Gillian Anderson played a sex therapist. Now she wants your intimate secrets

Good luck – and I mean it sincerely – to Gillian Anderson, who is about to write a sequel to one of the greatest books of all time. Not great in the literary sense. Not academically or scientifically excellent either. And yet My secret garden — a collection of female sexual fantasies compiled by the late journalist Nancy Friday and first published exactly half a century ago — is among that flat pile of books that can truly be said to have transformed our understanding of human nature.

1973, shortly before My secret garden came out, Cosmopolitan ran an article stating, “Women don’t have sexual fantasies, period. Men do.” Despite second-wave feminism and the invention of the pill, the idea that women could have their own erotic feelings — not just decent responses to male desire — hardly seemed plausible. Not least because the women themselves have never talked about it.

Gillian Anderson, right, revisits Nancy Friday's My Secret Garden.

Gillian Anderson, right, revisits Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden.Credit:

And then Friday came along with her collection of amazingly candid confessions (she had placed a newspaper ad for posts promising anonymity) and opened up a hidden universe. The chapter headings alone are so outrageous that to modern ears they seem to scream out for a trigger warning: “Insatiability”, “Rape”, “The Zoo”. It turned out that there were no limits to the transgression of the female imagination.

That was Friday’s gift to women: to show us we weren’t the only ones being weird. That was actually normal. No matter how crazy your own imagination was, someone, somewhere, had come up with something worse. The testimonials were often clumsily written, apologetic, or apprehensive (“Do you think it’s all because of lesbian tendencies?”), but this only reinforced the sense of sisterly approval.

Throughout the book, Friday assured her audience that fantasies, like dreams, are inventions of the subconscious and are therefore totally beyond our control. Don’t blame them and don’t draw conclusions from them. Imagination is a vast expanse to roam freely in, and whatever you find there need not define you.

Gillian Anderson with Asa Butterfield in sex education.

Gillian Anderson with Asa Butterfield in sex education.Credit:Sam Taylor/Netflix


However, she believed that sexual fantasies were shaped by the mores of the time. Rape, for example, is a recurring theme – not because women secretly want it, but because they are so ashamed to even want sex. The “he made me do it” fantasy was a way of escaping centuries of female guilt. “Ideas like this, ingrained so deeply in the mind no matter what the body is doing, will take another generation to grow out.”

Whether subsequent generations have actually outgrown them remains to be seen. Gillian Anderson – who got the idea to repeat Friday’s book after playing a sex therapist on the Netflix show sex education — has launched a call for submissions from “all of you who identify as women: queer, straight and bisexual, non-binary, transgender, polyamorous — all of you, old and young.” Gillian Anderson played a sex therapist. Now she wants your intimate secrets

Jaclyn Diaz

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