The article below discusses words for male and female sexual parts in frank terms. It does not describe any acts, is meant to be partly humorous, and I think is only a little bit crude, but please do not read on if you’re likely to be offended.
Lengthy Problems and Sticky Issues
‘Cock’ appeared in the list of overly repeated words highlighted by my grammar checker* the other day. I’d stumbled on the same old problem, familiar I am sure to most erotica and erotic romance writers: what do you call ‘it’ – i.e. the male organ, the penis. Same goes for the other male sexual organs, not to mention the female ones.
For me, this is less an issue of bashful euphemism than a matter of creating mood and of personal taste. I am happy to be frank. I find (and so much of this is individual preference) terms such as his ‘length’ or ‘manhood’ or for women ‘my sex’ to be too demure for the feelings I want to evoke – though I appreciate use of these words may sometimes represent the point of view of a first-person narrator. My writing doesn’t shy away from the words ‘penis’ or ‘vagina’, for example, but those terms often don’t suit the scene. So between the coy, the clinical, the jocular, and the downright yucky, what’s left? In my view, very little. Which creates a risk of too much repetition in the text.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
Among much other good advice, romance and erotic romance writer Laurel Clarke provides a “sexy thesaurus” of proposed terminology for authors on male and female sex parts. Very useful, though for myself I would use maximum a third of these terms, the others failing the coy / clinical / jocular / yucky test.
The longest list I’ve seen for male parts is on the NCM site; it’s not necessarily a useful list for writers, but worth a look for some of its sheer creativity (‘custard launcher’ and ‘tube steak’ leapt out at me, so to speak). Sheknows also provides a long list of female parts, though arguing that we should simply use ‘vagina’, and let’s not be squeamish. For the purposes of regular conversation, I agree; what’s the big deal? Certainly, I would prefer to pretend that ‘juice box’ and ‘coin purse’ did not exist, and wish the ludicrous ‘front bottom’ could be banned by law.
But back to writing. Author Anne O’Malley comes to some conclusions I am much in agreement with on the ‘male front’ (if I may): ‘cock’ yes – although for me ‘dick’ falls into the jocular category; and ‘rod’ (for example) no. Cock is terse, masculine, and yes, hard – in its consonants. It is the term for the male of many species, a proud braggart of a word. In English slang the ‘cock of the walk’ refers to the alpha male (though it also implies over-confidence). ‘Phallus’ is another possible for me, with its associated readiness and potency. For females, I don’t concur on ‘cunt’ – don’t like it and don’t use it. There may be an American / British (etc.) difference in the way that word gets used informally.
I also appreciate O’Malley’s quick ‘anatomy lesson’ on the female parts – a pet hate of mine is the use of the specific term ‘vagina’ when the speaker or writer means the external genitalia or vulva. And her article has some hilarious examples of unfortunate references to the male member and female parts found in writing. To the examples given I would add her ‘wetness’, his ‘joystick’ and his ‘pleasure pump’, all of which I’ve seen used in text. The UK’s Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Awards, given annually to the most “outstandingly bad” sex scenes in (non-erotic) fiction, has uncovered the use of, variously, ‘gearstick’, ‘billiard rack’ (the testicles evidently representing the billiard balls), and ‘the door of her womb’. Remember, books on the Bad Sex Awards shortlist are by published, often successful, and sometimes critically admired writers.
‘Vulva’ I do like and use in writing. Its ‘V’ sounds are appropriately soft, fricative; and unlike ‘vagina’, it is a medically used term that does not sound overly scientific. Also, less often, I use pudenda for the external genitals (although the Oxford English Dictionary tells me this derives from the Latin for ‘parts to be ashamed of’ – hardly what we’re aiming for in erotica). Referring to the vagina I find trickier. Once we’re through the ‘entrance’, I generally describe the act of entry with verbs, or portray being ‘inside’ rather than refer to the specific part. ‘Clitoris’ I am fine with, though for some reason not ‘clit’. ‘Button’ I quite like, though ‘love button’ sounds sleazy. And ‘magic button’? Just no.
There may be an opportunity to use antiquated terms in historical erotica. ‘Pearl’ as a word for clitoris I am experimenting with in a piece of Gothic erotica I’m drafting, but I wouldn’t use it in a contemporary context, which would put it into the coy category. ‘Quim’ has possibilities in historical genres, an 18th century word that manages at the same time to be both pleasingly vulgar and a little prissy – possibly because it rhymes with ‘prim’.
Testicles I may use but again, it verges on the medical, ditto ‘scrotum’. ‘Balls’ – sometimes. ‘Nuts’ comes under the jocular heading, I think. Sac seems fine where relevant. Come to think of it, ‘shaft’ (as a noun, not a verb) is handy, particularly where it refers to the actual body of the penis. Similarly, ‘head’, ‘glans’ or ‘root’ (I do like a bit of detail, as you can tell).
Terms that have sniggering reminders of the playground are obviously out. ‘Winky’ (American) for instance, or ‘willy’ (British) an outright no. The British term ‘fanny’ is similarly childish in tone, and of course it is informal for arse / ass in American English – meaning the act the writer intends to describe may read as quite different.
I recently wrote a post (here) about the many delicious synergies between food and sex. Yet food references are not fortunate when it comes to vocabulary for body parts. ‘Pork sword’, ‘hot meat’ – seriously out. ‘Meat and two veg’ is sort of fun, but not erotic, needless to say. For the females. ‘clam’, ‘cream pie’, and the horrendous ‘beef curtains’ should also go onto the banned list.
The Long and Short of it
So yes, many of the terms for the male organs sound jokey, but for the female parts sound downright unpleasant. If a man uses the terms ‘gash’ or ‘snatch’, run a mile I say. I will not be putting either of those into the mouths of my male characters (sorry). Maxim magazine suggests terms that may be more acceptable, along with the pros and cons of each, but again, it is so much a matter of personal preference. However, that article did remind me about the word ‘muff’, which I had entirely forgotten and quite like. I’ll add that one to my short but (I like to think) discerning list.
References are linked in the text and listed below (click on links to open)
Laurel Clarke https://laurelclarke.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/sexy-thesaurus-romance-erotica-words/ Retrieved 29 March 2018
Ann O’Malley https://annomalley.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/writing-erotica1/ and https://annomalley.wordpress.com/2012/08/16/writing-erotica-2/ Retrieved 29 March 2018
Literary Review Bad Sex Awards, about https://literaryreview.co.uk/bad-sex-in-fiction-award
https://www.maxim.com/maxim-man/what-call-her-lady-parts Retrieved 29 March 2018 NCM
‘What to call a penis other than ‘penis’. http://ncfm.org/2011/06/activities/san-diego/174-ways-to-call-a-penis-something-other-than-penis/ Retrieved 29 March 2018
Sheknows, ‘Can we please just say ‘vagina’ instead of these 50 slang words?’ http://www.sheknows.com/love-and-sex/articles/1086904/slang-words-for-vagina Retrieved 29 March 2018