Nancy Friday died last Sunday.
I never met her, and I haven’t even read all of her books, but I do have to acknowledge her influence on my life, my views and my writing career.
I discovered her work when I was about 16, and had the slightly naughty habit of haunting bookshops and reading the books without buying them. (Yes, sorry.) My Secret Garden was one I frequently hunted out and dipped into. To a relatively sheltered and still virginal teenager, in the early 80s, this was mindblowing stuff. Even in my fantasies, I hadn’t really got beyond snogging, and here were all these women, real women, talking about sex with total strangers, spanking, anal, oral and all kinds of things that I didn’t really understand, but wanted to know more about.
Later on, I probably bought my own copy of the book and, quite a bit later on, I started working for top-shelf magazines and learning more about the huge variety of sexual fantasies and turn-ons that people can have, a lot by way of the letters pages. At some point in the early 90s, I wrote a piece in Forum magazine about which ten sexy books I would want to take to a desert island. I included Friday’s first bestseller and, to my great delight, a subsequent printing of the paperback quoted me on the back cover. I think the key phrase was ‘Erotica doesn’t come much more diverse than this’. There were certainly acts and urges related to Friday that you might not even get away with now, if you included them in anything labelled or marketed as erotic fiction: probably the fact that the stories were a) fantasies and, more importantly, b) collected and discussed by a ‘respectable’ academic helped her and her publishers stay in print and out of jail.
Nancy Friday went on to collect further sexual fantasies, and to publish them with analyses of how much the changing social and cultural environment affected what people got wet/hard/sticky over, and how they approached their own imaginings. She dealt mainly with women’s desires (Women On Top, Forbidden Flowers), though she did publish Men In Love and work on other subjects. As is always the way for those of us who write openly about sex, and specifically about women’s erotic autonomy and diverse desires, she got her share of criticism as well as huge acclaim.
Now, when we have masses of porn, explosions of erotic fiction, and enough sex bloggers to compete for a place in the annual top 100, it’s possibly harder to appreciate how utterly groundbreaking her work was. There’s a certain raw authenticity that seems to be rarer these days: her collections always read as if she did the bare minimum of editing to allow each anonymous contributor’s own voice to shine through. It’s well worth checking out at least one volume, if sex, sexuality and fantasy are of interest to you.