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The Constant Gardener? Two books on women’s sexual fantasies
  1. Susan Quilliam
  1. Writer, Broadcaster, Consultant and Trainer, Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to Ms Susan Quilliam; Cambridge, UK; susan{at};

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Over the years, I've regularly reviewed books for the Journal, but I've never made individual books the focus of a Consumer Correspondent article. I’m about to break the mould by writing about two books: one written recently, the other during the so-called ‘sexual revolution’.

The more recent book is Garden of Desires by Emily Dubberley, published in 2013. The older book is My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday, first published in 1973, then reissued for its 40th anniversary. Both books not only explore the subject of women’s sexual fantasies, but have as their foundation personal stories from over 400 contemporary women. Together – and my motivation for making both of them the subject of this article – is that the books form a diptych illustrating women’s sexuality then and now.

My Secret Garden

Nancy Friday’s book was pivotal in that it took sexual fantasy from deniability into social acceptance. Her prologue is a personal account of the challenges of writing the book in the face of society’s repudiation, men’s disapproval and individual women’s guilt. Friday’s first foray into the exploration of women’s fantasies was to include them in a chapter in a novel she was writing; her publisher’s abhorrence at the idea and his assumption that any woman who fantasised was a ‘sexual freak’ persuaded her to stop writing and consign the novel to a bottom drawer.

It took several further years for her to begin talking openly to others about fantasy, collecting first her friends’ disclosures and then placing advertisements in the press to gather more first-person accounts. The huge number of such accounts, together with their authors’ admissions of relief and gratitude for being able to confide in someone, convinced her of the value of the project, showing her that a book revealing the contents of the female ‘secret garden’ might …

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