There’s an ideal in our culture that sex ought to be viewed as something beautiful, wonderful, even¦magical. And yet, we also treat it as an act so filthy we dare not speak of it in polite society.
With these conflicting messages, is it any wonder that we have such a terrible time cultivating healthy attitudes about sex?
As a writer of erotic fiction, I see this dichotomy particularly reflected in our language itself. English is one of the most vocabulary-rich languages in history. It is notorious for borrowing freely from any other language it wishes. So if I want to express the beauty and elegance of human sexuality, English should be the perfect literary medium to use. Right?
We have a wealth of words we use to talk about sex, but almost none of them are “pretty. Most are derogatory, clinical, crass slang, and profanity. Others are simply absurd or infantile. There’s a reason we speak of “talking dirty when we mean using sexually explicit language. It is almost impossible to speak explicitly and beautifully. The words don’t exist.
For example, if I want to write a lyrical, explicit sex scene and I need to refer to a woman’s vagina, what are my choices? “Vagina seems too clinical. According to the Online Slang Dictionary, I have about eighty other potential terms. Here are some of the more outrageous candidates:
- Hatchet wound (nothing like a violent, ugly image to remind us of the beauty of the female body, right?)
- Beef curtain (Note to Bear, my darling, you ever use this one, and the night will end. Right. There.)
- Hair pie (Oh. My. That’s…romantic. See above note.)
- Pink velvet sausage wallet (Seriously?)
- Man-in-the-boat (The feminist in me is extremely annoyed that we can’t even find a way to refer to a woman’s genitals without referencing a man.)
Then we have the infantile ones: pussy, kitty, coochie, hoo-hoo (I recently got an advertisement [Not from Good Vibrations] that was offering a product so you wouldn’t have to “touch your hoo-hoo.” Great, let’s be juvenile AND convey the message that a woman’s vagina is offensive…even to herself!)
And then there’s the more offensive\'”cunt topping the list.
About the only word I could find that might fit the bill is “quim, but to me, it seems oddly archaic. Maybe I’m mentally combining the words “quaint and “prim to make the word.
It’s not any easier to write about the men, either. While there are at least as many terms for “penis as there are for “vagina, we run into several of the same problems.
- Salami (Ew. Just ew.)
- Bald-headed yogurt slinger (Who the hell came up with that one?)
- Long Dong Silver (I dare you to use this in the heat of the moment and keep a straight face.)
- Pink tractor beam (What the¦ Nah, I don’t even want to know.)
And it seems there are even more babyish words for “penis than there are for “vagina: wankie, wee-wee, willy, winky, ding-dong, dinky¦what are we\’three year olds in preschool?
Of course, we have the more profane words as well, such as “dick and “prick.
And then there are a whole slew of ego-boosting terms\’a category that doesn’t really have an equivalent on the women’s side (which is a study all its own\’what does it say about our view of women when slang for our female genitalia references violence and male usage, while slang for men’s parts references power and pleasure?):
- Love stick
- Love shaft
- Master of ceremonies
- Man muscle
- Love muscle
Out of all the terms I’ve found, it seems the least offensive or silly is “cock. Some writers simply use “length or “shaft which also works, but is edging into euphemism territory.
Speaking of, what romance writers in the past have done is use euphemisms to get around the deficit of good, explicit sex words. But as time went on, even those wore thin, and we ended up with such literary travesties as “purple-headed warrior of love.
To correct this, many erotica writers have simply embraced the crassness of slang, and while the resulting scenes are explicit, they lack grace and beauty. There’s just no elegance to “he shoved his hard dick into her dripping wet pussy.
Not that all erotica needs to be beautiful, but if we want to convey that sex can be beautiful, it’s quite difficult to do when our very language is undermining that idea.
Language is like a mirror in that it both reveals how a society thinks and guides that thinking. The lack of beauty in our sex vocabulary indicates that our culture ultimately views sex as ugly and dirty. But it also serves to reinforce that belief and make it harder to change our views because we cannot speak of even our own sexual organs without being either clinical or crass or absurd. Erotica is often referred to as “smut, “trash, or “filth\’because, as our language reveals, that is what our culture truly believes about sex.
I am not denying that there is a certain illicit thrill that comes from using language that is considered taboo. Crassness and slang have their place\’I would be the first to recognize how useful a well-placed f-bomb can be. And it is certainly true that “talking dirty is an effective turn-on for many people.
However, if our goal is to promote a positive view of sex as a good and beautiful act, we will have a hard time doing it when not even the language cooperates. I don’t know what the answer to that is. I’m sorely tempted to start making up my own words to fill in this lamentable gap. I think both penis-owners and vagina-owners deserve beautiful words for their most private parts.
But in the meantime, what we can do is be aware of the role language plays in shaping our mindsets. If we want to show sex is beautiful, we must find ways to think in terms of that beauty and somehow find the words to express it. The good news is that the English language is famous for its ability to bend and reshape itself to fit how its speakers use it. It is always changing. So as we continue to change our beliefs about sex, the more we will invent clever and positive ways to talk about it.
No one-eyed snakes or bearded oysters needed.