Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Bits That Must Not Be Named

Warning: cuss words, straight ahead.

Sorry, Georgia, but "black iris" is 
too purple a euphemism for me.
Interrupting my own manuscript polishing to air a bit of word befuddlement. Since my evil conjoined twin writes erotica, I've gotten very used to having a couple of handy, if inelegant, words at my disposal when referring to the female nether regions—pussy and cunt. In romance, at least category romance, those are still a no-go. And yet the two most useful slang terms for the male goodies—cock and dick—are fine. Why the double-standard?

Is it because in romance, it's okay for the male anatomy to still be given names that sound blunt and crass, but the lady-area must be euphemized into gentle desirability, lest we offend our delicate readers' dewy orbs? Is it because male characters are allowed to be, well, blunt and crass, while heroines are still stuck toeing the propriety line? Another permutation of the Stud v. Slut gender debate?

Whenever possible, I name specific bits of the lady-situation, like lips or clit. Good words. They say exactly what they are. But for the region as a whole…? Her sex? Her center? Her entrance? Sometimes I really wish pussy were on the table. Vagina and vulva and labia are far too clinical (I rarely use penis, incidentally, for the same reason). Breast is such a lovely word…I feel our southern climes got shafted (as it were) in the taxonomy department.

Writers—what words do you use in romance, in lieu of pussy and cunt? Readers—what words work for you, and which are InstaSquick™? Would you be offended to stumble over pussy in a category romance? Does vagina get the job done, or does it bring to mind one of those female anatomy cross-section posters from the gyno's office for you, as it does for me?

20 comments:

  1. I've seen "pussy" used in Blaze, but not often, and don't care for the word myself. I tend to rely on "sex" or like you, lips/clit, or "geographic" desciptions "between her thighs" etc...

    "Mons" is InstaSquick for me, or ugh, vagina (no) and hate hate hate "channel."

    I think the double-standard comes down to the sad fact that the male sexual terms are not generally used as insults in the vernacular (except for dick, a word I don't use often for that reason). Unfortunately, because of the different perceptions of women and sex, female sexual vernacular was more often used insultingly rather than descriptively, hence why they don't float well in romance.

    My theory, anyway,

    Sam

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  2. I'm with you, Sam—though I did get distracted, laughing over "channel". Very good point about the derogatory aspects.

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  3. Just to add on to that last comment, if you think about it, the male sexual terms are often used as positive things, ie, someone "has balls" or is "cocky" etc... but we have "boobs" which are either silly or again, an insult. I don't know if or how the language could be reclaimed, but chances are, we just have to find ways around it...

    Sam

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  4. Vagina doesn't work for me usually but "vaginal lips" are okay. If you can't use clit, why not clitoris? That should totally be allowed so fight for it, girl! The double standard bothers me but I was recently told to cool it on the dick and cock, too (for HRS).

    I've used sex, entrance, center, sheathe (I think). Also just "her." Like, he entered her. Or her warmth, her wet heat. Stuff like that. In the right context a lot of words will suffice, and when the reader is swept up in the story, she probably won't notice.

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  5. Lucky for me, clit is kosher with my line, Jill. And yes, the less purply visceral descriptions are invaluable, à la "her wet heat". Good call.

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  6. Thanks, Pen…though I'm not sure the average Blaze reader would be pleased to get all heave-y in her bosom while reading, only to stumble over, "He plunged his turgid length deep within her…lady-bits."

    But I could be wrong :-)

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  7. I think Sam hit the nail on the head with her remark about insults. What I was going to say, which sort of backs up her point, is that I don't think of my own bits as either a "pussy" or a "cunt," so both words strike me wrong in romance. TMI? Maybe. But I suspect it's a pretty widespread thing. Men name their parts, or at least it's understood in our culture that they do, so we can write about them that way without fear of reader distaste or mockery. For women, though... sigh. I don't think there's anything you haven't come up with yet. Sex, core, and all the various permutations of "her" that avoid naming altogether are the only ones I've used, and I don't really like "her sex" or "her core," so I try to avoid them. Which leaves things rather vague, sometimes. Such is the weird beast known as erotic romance!

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  8. Just wanted to recommend The Big Book Of Filth, which Annette Blair recommended during one of her awesome workshops. It is an excellent resource for alternative terms for all sorts of naughty words. For example, some alternate terms for girly parts include....

    "tirly-whirly" (Scot, late 18th century)
    "kazoo" (1960's)
    "altar of love" (19th century)
    "joy box" (1970's, USA)
    ....and many many more.This book is beyond entertaining.

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  9. I think I've seen pussy in romance, though I hate it anywhere. I don't find it derogatory, I just find it stupid and icky sounding. The word just squicks me out. However, I do love the word cunt. It's sexy to me, without being flowery. To me, it's the equivalent of "cock"...as in hot. Whereas "pussy" and "dick" can go off together, never to be heard from again, as far as I am concerned :)

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  10. Accurate pairings, Amber. I don't mind "pussy", and usually choose it over "cunt", saving the latter for grittier [uh, figuratively gritty] moments. But "pussy" and "dick" are definitely the sillier options of the usual erotica suspects. I use "cock" first and foremost, backed up by "erection" for variety.

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  11. Box is the first thing that comes to mind. What about snatch? I think it tends to be too-easily forgotten as a slang term for ladyparts. And I'm going to guess that if you can't use cunt, twat is also right out. Hole just seems too vulgar.

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  12. You know I love you, Doc, but "snatch" and "box" are definite mood-killers for me. Outside the bedroom, you're on, but between the sheets…

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  13. I've only ever come across it in historical romances, but "quim" is a decent option. Not icky or offensive.

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  14. The Kama Sutra term, which Mia Marlowe uses in Touch of a Thief, is "yoni." But slipping that one (literally? figuratively?) into a contemporary without explanation might be challenging ...

    I still remember howling during Vagina Monologues at "Coochie Snorcher."

    As a reader, I have a high tolerance for variety in vagina vocab, so I'm not too useful in narrowing things down--anything used in the proper context can work for me. As a writer, I've been sticking with hot/wet/entrance/core/center stuff.

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  15. Thanks for weighing in, everyone! I'll think of you all the next time I'm straining for a good alternative for "velvet love channel".

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  16. As a fan of historicals, I've TOO often had to read "quim" and my gawd does that kill the mood for me. I just laugh. Or cringe. I can deal with most others terms just fine; although, I agree with previous poster Sam that "mons" is sort of yucky. Unless you say it with a Jamaican accent. ;P

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  17. I don't have any helpful ideas, but have to share a memory: My freshman dorm mates and I, sitting around reading aloud from the erotica in Playgirl, and using a highlighter when we found alliteration: "Rock Hard Rod" is still my favorite.

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  18. Yep, for me it has to be pussy or cunt, and then the softer variations are sex, the place between her legs, her wet heat, etc. Have the damnedest time trying to actually name the main bit, however. Hollow isn't quite right, but hole just sounds so...impersonal. And I can't get to grips with channel or tunnel or any of those things. His dick is not a train.

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