Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Language of Lust

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.


Katt said...

The one word that makes me close a book, of all silly things, is SESSION. often lately I'm reading something like "after another hot session of sex"
Arrgghh!. for me it's like dropping a bucket of water over a fire. Session to me is about time spent in a dentist chair or something else totally empty of sexuality!

Erastes said...

Anyone who uses cream or honey has never seen or tasted it.

Anonymous said...

I do not have a problem with 'love' or 'baby' in a m/m story if it fits. In the Adrien English series by Josh Lanyon, Jake calling Adrien baby fits. And love, I think that is more an issue of where the story takes place. I think it is not a common US endearment, though I do know men who use it here.

Angelia Sparrow said...

Ack! I hate, hate, hate, hate the word "pussy." I hate typing it, I hate seeing it and I especially hate hearing it in bed. And I hate it as an insult meaning "weak." Mine passed 4 kids with no anesthesia. I defy you to call it weak.

There is something about the word itself, a nastiness, a sliminess, an icky lime green color, that just revolts me.

Vaj actually works nicely for me. It's short, nice and kinda pinkish, like the part itself. And depending on the period and her upbringing, a woman may have no idea at all what is down there. (yes, even today)

Men, well as long as you're not calling the the purple mushroom-headed, custard-chucking Spartan of love, it's all right. But women's terms are so freighted with negativity it's hard to get past them.

Barbara Elsborg said...

It's tricky. I don't like the word pussy either but find myself having to use it because I like the alternatives even less. I threw a wobble at the use of pussy muscles though - I just couldnt't accept that editorial suggestion.

Cream and honey = well you're right Erastes but if we wrote the truth, it would ick pepple out. Same way all cocks are beautiful and all the hills and valleys of a woman's sex are perfect too. we have to pretend!

I just had a comment from my editor that I'd be better to avoid any comments about stiff sheets - what had that guy been doing night after night!! - because the idea of someone wanking that often to make his sheets stiff enough to stand on their own, was a reality too far.

So - wanking, jerking off, jacking off, --more??

I don't like it when a guy calls another guy baby either. Something sounds off to me about that though I'm sure its realistic.


I've tasted both honey and cream and like someone said, can't really describe it the way it Reaaalllly is without it sounding icky-nasty, however I am surprised at some of the words I have used to describe LOVE JUICE? (OMG! I think I just fainted)

And for Angelia who wrote: purple mushroom-headed, custard-chucking Spartan of love,
I am STILL rolling on the floor laughing.

Anonymous said...

I come back to this blog always trying to search out alternatives to 'pussy' but it is hard. When in the middle of erotic sex in a book...what else do you say? I find myself blocked from coming up with a word for vagina that doesn't sound gross or clinical, but you can't just delete it when writing sex scenes. So...what are some other possible word suggestions for a stuck writer?