Cliterati founder, Emily Dubberley, has a new book out, Garden of Desires: The Evolution of Women’s Sexual Fantasies. Featuring fantasies from over 400 women/people who identify towards female in the gender spectrum, it explores how women’s fantasies have changed over the last 40 years, and what women are fantasising about today.
Female sexual fantasy began in 1973. That may sound ridiculous, but until Nancy Friday wrote My Secret Garden, female sexual fantasy did not officially exist. Not even in the pages of women’s magazines.
Anaïs Nin may have achieved a certain measure of renown for Delta of Venus and Little Birds, but these erotic classics were published posthumously in 1978. The Story of O pre-empted Fifty Shades of Grey by 58 years – and has sold millions of copies – but Anne Desclos hid behind her pseudonym for forty years, only eventually revealed as Pauline Réage at 87 years of age.
More significantly they, and the handful of openly sexual female writers before them, all wrote fiction. Friday was the first woman to collect women’s real sexual fantasies and, in doing so, show that women had a sexuality of their own – a highly contentious idea in 1973. In the month of My Secret Garden’s release Helen Gurley Brown (then editor of Cosmo) ran a feature written by her in-house psychiatrist, with the opening line, ‘Women do not have sexual fantasies, period. Men do.’ And it wasn’t just Cosmo. At the time Friday wrote My Secret Garden, the mainstream thinking of sex therapists, psychologists or psychiatrists was that women didn’t have sexual fantasies.
Friday was conflicted by this information, as she fantasised, and set out to discover whether she was the only woman who did. Apparently, even when talking to ‘some of the most sexually active women in New York and London’, she was met by confusion. Only her persistence, placing discreet classified ads and interviewing rare, open friends helped prove that, for some women at least, sexual fantasy existed.
After My Secret Garden achieved popularity – and notoriety – Friday said, ‘It’s important for people to realize how new this subject is. But we have come to accept that women do have private, erotic thoughts.’ What she was too modest to admit is that this acceptance is largely as a result of her own pioneering work.
Garden of Desires: The Evolution of Women’s Sexual Fantasies is out now (Black Lace) and is available on Kindle and in paperback