LanguageRomanceQuote1 I’ve been meaning for some time to write about the language of romance and erotica, but two posts I saw yesterday have given me just the push I needed to actually do it.

So, here’s the thing. I read a lot of historical romance and paranormal romance, and am fascinated by all the different words authors use to refer to genitalia. Words and phrases like swollen sex, feminine bud, heavy sacks, pussy, manhood, feminine folds, cock and heat. There are lots of others, but you get the point. You know what I don’t see in the books I read? The proper terms: vagina, labia, scrotum, etc. Oh, every so often I will see a clitoris or penis, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.

I can understand how a writer might not want to use the word vagina all the time. Why s/he might want to mix it up a bit and use slang or a euphemism to avoid overusing a word. But that doesn’t explain the absence of the word vagina.

In the post “Should a sex scene be a lesson in anatomy?” Travis Luedke argues that “anatomical language” just isn’t sexy. For him, words like vagina, labia, clitoris, vulva or areola, when in used in the context of a sex scene, “sound sterile, goofy, even vulgar and unreal.”

Two observations about this. First, I find it interesting that his post focuses on words used to describe female anatomy rather than male anatomy. I wonder: does Leudke feel the same way about the words penis, erection, scrotum or testicles? Second, the reason that the words vagina and vulva might sound “sterile, goofy” or “vulgar” is because those words aren’t often used in our society. It’s part of the body-shaming that goes on in this culture. (Need proof? Look at all the fallout after Michigan state representative Lisa Brown said the word vagina in a speech to her House of Reps.)

To say that vagina and clitoris are vulgar and unsexy but that we are not ashamed of sex or the female body sends the same mixed message that JD Roberto wishes he could avoid sending his five-year-old son about the male body and sexuality. People who write about sex – which to me seems like an awesome, sex-positive thing to do – have an opportunity here to stop perpetuating the body-shaming, to embrace and reclaim the proper terms for our anatomy. To make vaginas sexy again.

LanguageRomanceQuote2I would also like to take this opportunity to point out how the use of terms like manhood and feminine bud perpetuate gender identity discrimination. By substituting the word manhood for penis and the phrase feminine bud for clitoris, we exclude people who are male-identified but don’t have penises and people who are female-identified but don’t have clitorises.

But if we use anatomical terms, suddenly the possibilities open up. Suddenly we can have a scene wherein “she unzipped her fly and released her penis from the confines of the fabric” or similar. Imagine that.


[Originally posted on on 17 Oct. 2012]