My Secret Garden —Thank you, Nancy Friday

I have a bit of an encyclopedic memory regarding my exposure to sex-related books. I know, it’s a gift. But few books have been as memorable or as pivotal in my sex education trajectory as Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden.

But first, a little background.

My exposure to books concerning sex and sexuality began at home, with my parents presenting me with “Where Did I Come From?”, a cartoon-style book describing how babies are made. It is classic, humorous and succinct and I still recommend it to parents who take my “Prepared Parents, Confident Kids: Talking with your kids about sex and sexuality” workshop.

But the real start of my exposure to sex-related books began in my elementary school library. (Wow, that would be a horrible pull quote.) In third grade, my friend M called me over during reading time to show me a book about babies and toddlers. There was a photograph of a little boy, about 5 years old, standing naked in the bathtub. I suspect that in today’s school climate, a book like that would be long gone, designated to be, at the very least, “inappropriate,” or quite possibly, “pornographic.” It was neither.

For the rest of that school year, during “free read” she would find the book on the shelf, and call me over so we could gawk at it for a while. (As you will soon see, my friend M would prove to be a questionable influence all through school.) Knowing that we were doing this in the school library likely made it of particular interest. The librarian never noticed, perhaps because she was older than time, or perhaps she was just glad to have kids enthusiastic about reading.

M also took great glee in showing me her parents’ copy of the Joy of Sex which she had discovered by rummaging through their nightstand (questionable behavior #2). Though it was dated even when I was looking at it in the early 1980's, it was still by far the most interesting book I had ever seen. My family was and is liberal when it comes to talking about sex, but getting to SEE these people and things in action — even with all of the hippie hair (all kinds) in the illustrations — was grand. I purchased my own copy in college, made annotations, and highlighted certain sections before handing it to my then-boyfriend to read. Unfortunately, while it didn’t help us much, I do know it was passed around their townhouse so perhaps it was edifying to someone.

Tangentially related, but included here largely as a third piece of evidence of M’s questionable influence, she invited me to her church group “lock in” social, where they let a bunch of 9th graders spend the night in the church. I think there was an adult on site, but they must have figured, “What could go wrong with a bunch of kids in a church? They’re locked in, after all.” Anyhow, M sneaked in a two liter of Sun Country Wine Cooler (yellow label). I drank some, but she got ripped and spent the bulk of the lock in trying to hook up with J, a boy she’d been lusting after for a while. Of course, J was horrified that she was drunk at a church lock in and wanted nothing to do with her. So there’s that.

Anyhow…back to the book that inspired this article. My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday.

It was a used bookstore (Mac’s Backs) that had it proudly displayed in the Feminism section, a section to which I was profoundly drawn in high school. The cover was titillating and I am sad that the covers on later editions are so much more “soft-core” stylized.

This was the cover on my first copy.

The second I cracked it open, I was hooked. The book is a collection of women’s fantasies sent in anonymously to the Nancy Friday, a fellow Seven Sisters graduate, first published in the early ’70s. Though such a book would barely raise an eyebrow now, the fact that women on the cusp of the sexual revolution (a term worthy of dissection, but that’s a discussion for another day) were finally giving voice to their fantasies and realizing they were not alone! And to a high schooler who had previously had to make do with Danielle Steel, it was a revelation.

Tales of spanking and discipline, public sex, anonymous sex and more, all written by women who had been keeping these fantasies to themselves, often believing that they were bad or wrong for having such thoughts, all put together in one collection. I found it empowering at a time when I suspect the groundwork for sexual shame was being laid for many teenage girls. Excellent timing.

The fantasies were also arousing, and as a result of My Secret Garden, I became aware of a whole new section at the bookstore: Erotica. You may (not) be surprised to learn that a young woman browsing in such a section attracts an interesting cross section of individuals. But that, too, is a topic for another day.

I have no idea what happened to my copy. I can only hope that the person to whom I lent it has made good use of it, and that she (or he) has derived inspiration and pleasure from its contents. If you have never seen it, check it out. Timeless and groundbreaking, consider this a belated thank you to Nancy Friday.