“Let’s Talk About Sex” or “Erotic Vocabulary”

The following guest post was written by Nobilis Reed. His commentary about the vocabulary of erotica offers a fascinating overview of both the limitations of the English language and the adaptability of writers faced with those limitations. One of my favorite topics is words about words–Reed’s post fits the bill, and then some. Read on, enjoy, and tell us what you think.

By Nobilis Reed

The English language is an artifact. People made it, and it bears the tool-marks left by the societies that shaped it. At the same time, language shapes the minds of those who speak it, normalizing thoughts and desires along the channels through which the language already flows.

 One of the places this concept is most readily apparent is in the words we use for sex, sexual organs, and sexual functions. Because of the lingering effects of Victorian morals our words for sex are either vulgar or juvenile. The only time we can speak seriously of such things, we borrow from foreign languages, creating obscure clinical terms. For example, words for the female genitals include “cunt,” vulgar; “vajay-jay,” juvenile; “vulva,” borrowed from Latin; and “yoni,” borrowed from Sanskrit. Other words generally fall easily into these three categories. This presents a hurdle for the writer of erotica, if the writer’s description of sex is to be something other than vulgar, juvenile, or clinical.

One means to overcome this problem has been to use vague terms to create a sexual vocabulary. For example, the word “member” is a synonym for “body part,” from which we get the word “dismember.” In a romance novel, however, if you read about a man’s member, you will understand that it refers, very specifically, to his penis, in every instance.

Another strategy has been to adapt vulgarisms to gentler uses, by putting them into a context of tenderness. The word “cock” is generally considered a dirty word, but if properly prepared and used like a whispered endearment, the word can take on a different connotation. It is as if the word alchemically absorbs the essence of the words surrounding it.  This must be subtly done, to be effective; it’s not generally possible to set the tone in just a sentence or two, or the ordinarily profane words can be jarring. Imagine that the scene has been set; a couple in repose, cuddling on a sofa, two nearly-empty glasses of wine on the table beside them. His shirt is unbuttoned, and her hand is on the skin of his chest. She begins to unbuckle his belt.

“Is there something you want?” he asks, eyes sparkling in the light from the fireplace.

 “Yes,” she says.  Her voice is lower than even the gentle crackle of the embers.  She slips her hand under the elastic of his boxers, and her fingers run along the shaft of his cock.  “This.”

In the long run, as we give ourselves permission, as a culture, to talk about sex in contexts other than the gutter, the playground, and the doctor’s office, we will invent or adapt words to those new contexts.  The culture changes, and language changes to follow. Writers and other crafters of language will have a strong influence on how this process moves forward.

A few years ago Nobilis Reed decided to start sharing the naughty little stories he scribbled out in hidden notebooks.  To his surprise, people actually liked them!  Now, he can’t stop.  The poor man is addicted.  His wife, teenage children, and even the cats just look on this wretch of a man, hunched over his computer and shake their heads.

Clearly, there is no hope for him.  The best that can be hoped for is to just make him as comfortable as his condition will allow. Symptoms of his condition include a novel, several novellas, numerous short stories, and the longest-running erotica podcast in the history of the world.



Filed under Words

7 responses to ““Let’s Talk About Sex” or “Erotic Vocabulary”

  1. Very interesting topic. I was honored to hear a lecture by Dr. Michel Odent a few years ago on a similar topic. He spoke eloquently about how the terms used for female body parts and reproductive functions tend to imply that things are broken, working improperly or only have value in reference to males. Vagina, for instance, comes from the Latin word for sheath. An early miscarriage (again, a word suggesting something broken) may be caused by a blighted ovum. Hmmm. Blight sounds pretty bad, when in actuality, that early loss could have been caused by any number of issues that may or may not have had anything to do with the egg. How much power words convey! It is no wonder many women today have little faith in their bodies. Perhaps coming up with new words through fiction can help resolve this long-standing problem of terminology. 🙂

  2. j

    Funny truth. I once took a poll of writers I knew to see if they would write orgasm, come or cum in a non-erotic story. I agonized over the scene (which was not even all that explicit) and woke up at night afraid THIS would be the story my dad decided to read.

    Sometimes it’s more complicated than word choice! (Love this post. And your whole wordy blog, Jessica.)

  3. Pingback: Nobilis Erotica | Guest Blog Posts

  4. http://1lovelife.blogspot.com/
    I love this article because it begins to address the fact that some writers are still squeamish about using words that evoke a bad reaction.

    Naturally there is a time and a place and as the post above suggests the actual words can be too harsh in some texts.

    Personally I have never understood why people are so embarrassed about using the correct terminology and end up using daft things like ‘foo-foo,’ whilst funny in some situations (& perfectly acceptabel with very young children) it could be disastrous in others. Especially if we forget to update children as they become teenagers and young adults.

    I wonder if we all got a little braver, if we could change things here?

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