Analyzes the sexual fantasies of more than one hundred and fifty women to show how women's attitudes have changed towards sex, their partners, and themselves
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Nancy Friday is the bestselling author of My Secret Garden, Jealousy, Men in Love, My Mother/My Self, Women on Top, The Power of Beauty and, most recently, Our Looks, Our Lives. She lives in Key West, Florida, and in Connecticut.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Part 1: Report from the Erotic Interior
It's an odd time to be writing about sex. Not at all like the late 1960s and 1970s, when the air was charged with sexual curiosity, women's lives were changing at a rate of geometric progression, and the exploration of women's sexuality -- well, it ranked right up there with the struggle for economic equality.
Today's sexual climate is somber. Gone are the lively debates and writings about sex as part of our humanity. The toll of AIDS, reports from the abortion battlefield, and the alarming rise of unintended pregnancies make sex seem more risky than joyful.
By their sheer numbers young men and women twenty years ago made sex a burning issue; later when the time came to go on to more "serious" business, they put the sexual revolution to bed. Implicit in the prim set of their lips today is that they overdid it twenty years ago; like good Calvinist children the Establishment now punishes itself for its former naughty excesses and righteously turns its back on sex. Because they are still the majority who make the rules and write the headlines, they assume they speak for everyone.
They know little of the women in this book.
These women are for the most part in their twenties, the generation that followed the sexual revolution and the initial momentum of the women's movement. Their voices sound like a new race of women compared to those in My Secret Garden, my first book on women's sexual fantasies, which was published in 1973 and is now in its twenty-ninth printing. While they have all read that earlier book and taken heart from it, these young women accept their sexual fantasies as a natural extension of their lives. Given the unique period in women's history in which they grew up, how could it be otherwise?
For them the explosive emotions we unleashed in the 1970s are still very much alive. There has never been a sexual hiatus, a cooling-off period. Sex is a given, an energy not to be deferred for "more important things." Their sexual fantasies are startling reflections of their determination to abandon nothing.
Here is a collective imagination that could not have existed twenty years ago, when women had no vocabulary, no permission, and no shared identity in which to describe their sexual feelings. Those first voices were tentative and filled with guilt, not for having done anything but simply for daring to admit the inadmissible: that they had erotic thoughts that sexually aroused them.
More than any other emotion, guilt determined the story lines of the fantasies in My Secret Garden. Here were hundreds of women inventing ploys to get past their fear that wanting to reach orgasm made them Bad Girls. All in the privacy of their own minds, where no one would know. But in the mind of the symbiotic child, mother did know. The daughter could be grown and with children of her own, but if she had never emotionally separated from that first person who controlled her totally, how was she to know what was mother's opinion, what was her own? It was as if mother continued to sit in judgment throughout the daughter's life, wagging her finger at the daughter's every sexual move and thought.
The most popular guilt-avoiding device was the so-called rape fantasy -- "so-called" because no rape, bodily harm, or humiliation took place in the fantasy. It simply had to be understood that what went on was against the woman's will. Saying she was "raped" was the most expedient way of getting past the big No to sex that had been imprinted on her mind since early childhood. (Let me add that the women were emphatic that these were not suppressed wishes; I never encountered a woman who said she really wanted to be raped.)
Anonymity also helped. The men in these fantasies were faceless strangers invented to further insure the women against involvement, responsibility, the possibility of a relationship. These males did their job and left. Being fucked by the faceless stranger made it doubly clear: "This pleasure is not my fault! I'm still a Nice Girl, Mom."
Certainly sexual guilt hasn't disappeared, nor has the rape fantasy. There is something very workmanlike and reliable about the traditional bullies and bad people whose intractable presence allows the woman to reach her goal, orgasm. But most of the women in this book take guilt as a given, like the danger of speeding cars. Guilt, they've learned, comes from without, from mother, from church. Sex comes from within and is their entitlement. Guilt, therefore, must be controlled, mastered, and used to heighten excitement. If there is a rape fantasy, today's woman is just as likely to flip the scenario into one in which she overpowers and rapes the man. This sort of thing just didn't happen in My Secret Garden.
Fantasy is where the sexual drive does battle with opposing emotions, the selection of which comes out of our individual lives, our earliest sexual histories. What were the forbidden feelings we took in as we grew? In these new fantasies, the emotions that most often dictate the story lines are anger, the desire for control, and the determination to experience the fullest sexual release.
