I read voraciously. Yet while I am always looking ahead to the next book I always finish the one I’m on with a hint of regret. It was hard to put the novel I was reading recently back on its shelf as I had grown to like the main protagonist and saying goodbye to her was hard. On the other hand I could not wait to finish the other book I have been reading recently. I read it in the bath, read it on the bus, read it on the exercise bike at the gym. This was not because I disliked it, quite the opposite. I was desperate to absorb it, enjoy its treasures and out it down to reflect on what it all meant. This is a book you may well be reading. It is The Garden of Desires by Emily Dubberley.
In fact it is a book written by every one of those (including me) who responded to the invitation to complete a questionnaire and shared their sexual fantasies. It is not a dry scientific study but a wonderful journey into worlds of sexual imagination I was hardly aware of.
The fantasies are grouped by the various types into which they could be categorised. Clearly some crossed boundaries but some kind of categorisation was needed and the one adopted seems reasonable. It was striking to me how many fantasies, across all categories, involved activities that are usually associated with kink or BDSM. A few hoary myths are nailed along the way too. Fantasy and reality overlap but not all women want to live out all their fantasies and no woman really wants to be raped.
I was amazed at the sheer variety of the fantasies and relieved too, that my fantasies did not seem out of place, and that I was not alone in feeling, or having felt shame. If reading the Garden of Desires has taught me anything it is that I am normal and have nothing to be ashamed about. That is a very liberating feeling not least because one of the messages of the book is how much women’s sexuality has been constrained by societal norms, conditioning, shaming. It continues to be as we enter a neo-Puritan age where even some feminists are seeking to invoke the power of the state to control women and slut shaming is rife. I was shocked to read about the vile abuse that Emily experienced when the Cliterati website was launched in the not so Victorian era of 2001.
The final chapter is a call to arms to women to fight for their sexual freedom against the puritans. Whether you are straight, bi, lesbian, trans, sub, domme, sex worker, or whatever, you must be free to express yourself sexually however you want. The only restraint should be the need for consent. The battle for sexual freedom is inherently political and part, but a necessary part, of a wider struggle for freedom and equality. It is a struggle that I rather think it might be fun to fight. .
Men, too, should read this book. Our freedom is also your freedom and in any case women’s sexuality is a store of delights that might be available to you too if you put your patriarchal prejudices aside and ask nicely!