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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Sexual fantasies: Irish women 'Bare' all between the sheets

Published 20/09/2015 | 02:30

Between the sheets: A book of explicit sexual fantasies
Between the sheets: A book of explicit sexual fantasies
Erotic quote 1
Erotic Quote
Anne Sexton

A new book documents in great detail the erotic fantasies of Mná na hÉireann - including trysts with priests and gardaí. Is it a sign that we are now finally open about sex or do we still have inhibitions?

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As its anonymous author has noted, it is not the sort of book you would give to your mother-in-law for Christmas - unless you were very close. Bare is being billed as the first mainstream book to document the sexual fantasies of Irish women.

Some may be shocked, others excited, but perhaps the greatest surprise of all is that is has taken so long for such a volume to arrive.

The book, published by Liberties Press next month, was inspired by My Secret Garden, a similar volume of American female sexual fantasies published over four decades ago.

Nancy Friday enjoyed bestselling success with My Secret Garden, which has never gone out of print. It may be hard to imagine now, but back in 1973, there was a common misplaced perception that women passed through life without having sexual fantasies at all.

In the same month as My Secret Garden's release, the monthly magazine Cosmopolitan ran a feature with the opening line: "Women do not have sexual fantasies, period. Men do."

Thousands of letters and personal interviews confirmed to Nancy Friday and her readers that women have a wildly active sexual imagination, despite centuries of puritanical repression. Four decades on, readers of Bare will leap uncontrollably to the same conclusion.

The book documents, in explicit detail, fantasies about partners, their partners' best friends, their bosses, other women, their neighbours, GAA and threesomes. The imagined raunchy goings-on happen everywhere from airport car parks, hotels to libraries and swimming pools.

One woman, identified as Bubbles, tells of an encounter with her plumber, who lifts her up and undresses her. After they "make love passionately", one is left wondering if that leak was ever fixed.

There is an Irish twist to the book of erotic musings, and it is not just down to the fact that two of the fantasies submitted were written as Gaeilge - perhaps the greatest boost for the language this year.

While Friday relied on letters and interviews, the author of Bare invited submissions about innermost fantasies by email and in an online survey. Although first names are used and there are some personal details, the contributors are anonymous, and it is easy to understand why.

What would the parish priest make of Maev, a woman in her 50s in rural Ireland, when he becomes the object of her affections in one of the passages. In her fantasy about the cleric, she says: "Your awakened manhood presses against the lips of my sacred space..."

That kind of thing would only cause blushes at Mass if Maev could be easily identified.

There are definite implications for law and order in the imaginings of Jean Ní B, who fantasises about having sex with a member of An Garda Síochána after he takes her out in a squad car: "He puts the lights and sirens on and gets out of the car. He backs me on to the bonnet and spreads my legs."

What could neighbours do when that happens? They could hardly call the guards.

The GAA may find it comforting that even in the throes of ecstasy, at least one woman takes inspiration from our national games. Pamela's particular fantasy involves congratulating or consoling her lover after he has played a hurling match.

He says of his return after the match: "His gear bag drops with a thud to the ground… We move our post-match analysis to the couch. I untie his O'Neills tracksuit bottoms and take him in my mouth…"

The publication may be seen as another sign that we have thrown off the shackles of prudery and now have few inhibitions about sex.

Anne Sexton, the Hot Press sex columnist, believes that is certainly not the case.

"The fact that the author is anonymous shows that there is still a certain reluctance to discuss sex openly."

She herself does not always get a positive reaction when she tells people she writes about the topic. "People tend to write you off as a dumb airhead or a slapper."

Anne says there is a generational difference, and she believes women in their 20s are much more willing to talk about their experiences and their fantasies.

The new book collected 100 accounts of fantasies. About 40pc of the respondents were aged between 18 and 29, 35pc were in their 30s, 21pc in their 40s, and four of the fantasists including were over 50.

While 81pc of the contributors described themselves as heterosexual, 13pc are identified as bisexual and 5pc as lesbian.

Anne Sexton says not all men are comfortable with the idea that women are demanding sexual pleasure. "In some areas in the country, women can still get a reputation if they date more than two or three people, or if they do X, Y, or Z."

There is also a common assumption that generations of women in decades gone by were sexually repressed, and the topic was completely taboo.

"In the past, people were less open about their sexuality, but that does not mean they were not interested," says Anne Sexton. "They may have felt that they could not talk about it but that does not mean that they were sexually repressed."

In the Bishop and the Nightie affair on RTÉ, it is often noted how the Catholic Church went ballistic after a couple joked about what the bride was or was not wearing on her wedding night. The fact that the couple were confident enough to joke about it then shows how Catholic influence was ebbing.

The recent Modern Wife, Modern Life exhibition in Dublin showed through women's magazines that sexual discussion was not completely taboo at that time, despite the power of the Church.

An issue of Woman's Way in 1966 gives frank advice on sex to newlyweds: "It should be remembered that the bride requires more time to reach a climax…" And an agony aunt in the same publication asks innocently: "Can a girl get pregnant lovemaking in a car?"

It is likely that attitudes had changed since six years earlier when Edna O'Brien's The Country Girls was banned by the censorship board for its portrayal of the sexual awakening of the characters Baba and Kate. While the book was burned by a priest after the Rosary in O'Brien's native Clare, according to one account, it was read without a qualm in Dublin.

In the same year, Canon McCarthy of Maynooth warned that kissing was fraught with danger, and was at least venially sinful, because it might arouse "venereal pleasure".

He even branded internal vaginal tampons "morally suspect" and a "grave source of temptations". But how many women were even listening by the end of the decade?

There was a steady stream of banned books, magazines, condoms and other contraceptives into the country.

Even a century ago, at the tail-end of the Victorian era in the run-up to the Easter Rising, there was a sexually charged atmosphere despite the strictures of the Church.

In his book, Vivid Faces, the historian Roy Foster tells how young women enjoyed Irish language summer schools, partly because it offered opportunities for romance and sex. A diary by Cesca Trench about Gaelic college on Achill Island recalls "swimming, flirting, (and) sleeping out of doors wrapped in cloaks".

Piaras Béaslaí, the leading IRA man and Sinn Féin MP, recalled how at Irish college in Cork, the local priest's sister Bridie Fitzgerald sneaked into his bed every night, and returned every morning before he got up.

In publishing its volume on Irish Women's Sexual Fantasies, Liberties Press no doubt has its eye on sales of the Fifty Shades of Grey series of novels, which now stand at around 500,000 in Ireland. Since the soft core sadomasochistic erotic novels, sales of handcuffs have risen by 60pc, and very little of this is attributed to improvements in law enforcement.

Anne Sexton has mixed feelings about the Fifty Shades phenomenon. "As a lover of books, I'd have to say they are appallingly written and I don't think submissive fantasies are as widespread as was made out. But at least the books got people talking about sex."

The anonymous author of Bare, who writes using the pen name Julianne Daly, says in the introduction: "We hope that by bringing together sexual fantasies of Irish women, we can start a conversation about sex, and how women in this country think about it."

If he were alive today, what would Canon McCarthy of Maynooth make of these women regaling the public with their orgasmic fantasies. He would probably have them arrested, but judging by some of the submission, they might enjoy being handcuffed.

Bare - Irish Women's Sexual Fantasies is published by Liberties Press on October 2

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