JANET STREET-PORTER: Gillian Anderson, you’re too smart to be a sex guru

Gillian Anderson is a talented actress who has won awards for her roles as Maggie Thatcher in The Crown and secret agent Dana Scully in 11 seasons of the X-Files. Now, she wants women to send her their secret sexual fantasies so they can be turned into a book which will be called Dear Gillian.

According to Anderson, ‘sex is more than just sex, but so many of us just don’t talk about it’. I would have thought the opposite: we can’t STOP talking about our sex lives. It’s everywhere, online, in countless problem pages, every TV drama has to feature bonking even if it’s about bees. Sexual activity (or the lack of it, or the wrong sort) is a major obsession in the 21st century. And all it does is lead to anxiety and frustration.

Fifty years ago, the floodgates were opened with the publication of Nancy Friday’s ground-breaking study The Secret Garden in 1973. Previously, Cosmopolitan magazine had ruled that men had fantasies about sex – and women didn’t. The Secret Garden was a revelation, cataloguing the unedited secret dreams of anonymous American women. Rape, submission, even bestiality all figured. There were cheers from feminists and outrage elsewhere.

Three years later Shere Hite wrote the highly regarded Hite Report on sexology, but the Secret Garden was a game-changer in the world of sexual politics. Women had voiced their private thoughts and desires without fear of reprisal and many men felt terrified, threatened and certainly confused.

Gillian Anderson has unveiled plans to compile a new book based entirely on the explicit sexual fantasies of women across the world 

Sadly, the fallout from Secret Garden has been both good – liberating by giving ordinary women a voice – and bad. You could argue that the end result – the proliferation of on-line porn which routinely acts out some of the Secret Garden fantasies, has not been at all helpful to women. And it’s produced characters like Andrew Tate, who have made a fortune and gathered millions of followers signing up to his credo that women must be slaves and second-best in a relationship. The damage to our young people is incalculable: a recent report by the UK Children’s Commissioners says that by the age of 13, almost half of 13-year-olds have viewed pornography, usually on their phones. And over four in ten 16 to 21-year-olds believe that girls enjoy being slapped and strangled during sex.

Women will always have fantasies about sex, and so will men. Fifty years on from Secret Garden, and with the ease of access to online porn, the result has been an explosion of unwanted sexual aggression, mostly by men towards women. This has led to online initiatives like the MeToo campaign for survivors of sexual violence, which followed the horrific allegations (mostly proved in court) surrounding film producer Harvey Weinstein’s revolting treatment of female actresses and staff members.

In the UK, the website Everyone’s Invited was set up in 2020 following the publication of Soma Sara’s own experiences of sexual abuse. Watching the BBC drama I May Destroy you which brutally exposed date-rape, Soma invited other women to share their own experiences of sexual aggression. Thousands responded. Now, her organisation runs education programmes in schools and universities to try to combat the rape culture online which dominates so many young men’s lives. Following the death of Sarah Everard in March 2021, thousands of women took to the streets to protest at sexual aggression they neither seek nor encourage.

In this febrile atmosphere, is the time right for women to drop Gillian a line and tell her we secretly might fantasise about being tied up, raped, or spanked?

The actress has been inspired to collect the deepest and most personal erotic thoughts of her female contemporaries after taking a starring role in Sex Education

The actress has been inspired to collect the deepest and most personal erotic thoughts of her female contemporaries after taking a starring role in Sex Education 

One thing is true, you can’t control what you are going to fantasise about before or during sex. Your mind is out of control when your body is experiencing extreme pleasure and fantasies appear out of nowhere. Handing over our secrets for a book which will be heavily promoted by the publishers (Bloomsbury) with Gillian Anderson’s name in huge letters on the front would be a dumb idea.

It’s delivering more material to the haters and the abusers.

It’s no more than a vanity project, another example of an actress mistakenly believing that the fictional character she inhabits so successfully on screen equips her to dish out advice and become a professional in another field.

As an actress, Anderson has been honoured and recognised as one of the best. On stage, she’s played Blanche Dubois in a Streetcar Named Desire to rave reviews. In series 4 of The Crown, who could forget her chilling portrayal of Maggie Thatcher? She’s played the Duchess of Windsor and Miss Haversham in Dickens’ Great Expectations. More controversially, her portrayal of Detective Superintendent Gibson, hunting the Belfast stranger in three series of the Fall, was hard to take seriously.

For all the excellent script and performances (Jamie Dornan who played Paul Spector, the serial killer was said not to get on with Anderson), Anderson’s seductive clothing (the white silky blouses) seemed a bit too cliched. Was the director channelling Sharon Stone in Naked Attraction? Anderson’s wardrobe seemed to be far too glamorous for the role, and her obsession with the killer verged on creepy.

In the Fox TV series Hannibal, Anderson was cast as Lecter’s psychiatrist Dr Bedelia Du Maurier. Since 2019 Anderson has played sex therapist Jean Milburn in three Netflix series of Sex Education (series 4 is expected to air this summer), and once revealed that she had been in therapy since her early twenties. So it’s not suprising that the female mind is of huge interest to this intelligent woman.

She’s written several books in the past, but they’ve been co-authored. A sci-fi trilogy entitled the Earthend Saga was published between 2015-16, written with Jeff Roon. An obvious attempt to trade on the huge success of X-Files, the book – whose central character was a single mum (like Gillian) and a child psychologist – was well received by sci-fi fans, although one complained that volume 3- entitled The Sound of the Seasons ‘was perhaps written too much on planes when GA was tired’.

Following her excursion into fiction, Gillian co-authored a well-received self-help book for women (with Jennifer Nadel) entitled WE: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere’. Her feminist credentials are impeccable – she fought and won equal pay with her X-files co-star David Duchovny, after a very public battle with the Fox Network and she was the first woman to write and direct an episode of the show.

She’s said in an interview ‘I have feminist bones’ and revealed she’d read Secret Garden to prepare for her role in Sex Education.

But that book was written back in the day when men knew so little about what women were thinking. Now, they know too much. Or rather, they think they do.

Don’t hand them any more material, Gillian. If you value the sisterhood, give back the cash and forget about being a sex guru. You are too smart.

Anderson plays uninhibited sex therapist Jean Milburn in the show

Anderson plays uninhibited sex therapist Jean Milburn in the show

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