Admitting to anger is new for women. In the days of My Secret Garden, nice women didn't express anger. They choked on it and turned whatever rage they felt against themselves.
Anger is still a difficult emotion for women to voice in reality, primarily because we get no practice expressing it in that first, most important relationship, opposite mother. But women today at least know they are entitled to anger, and fantasy is a safe playground where they can show rage at all the obstacles that stand in their way, beginning with rage at the enormous difficulty in being sexual plus all the other things a woman today must be. These new women have no models, no blueprints. They have to make themselves up. One of the ways they try out new roles is in their erotic dreams.
Don't misunderstand me; this is not just a book about angry women. These are women's voices finally dealing with the full lexicon of human emotion, sexual imagery and language. Anger is inextricably involved with lust in reality as well as in the erotic imagination. Men's sexual fantasies are also filled with rage at war with eroticism. They take a different story line from women's largely because of men's earliest experiences with woman/mother. But rage is a human emotion, and though history until recently tells us otherwise, it is not exclusive to one sex.
I will never forget these women, for they have swept me up in their enthusiasm and taught me too. "Take that!" they say, using their erotic muscle to seduce or subdue anyone or anything that stands in the way of orgasm. They take the knowledge won by an earlier generation of women who couldn't use it themselves, still being too close to the taboos against which they rebelled. These women look mother square in the face and have their orgasm too.
I have always believed that our erotic daydreams are the true X rays of our sexual souls, and like our dreams at night they change as new people and situations enter our lives to be played out against the primitive backdrop of our childhood. An analyst collects his patients' dreams like gold coins. We should value our erotic reveries no less seriously, because they are the complex expressions of what we consciously desire and unconsciously fear. To know them is to know ourselves better.
Like the X ray of a broken bone held up to the light, a fantasy reveals the healthy line of human sexual desire and shows where this conscious wish to feel sexual has been shattered by a fear so old and threatening as to be unconscious pressure. As children we feared that the sexual feeling would lose us the love of someone upon whom we depended for life itself; the guilt, planted early and deep, arose because we didn't want the forbidden sexual feeling to go away. Now it is fantasy's job to get us past the fear/guilt/anxiety. The characters and story lines we conjure up take what was most forbidden, and with the omnipotent power of the mind, make the forbidden work for us so that now, just for a moment, we may rise to orgasm and release.
Here, for the first time, these women's voices make it undeniably clear that our erotic fantasies have changed in juxtaposition to what has happened in the past years; they are not simply masturbatory diversions, derivatives of Playboy cartoons, but brilliant insights into what motivates real life -- clues to our identity as valuable as the dreams we dream at night.
This is not a scientific report. I am by choice not a Ph.D., having decided long ago to retain the writer's freedom. Also, it has always been my belief that women tell me things they say they've never told a living soul because I am Nancy to them and not Dr. Friday. This book, along with My Secret Garden and Forbidden Flowers, its sequel, represent a unique chronicle of women's sexual fantasies. Before My Secret Garden was published, there was nothing on the subject. The assumption was that women did not have sexual fantasies.
The sexual fantasies in Women on Top cover the years from 1980 to the present. They were selected from interviews and letters written to me in answer to an invitation to women who wished to contribute to a future book on women's sexual fantasies. The request was printed in the back of My Secret Garden and Forbidden Flowers. I gave a P.O. Box number and promised anonymity.
My contributors and I may form a special population: I am sufficiently fascinated by sexuality to write about it, and they to read my books and then write to me for reasons ranging from the desire for validation of their sexuality -- "I am signing my real name because I want you to know I exist!" -- to the exhibitionistic pleasure of seeing their words in print. But there can be no doubt that those who have written speak for a far larger population.
I have chosen to arrange the fantasies in three chapters which denote the themes that most frequently turned up in the thousands of letters and interviews I collected since my earlier books: women in control, women with women, and sexually insatiable women. I've arranged them in chronological order so that we could see how changes in the real world influence the erotic imagination.
