by Raelene Gorlinsky
Gather thirty-five women, all fanatical readers of erotic romance, and ask them about "the words". That's what we did in a workshop at last year's RomantiCon convention. We asked what sex-related terms turned them on or off. Of course there was no unanimous vote - everyone's preferences differed. But here are the things that were very consistent.
Talking about HIM (yes, that part of him): Cock, penis and erection were preferred (and are what is most common in books). Dick, his sex, balls, sac were all fine with most. The women generally said that they felt a female character would not refer to a man's testicles as his nuts, but that male characters could realistically do so. No silly or "fruit" terms for the penis, nothing that sounded like teenage boys.
Talking about HER (up top): "Why not just call them breasts?" was the general consensus. But tits was okay with many of the women, as long as not used in a nasty or derogatory manner. They thought female characters could use fun terms like "the girls" or "the twins", but that it wasn't believable to have men say that. (We've all been influenced by the TV show What Not To Wear, I guess.) Definite NO on jugs, boobies, bubbies.
And down there on HER: The group was divided on cunt, although it seems to have become much more acceptable than it was five or ten years ago, possibly because it is used more in erotic romances now and everyone's gotten used to it. (As a description of the female genitals - it was NOT acceptable, was considered a nasty insult, if used to refer to a woman herself.) Pussy was fine. In historicals, quim or cunny (but everyone was clear that those would sound really odd and fake in a contemporary story). No one liked the abbreviation "vaj"; most were fine with just vagina, although a few commented that it could come across as sounding too clinical and cold. Va-jay-jay or any other silly words like that were generally put down. Absolute no-nos were hole or gaping hole. Several mentioned that hole was fine when referring to anal sex, but not to the vagina.
What comes out of the vagina when a woman is aroused? Cream or honey! "Squirt" was an icky word to everyone, when applied to either the woman's or man's act of emission.
And the act of sex itself? Hey, very few seemed to have any problem with good old fucking. Of course, making love was pointed out as far more romantic, but not always applicable to the scene or characters.
Then we got onto terms of endearment.
Almost everyone in the room said they had a strong ICK reaction to a woman calling her love interest or sex partner "Daddy"; it turned them right off the story. And a number of the women didn't like the man calling the woman "babydoll".
So what should she call him? "His name!" shouted everyone - it really is romantic to purr your man's name to him. The old standards were acceptable: babe, baby, honey, sweetheart, darling, love. For historicals, sweeting or dearling are commonly accepted.
For male/male relationships, these women didn't care for the men calling each other baby or love.
Someone brought up the term "cougar" to refer to an older, experienced woman who is looking for a much younger lover. It used to be considered negative by some, but seems more acceptable and common now, not so predatory.
Next up: What these readers had to say about unacceptable topics in romance, irredeemable characteristics of a character, what elements make a book a wallbanger.