Unlocking female desire
Sex therapist Jacqueline Hellyer doesn't hold back revealing the unsolicited details of her sexual fantasies to me, but then she does listen to other people's erotic desires for a living.
"One of my personal favourites is I'm the chief concubine in the Sultan's harem and he brings me out to dance for all of his guests and then one of them chooses me and takes me home. I find that an extraordinary turn on."
Disclosing their secret fantasies may still be taboo for many women but having a private fantasy life is completely normal and healthy, says Australia-based Hellyer.
"Women have always had fantasies but in the past they weren't necessarily allowed to express them," she says. "Women weren't supposed to be sexual. There was never the liberty for women to freely explore their sexuality and what that might mean. I don't think women have changed at all but I think they are now more able to be open."
In fact a study of heterosexual individuals by the University of Granada in Spain showed that there were not significant differences between men's and women's sexual fantasies with both sexes having intimate and romantic sexual fantasies involving their partner or loved one.
The move of erotic fiction towards the mainstream has enabled many women to express their sexual dreams. "It's partly because of the internet," says Hellyer. "Otherwise you had to go into the bookstore and buy the book and that was all a bit hush hush. Women have always read romance novels by the cartload, that was as close as it got to erotica for a lot of women," she explains. "The whole 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon happened because of the internet. Now women are more able to access some of this fantasy material and they are reading it, getting turned on and saying 'what are my other fantasies?'"
It is a subject British sex writer and author Emily Dubberley wants to explore in her forthcoming book, Garden of Desires - a collection of real life female fantasies. It marks the 40th anniversary of Nancy Friday's book on the female fantasy, My Secret Garden. Friday's controversial work, published in 1973, came at a time when many thought women did not have sexual fantasies at all and challenged the way people viewed female sexuality.
Dubberley is asking women to share their fantasies through an online survey and has already received some fascinating responses she says. "Women seem willing to share and are grateful. Some have no fantasies while some have a near constant secret life," she says. "Some want to share and others want to keep it private. The internet certainly helps as does the fact that we're existing in much more sexually open times nowadays. Sex and the City, 50 Shades and Game of Thrones have all helped increase sexual discussion."
She says the real finding of her research so far is how diverse women's fantasies are. "Most fantasies are radically different from each other and even two fantasies with a similar core for example, submission, can involve very different acts, motivations and inspirations," she says. "There are a handful of romantic locations and scenarios but group sex, lesbian sex (and straight sex for lesbian women) voyeurism and exhibitionism are more common so far as well as dominant and submissive fantasies."
People are very different and individual in their sexuality and eroticism agrees Hellyer. "I have women come to me the whole time asking whether or not they are normal," she says. "Everyone worries about whether they are normal because no-one has got any idea. No one talks about their sex life so they don't know know what other people are doing or whether their eroticism is okay or not."
What is important though, she says, is that women communicate what they like, what they don't like and what they want. "In terms of the actual fantasy, if you have fantasies and you want to communicate those with your partner, that's great, but you don't have to because you might have fantasies that your partner might not like or you might just like keeping them to yourself."
"There's also a myth that if you have a fantasy you want to make it a reality," she says. "If you get turned on by the thought of having sex with the entire footy club, you probably don't want to actually do that." In her case she says: "I wouldn't actually want to dance for a bunch of men and have one of them choose me and take me home. It's just a turn on but what it does do is it actually starts all the right hormones flowing. I often recommend to women and to couples that they read erotica to broaden their concept of what is possible sexually. The more a woman gets in touch with her eroticism, the more she can give herself permission to explore, be free, be open and communicate and ultimately what a women needs to do to really enjoy sex is to let go."
If you would like to take part in Dubberley's survey go to: www.dubberley.com/sex-fantasy-research/
Garden of Desires will be published in September by Black Lace Books