Let me tell you how I came to this subject. In the late 1960s I chose to write about women's sexual fantasies because the subject was unbroken ground, a missing piece in the puzzle, and I loved original research. I had sexual fantasies and I assumed other women did too. But when I spoke to friends and people in the publishing world, they said they'd never heard of a woman's sexual fantasy. Nor was there a single reference to women's sexual fantasies in the card catalogues at the New York Public Library, the Yale University library, or the British Museum library, which carry millions upon millions of books -- not a word on the sexual imagery in the minds of half the world.
Publishers were intrigued, however, for it was a time in history when the world was suddenly curious about sex and women's sexuality in particular. Editors were frantically signing up any writer who could help flesh out this undiscovered continent called Woman.
I remember vividly the first publisher who rejected My Secret Garden. When I mentioned the outline I had drawn up along with a sampling of fantasies, he salivated. "Women's sexual fantasies!" he juicily exclaimed, and then pleaded for me to send them to his office soon, soonest! Before the day was over, they'd been returned, doublesealed, to my apartment. What had he expected? I'll never know, but the ritual was to be repeated by almost every publisher in New York. Let me quickly add that women editors as well as men hated the evidence of what women's sexual fantasies actually were.
This was not innocence on their part, merely their wish not to be told something they had silently always known: We women fantasize just like men, and the images are not always pretty. We know everything long before we are ready to know it, and so we cling to our denials.
As for the behavioral world, the dozens of psychologists and psychiatrists I interviewed informed me that I was on a deadend street. "Only men have sexual fantasies," they told me. As late as June 1973, the same month My Secret Garden was published, permissive Cosmopolitan magazine printed a cover story by the eminent and equally permissive Dr. Allan Fromme, stating, "Women do not have sexual fantasies....The reason for this is obvious: Women haven't been brought up to enjoy sex...women are by and large destitute of sexual fantasy."
Initially the women I interviewed bore out Fromme's prophecy. "What's a sexual fantasy?" they would ask, or, "What do you mean by suggesting I have sexual fantasies? I love my husband!" or, "Who needs fantasy? My real sex life is great." Even the most sexually active women I knew, who wanted to be part of the research, would strain to understand and then shake their heads.
Then I learned the power of permission that comes from other women's voices. Only when I told them my own fantasies did recognition dawn. No man, certainly not Dr. Fromme, could have persuaded these women to drop the veil from the preconscious -- that level of consciousness between the unconscious and full awareness -- and reveal the fantasy they had repeatedly enjoyed and then denied. Only women can liberate other women; only women's voices grant permission to be sexual, to be free to be anything we want, when enough of us tell one another it is okay.
Finally after three years of slow-going research -- one-on-one interviews, magazine articles inviting women to contribute, advertisements in everything from the Village Voice to the London Times (New York magazine was too virginal to run the ad) -- My Secret Garden was published in 1973. After publication there was a final salvo from the media accusing me of inventing the entire book, having made up all the fantasies. (The Cleveland Plain Dealer reviewed the book on its sports page, a last defensive hee-haw.)
But within months it seemed that women's erotic reveries had been with us always, so much so that advertisers were using fantasy as a selling tool before the year was over. Today women's magazines, films, books, television, automatically employ fantasy to explain and make real a woman's character. It is astonishing, when you think about it, how quickly women's fantasies have been incorporated into our universal understanding of woman.
Timing is everything. When there is an absolute need to know something, when an intellectual void must be filled, we will accept what only moments earlier we'd rejected for centuries. In 1973 a number of social and economic currents came together, forcing women to understand themselves and change their lives. Sexual identity was a vital missing link. The time was right to take the lid of repression off women's sexual fantasies.
Four years later it would be the identical story with My Mother/My Self, the book that grew immediately out of My Secret Garden's questioning of the source of women's terrible guilt about sex. Initially this later book was violently rejected by both publishers and readers. "I threw your book across the room!" "I wanted to kill you!" were typical reader's comments. But what followed was a snowballing acceptance as one woman told another to read this book that talked about the unmentionable: the mother/daughter relationship (another subject about which there was not a word in any of the libraries). If we were to change the repetitious pat...
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Book Description Simon & Schuster, 1991. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # mon0000167062
Book Description Simon & Schuster, 1991. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0671648446
Book Description Simon & Schuster, 1991. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0671648446
Book Description Simon & Schuster, 1991. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110671648446
Book Description Simon & Schuster, 1991. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Brand New!. Bookseller Inventory # VIB0671648446