Intimate sexual fantasies of Irish women laid 'Bare' in new book
Bare is a new book detailing the often-explicit sexual fantasies of over 100 Irish women. We spoke to some of the women involved about the reasons for the book
'I think a lot of people think women shouldn't talk about what goes on in our heads sexually. I've never had that conversation, not with friends, my sisters, anyone." So says Julianne Daly, editor of a new book, Bare, detailing the sexual fantasies of over 100 Irish women of various ages, from 18 to 60-odd. There are threesomes, plenty of bi-try, gang-bangs, BDSM, sex with strangers, sex with the 'forbidden', including priests, bosses, exes and friends' partners. Some of the sex is highly aggressive, deliberately anonymous, even faceless, and then some is deeply romantic, with husbands and partners as the object of lust. In general, these stories are more informed, explicit and demanding than you might expect from Irish women - if you make the mistake of thinking Irish women are still repressed and ignorant about sex.
"I have a friend, when I told him what the book was about, he said, 'Wouldn't fantasies about Daniel O'Donnell get a bit repetitive after a while?'" says Shawna Scott, 30, who has written the foreword to Bare. Originally from Seattle, Washington, Shawna is a blogger and owner of sexsiopa.ie, probably the country's most stylish sex shop, where she sells the kind of body-safe sleek, minimalist items in vibrant shades of orange, purple and cobalt blue that could easily be mistaken for kitchen implements or executive desk toys. It's this kind of attitude - ignorant, dismissive - that made Shawna so enthusiastic about being involved. "I think that goes to show how little we know about Irish women's sexual fantasies. I hope this will open the door a bit.
"I think it's incredibly important to do this. The reason is, we see men's fantasies represented everywhere - in advertising, TV, movies, the internet - everything is a representation of male fantasies. Rarely do we ask women, 'What is it that you fantasise about?' Especially Irish women. And Irish women are actually more liberal than we give them credit for," she insists. "Give them an opportunity and a safe space, and they will talk about this. I give talks around the country and I find that because I'm so open and frank about the subject, they feel more comfortable. I hope the book will be a source of great erotic stories that people can take away from and satisfy themselves with. That these stories will give people ideas for their own private cinema between their ears, but also act in a way that will open people's eyes to the fact that Irish women do have sexual fantasies."
In fact, she reckons that we are definitely "turning into a more open-minded and sexually curious nation. The people I tend to sell to are already sexually liberated, or they are open-minded newbies. I sell 50/50 to men and women, and what's interesting is that we do have this interesting double standard - if a woman buys a sex toy, she's sexually liberated. If a guy has a sex toy, he's seen as lonely and creepy. It's the one double standard that works against men."
Shawna hasn't contributed a fantasy to Bare herself - "I was too busy writing the foreword: next time!" - but wasn't surprised by any of the content when she read it. "In my line of work, you hear a lot of things," she says. So which of the stories really stood out for her? "There's a really short one about a girl who fantasises about her boyfriend using a sex toy on her, but says that in real life she would be too ashamed to ask. That made me feel so grateful that I feel comfortable and open enough that I can ask my partner for something like that. I hope the book will show that sexual fantasies come in a wide variety. Everyone likes different things, there's no 'normal' way to have sex, everyone does it differently, but everyone should have the confidence to ask for what they want."
Despite the recurring themes, the only thing the stories really have in common is that they are fantasy - many of the women top or tail their contributions by including a kind of disclaimer, along the lines of 'I can't believe I just wrote that . . . I'd never actually do it' - and anonymous. Indeed, Julianne Daly herself is using a pseudonym. "I do a lot of other work," she explains, when I ask why she decided to remain out of sight, "in a totally different genre, and I didn't want to take away from that. The way we are about sex in Ireland, it would just come up forever." So does she not feel that she is, in her own way, feeding the idea that there is something shameful about the book by choosing to be anonymous? "It's about the stories," she says, "not me. I don't think anyone cares that much who I am."
As a nation we are, she believes "still very sexually limited. We're better than our mother's era, and I'm not saying we should be out every night having sex with different people, but feeling sexually comfortable and liberated is good for our confidence. I would love to think that this book might help women start conversations with their partners that might lead to better sex. This book is an attempt to separate sex from seediness, take it out from the dark corners. Putting something like this out there makes it all far more normal."
That said, she admits that the women who contributed were, almost without exception, women who didn't know her. Her friends, when asked, declined en masse. Was she surprised by any of the material that was submitted? "There is huge diversity in the book. Some of the fantasies are warm and romantic, some are graphic, hardcore, even aggressive. At times, I had to consult my more sexually liberated friends, asking them, 'is that really a thing . . . ?' And they'd say 'oh yes . . . ', at which point I sometimes thought, 'Ok, I'm sorry I asked,'" she laughs.
There is an awful lot of oral sex and wanting to be dominated - presumably this is the market 50 Shades tapped into - a lot of sex in unexpected places, including a library and an airport car park, but only one genuinely odd fantasy. 'Amy', a bi-sexual woman in her 30s, fantasises about "the cartoonish idea of being flattened by a steamroller, a runaway rock or a cement block . . . the fantasy does not involve death or pain, but rather a miraculous transformation from 3D to 2D." Her piece is funny, sweet and remarkably original. But was there anything Julianne felt was too transgressive to include? "No. Although I had wondered. In Nancy Friday's book My Secret Garden - Bare isn't based on that, but it is something similar - there is a chapter on animals. I thought I might find that a bit hard to take, but in fact not one animal cropped up," she says. "The ones we did leave out, we left because they were too short, or just crude for crudeness's sake."
The publication of Bare taps into a growing call for more openness, even explicitness, around the idea of female sexuality, and women's ownership of their sexual responses. It's the same idea behind a Tumblr site called How To Make Me Come in which women discuss their experiences of sex and orgasm, based around the idea, "Imagine you could give this essay to a past or future sexual partner, free of judgement or repercussion. What would you want them to know?" In fact, many of the contributions are accounts of the selfishness that men bring to the bedroom; a world in which women are expected to perform sexually but not to make their own demands, like good little porn stars.
As Margaret Dunne, a psychotherapist specialising in psychosexual, fertility and relationship therapy, says of Bare, "Often women suppress their ability to fantasize sexually and this suppression can cause them to feel inhibited sexually and to curb their enthusiasm for sex. Not talking may be indicative of shame - shame of having fantasies of this nature."
And, of course, in an environment where women are afraid to talk, to name their desires, their wants, their limits, then an excessively male view of sex will continue to dominate - something that is not the fault of individual men, but the inevitable result of a one-sided conversation. As Shawna says, "if women can't freely and frankly discuss things, it's not just that they may not get what they want - they may end up in situations that they don't want to be in, because they don't know how to talk about this."
Within this broader context, Bare is not just a nicely-produced book giving a fascinating insight into the hidden desires of Irish women, it is also an important part of a conversation that is beginning to rumble along, louder at last.
Bare, Irish Women's Sexual Fantasies, edited by Julianne Daly is published by Liberties Press, €14.99