Nancy Friday, best-selling chronicler of women's fantasies, dies at 84

Nancy Friday, 84, died at her home in Manhattan.
Nancy Friday, 84, died at her home in Manhattan. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/NANCY FRIDAY

NEW YORK (WP) - Nancy Friday, whose top-selling books aimed to liberate women from embarrassment over their erotic fantasies, died on Sunday at her home in Manhattan.

She was 84. The cause was complications from Alzheimer's disease, said her friend Eric Krebs, who produced a theatrical adaptation of her 1973 debut, My Secret Garden.

Friday was living in London, penning sex and courtship columns for Cosmopolitan magazine, when she decided to follow in the footsteps of writers such as David Reuben and the pseudonymous J., whose 1969 sex manuals Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask) and The Sensuous Woman had become nightstand staples for millions of Americans.

Placing an anonymous advertisement in newspapers and magazines, she received hundreds of letters and conducted scores of interviews that formed the basis of My Secret Garden, a survey of female sexual fantasies.

The book sold more than two million copies and established Friday "as the liberator of the female libido", Newsday wrote. In the coming years she appeared as a frequent guest of talk-show hosts Bill Maher, Larry King, Tom Snyder and Oprah Winfrey, where her frank discussions of sexuality made her a progressive foil to many conservative commentators.

She developed as indelible an association with sexual fantasies as sex educator Betty Dodson maintained with masturbation, writing follow-up works of pop psychology that included Forbidden Flowers (1975); Men In Love (1980), about male fantasies; and the volumes Women On Top (1991) and Beyond My Control (2009), which charted the daydreams of younger generations.

But she also branched into new issues of gender and sexuality with My Mother/My Self (1977), a semi-autobiographical work in which she argued that women inherit many of their insecurities from their mothers; Jealousy (1985), a study of the emotion; and The Power Of Beauty (1996), which implored women to acknowledge the sway that looks can hold in their relationships.

While reception to her work slipped over the years, Friday maintained a reputation as a lively force of sexual liberation for decades. Yet she also maintained a strained relationship with women's movement leaders such as Gloria Steinem, whose publication Ms magazine excoriated Friday in a review of My Secret Garden.