Of Cocks & Cunts: The Language of Erotica

Just a quick warning. This post contains a lot of explicit language, and I do mean a lot . If that offends you, best to skip this one. If not, read on!

Vintage WriterYesterday, Alison Tyler did a post on pet words, which made me think about the words that often come up when you’re writing erotica, namely the sexy, filthy ones commonly used to describe male and female bits.

There are the good, old-fashioned standards–cock, dick, cunt, pussy, clit, nipples, breasts–and then there are the acceptable alternatives that you use because you just can’t say “cock” 10 times in two pages–shaft, sex, hard-on, tits, folds, and even “love button,” but only if the writer’s tongue is planted firmly in her cheek, (for the record, I will probably never use that one).

When you’re writing erotica, there are certain things that just need to be described more explicitly because it’s a standard of the genre. While you can get away with calling a gentleman’s dick his “manhood” in a romance novel, that sort of euphemistic language can be distracting in a more explicit context. After all, erotica is, in many ways, a form of very public, carefully executed dirty talk.

For example, “take me” reads very differently than, “fuck me.” You will see far more of the latter than the former in most erotic fiction. Whether consciously or unconsciously, “fuck me” has a taboo element to it–it’s straightforward and, in my opinion, indicative of someone owning their sexuality and their desires. It isn’t soft–unless you soften it. It doesn’t plead–unless you make it plead.

“Fuck me” voices a raw sexuality that a writer can then mold to fit any given situation or context. “Take me,” by contrast, has it’s own context–buxom, trembling heroines with heaving bosoms, maidenheads intact. If a word or phrase brings it’s own associated context to a scene, it disrupts theΒ  situation and pulls the reader out, even if only for the time it takes to resolve the incongruity between the story they’re reading and the type of story evoked by the word. After all, “take me,” is an excellent choice for some stories with compatible contexts, but odd for say, two contemporary lovers going at it at the back of a bar.

So, what was my point? That the words that get used out of necessity most often in a genre end up, in some way, defining it. For example, going back to Alison Tyler, my pet words for erotica include:

Cock: Hands down my preferred label for a penis. Hands freaking down.

Cunt: Same note as above. For some reason, “pussy” just feels awkward.

Gasp

Murmur

Clutch

Nip

Feline

Curve: As in “curve of her neck, jaw, spine, or breast”

Cock-eyed: As in “cock-eyed grin”. Please don’t take that literally.

That list would read very differently if were I compiling it for my work in nonfiction or non-erotic fiction. You’d see a lot more “entirely” and “consequently” and “other words that aren’t quite so fun as the ones listed above.” But even within a genre’s vocabulary, there is room for the individual writer to put his or her stamp on her work.

Words that I dole out carefully are part of what gives me my voice. I may not use “dishy” or “suckle” or “leggy” very often, but when I do, it’s a conscious choice, because those are the words I love. They tell the reader that the story in their hands is something that I wrote, and that in the end, is what most writers want. For their voices to be recognized and heard.

Note: I’m happy to report that this post was an Editor’s Pick for this week’s writing challenge over at the fantastic site for writers of all sorts, Yeah Write! Thank you lovely editors!

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58 comments

  1. Great post, my dear, as usual.

    I concur with the word “cock”, my favorite, although I also use “dick” quite a bit. As for “cunt”, I used to despise that word. Then, I started using it, and now it’s one of my favorites. It’s one syllable, it’s punchy, it goes great with “throbbing” or “aching”, an all around good word.

    Hmmm, now I’m in the mood to write…

    1. That’s so funny – I had the same feelings about “cunt” until I started writing erotica. Now it’s one of my favorite words period, for all the reasons you stated. I often find myself smirking when I write it. In fact, I’m kind of smirking right now…

  2. Lovely post!

    I love cunt
    I love ass – I hate writing arse but like reading it.
    Cock – love!
    Dick – ooo I think that’s naughty…

    Your lists are wonderful.

    I like rising too – for the lady

    1. Thank you! I love reading arse too, but being an American, I always feel like a fraud using it. And rising for the lady.. now that’s nice. God, I love words.

  3. More than one “Pet Words” list handy on your desktop seems to be the way to go. The “C-Word” that feels perfect in erotica inevitably feels too strong in an erotic scene in so-called “mainstream” fiction (and it sure ain’t gonna be cock-eyed!) while goofy romance novel euphemisms are bound to feel downright silly in straightforward erotica. Myself, I’m always struggling with the middle ground. I need a good pushing-the-envelope PG-13 Pet Words list and a solid R-rated Pet Words list, but I definitely haven’t compiled satisfactory versions just yet.

    Okay, now I have to find some way to use cock-eyed in a sentence.

