Sexual Fantasies

Talk about your unusual suspects.  Acting on a complaint made to a radio call-in show, the Winnipeg police are cracking down on that shadowy criminal  organization, the public library system.  They have threatened charges of distributing pornography unless the library removes all copies of a six-year-old bestseller.  Does the state have any place in the bookstacks of the nation?

The book in question is called Women On Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Sexual Fantasies.  It was written by Nancy Friday, except that “written” is probably the wrong word.  Friday doesn’t so much write her books as assemble them.  Basically, she solicits readers’ contributions on racy topics, organizes them into chapters, adds nuggets of her own extraneous commentary and — Bob’s your uncle — instant bestseller.

Friday’s made quite a career of this.  Her first volume was My Secret Garden, a soft-core anthology of women’s sexual reveries.  That was followed in the mid-80s by Men in Love, a somewhat more raunchy compendium of men’s sexual fantasies.  Then, in 1991, came Women On Top, in which she revisited the territory of My Secret Garden, purporting to discover that in the intervening years women’s fantasies have taken on a harder edge.

So what’s got the Winnipeg vice squad all hot and bothered?  Surely it can’t be that the public library carries copies of — gasp! — a book about sex.  I don’t know how many books about sex the Winnipeg public library carries, but I punched the word “sex” into the computerized listings of the Carleton University library.  There are exactly 250 titles.  That’s not counting books listed under headings like “pornography,” “erotica,” “sexual fantasies,” “sexual deviance,” “phallicism,” and so on.  If the police are keen to purge the nation’s libraries of naughty words, they’ve got a lot of reading ahead of them.

But no, it’s not just that Women On Top is about sex.  It’s that it contains accounts of verboten sex.  In at least one of the contributions, a woman teacher confesses to a fantasy about spanking one of her adolescent male pupils — not only violent sex, but violent sex with a minor.

So, by the letter of the law, Women On Top probably is obscene.  But by the same token, so are many of those learned volumes in the Carleton University library.  Here’s a true story: years ago I was on a panel at an academic conference in Toronto.  There were exactly seven people in the audience.  Why?  Because at precisely the same time, just across the hall in a lecture theatre packed to the rafters, a sociologist named Gini Graham Scott was giving a slide presentation on her new book Dominant Women, Submissive Men.

By strict interpretation of Canadian pornography law, that book is clearly obscene.  It’s an account of nothing but sex with violence. And yet there it is in the electronic listings of the Carleton University library, call number HQ21.S34.  I mention this just to be helpful in case the police would like to lay charges.  Because prosecuting libraries for carrying books about sex is a lot like eating pistachios — you can’t stop at just one.eg

CBC Radio May 22, 1997