexual maturity, it is often the only sexual education they have received. Sadly, pornography is the worst teacher of all when it comes to real pleasure. Seeing and having sex are very different things and so they say, there is a time for everything. Children who are repeatedly exposed to pornography are known to experience a reduced sense of desire, curiosity, and the drive to experience and explore the real joys of sex when they reach sexual maturity.
Reflecting on your career, how do you think things have evolved, and what do you believe needs to be done for the future?
When I first started designing erotic jewelry in the ‘90s, it was not even possible to talk about enhanced pleasure and most people who learned about my work thought I was crazy or accused me of being a “pervert.” Until the turn of the century, I only created erotic jewelry for private clients. In 2006, I was bound and suspended from the ceiling of Purple Magazine’s office for a photo shoot with Katerina Jebb. The images caused a stir because people had, until then, such a dark perception of bondage. The image was extremely glamorous and poetic at the same time and it immediately sparked the interest of the fashion industry. I ended up being tied for and tying for several major publications, including T Magazine. That’s when I realized that what I was doing was not in vain. Funnily enough, today I am considered a pioneer in the sexual realm, but my job is still not done and every aspect of it, whether I am designing, writing, teaching, doing therapy or research or other, is incredibly important to me, and I will probably be doing it until I die because sexual liberation is not a given and it comes in waves. Today, it’s more crucial than ever to talk about our sexual freedom as it is being taken away. If we don’t defend our sexual rights, we will lose them.
Recently, you moved to Italy. What are your plans today?
Yes, I left Paris in May 2022 and returned to Italy and I am currently living in the Umbrian countryside. People often tell me that I was brave to leave, but actually I had begun to feel that it took more courage to stay in the city of light, which is currently plagued by social dissatisfaction, pollution, violence. I felt the need to be closer to nature and the simple things that make up for true well-being, like clean food, air, water and a sense of community. Hence, I came back to the country that I have considered to be my home since 1990. Italian craftsmanship is the backbone of the country and of my work and I feel the urgent need to help to safeguard the artisanal savoir-faire which is at risk, and along with it the economy of the country. French corporations like LVMH are currently buying Italian workshops, but I like to believe that this is not the only way to preserve our fine craftsmanship. I am meeting young people who want to learn the craft of their parents as well as how to cultivate the land. All we have to do to restore dignity to the artisanal and agricultural professions of excellence is to offer fair wages. I’m also a craftswoman and I aim to bring the glamor back to crafts- manship. I am creating a new space for my future projects and I have a distinct feeling that my greatest purpose in life is about to reveal itself!
Photographer: Giuseppe Riserbato. Style: Dinalva Barros. Make Up: Theo Carias using Gucci Cosmetics. Hair: Elizabeth Fogel using Kevin Murphy Nail Technician: Danni Melo. Fashion Assistant: Sarah Umphlett