Why you should care
E.L. James who? She’s got nothing on Nancy Friday’s groundbreaking fantasy collection.
Decades before fantasy football, 40-year-old author Nancy Friday started her first book with her own football fantasy: a lurid description of a happenstance encounter with another fan under a blanket in a freezing stadium filled with a roaring crowd as legendary Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas storms the field toward the end zone, the blanket-bound horseplay escalating to a frenzied peak as Johnny U. breaks the goal line.
‘Thank God you wrote that book,’ one woman after another wrote. ‘I thought I was the only one.’
In a world increasingly rife with sexually charged, female-authored works — from HBO’s Girls to the top-selling Fifty Shades series — it’s hard to believe that not so long ago, the existence of a woman’s private sex life was a debatable proposition. That is until 1973, when Nancy Friday’s unabashedly erotic tome My Secret Garden forever transformed the unmentionable “prurient interests” of women into a legitimate female interest in the prurient.
My Secret Garden wasn’t a novel, and it wasn’t a Kinsey-esque report; it was, without question, the first of its type and remains one-of-a-kind. Beginning with her Unitas fantasy, Friday went on to compile the fantasies of other women (identified only by their first name), allowing them to speak in their own voices about their untold sexual mind games, the steamy nature of which make Fifty Shades read like Good Housekeeping.
“I was always more interested in boys than other girls were,” Friday told People magazine in 1980. “When I was growing up, men occupied my dreams night and day.”From a frustrated wife looking for “a quick dose of eroticism that would carry me through” her husband’s all-too-brief performances to more elaborate fantasies involving animals and groups of men, the book revealed women’s inner sexual lives for the first time — even in the wake of the pill and the sexual revolution of the 1960s. The book shattered widely held assumptions that women, unlike men, did not engage in such impure pastimes.
Friday had the ultimate girl-next-door background. Wholesome, upper-middle class, she was a Wellesley grad whose wedding had been featured in Cosmopolitan. This made her the ideal messenger for normalizing female fantasizing. Through Secret Garden and her later writings, including the best seller Women on Top, Friday hoped that women could enjoy being their true selves, free themselves of shame and inhibition and feel emboldened to open up to lovers about their sexual fantasies.
Friday’s good intentions did not make My Secret Garden any less controversial, and she was lambasted by everyone from feminists to sex researchers. Today, though, it is widely heralded as a landmark in sex education.
“Nancy Friday did far more than write a book: She helped open up a whole new area of discussion about female solo sexuality,” says Emily Dubberley, the editor of the online erotica site Cliterati who is compiling a modern bank of female fantasies in honor of My Secret Garden’s 40th anniversary. Perhaps the greatest tribute to the work’s impact lies in the thousands of letters Friday received from grateful women all over the world. “Thank God you wrote that book,” one woman after another wrote. “I thought I was the only one.”