    1. I think multiple pet word lists is definitely the way to go. I’ve got a professional non-fiction one, the erotica / sex writing one in the post and a pg-13 / R rated one for lit. fic. The thing is, they always shift – you eradicate one, and another pops up to replace it.. And yeah, I love “cock-eyed”. It just makes me happy.. In fact, I’ve got a cock-eyed grin on my kiss right now πŸ™‚

  4. When I read, it is all the context. I don’t mind pussy being used as in “eating pussy”. But a spread legged on her back exposure is definitely a “cunt”. Sort of like a man should never say “panties”, instead he should always say “underwear” . Interesting post!

  5. I appreciate how thoughtful you about language. Some people seem to pick words because they think it will make them sound smarter without really thinking about context or style. Hurray for diction!
    I’m visiting from the yeah write weekly writing challenge.

  6. Can I just say how much I love the title of this piece? I love the language of erotica, and I rarely read the genre, as so much of it is awfully written. It means I miss a fuck ton of the good stuff out there. I also like your explanation of why some of these words are your favorites. My favorite word, in just about any context, is “fuck”, and I love how you CAN make “fuck me” into any kind of entreaty or command in the world.

    1. Thanks so much! Your comment just made my day – I really appreciate it. And you know, “fuck” is so reflexively one of my favorites that I didn’t even think to put it on the list! It’s *such* a good word.

  7. Totally fun this is.
    I freakin’ love the picture you chose to go along with this post too, btw. I can only imagine what she is thinking.

    1. There is a *lot* of not-great erotica, but then, I think there’s a lot of not-great writing in general, (not to sound harsh). Even for competent writers, I think it’s important to understand and respect the conventions of the genre you’re writing in, regardless of which genre it is πŸ™‚

  8. Don’t ask me why but I hate ‘love button’ it just feels to frilly and quaint, like you avoiding calling it what it is. For me, it would be like referring to it as ‘down there’ *shudders

    1. Ha! I agree – I’d much rather hear something called by its proper (or properly filthy) name than run with a sweet little euphemism, unless the euphemism is distinctly tongue in cheek πŸ˜‰

  9. I love this. I was smiling as I read this πŸ˜‰

    And I loved how you said manhood can’t be used in really explicit material.

    Surely some of these words can be altered by the context or the adjectives preceding it – “She grunted into her mouthful of cock; nasal grunts vibrated along the shaft as her dominant’s friend forcefully pounded her cunt with his filthy manhood,” And so on.

    (Partly, because I love the word manhood – it symbolises masculinity in my mind!)

  10. The other day we had friends over for a party. I grabbed an erotic BDSM book and everyone got to read a page, and then they passed it on to the next person. We all had a good giggle reading the story aloud. Everyone has different words that turn them on, and you could tell which words they liked the best as they were reading.

  11. Cock, cunt, curve – wonderful, all of them.
    I’m not very literary, but I always liked the rude phrases in the Shakespeare stuff we learned at school. I’ll always remember a red faced teacher spluttering her way through the definition of ‘beast with two backs’ in Othello!
    Filthy, descriptive and clever – awesome!

    1. Oh, I love Shakespearean filth! Shakespeare…Chaucer…now *there* is some properly filthy filth. And so much cleverer than a lot of what we have today too πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you for that, and for commenting too! One of the things that got me thinking about favorite words was the fact that I say “cunt” like it’s going out of style, but for some reason “pussy” just feels awkward.. And yet, for a lot of people it’s the opposite. I love how individual it is.

  12. Makes me want to push the love button with my manhood to gain entrance into the halls of paradise. But I digress.

    Loved the post, Now off to scribble some smut on the internet’s walls

  13. I’m fascinated by the use of language and sex- I’ve blogged about it too. I think when the lust switch is flicked, language becomes more aggressive and filthy. Just how we like it πŸ˜‰ love the post x

  14. Great post. I love the language of love. I love your style and look forward to reading more.

    As a writer of marriage erotica, I use the language Heather and I use. We’re coming up on 30 years of marriage and our language has changed a lot over the years. Heather, and therefore, I didn’t use “dirty talk” for over 20 years. Heather had never said “fuck” in any context, ever.

    At some point, she decided it was okay to use “dirty talk” in our love. It’s been great. I find when I write of our experiences, I use the language of the era we were in. It’s my honesty of each situation that makes the story real and engaging.

    If you’d like to check out our writings, go to http://www.marriedheat.com. I’d love to get some feedback.

    1. Thank you so much for dropping by! I think it’s lovely that you use language to reflect the era your relationship was in when you write about a given episode or time. That language would be reflective of so many things. And I agree with you – your honesty is exactly what would make each piece relate-able and engaging. I will certainly drop by to read some of your work.

  15. I am so glad I found this post. I love words that fit. Cunt, arse, cock etc all work for me. When I am reading, I hate it when the wrong word (in my opinion) is used. One book constantly used the word pout instead of cunt, pussy or anything out. It really jarred me. I also burst out laughing when I was once sent a message that someone wanted to “plunder my quivering quim”.

    For me, words have power and those direct words like cunt and cock have a delicious raw sexuality and recognise the importance of lust and passion.

    1. oh, my god! “Pout”? Wow. That would have pulled me right out of the story! And “plunder your quivering quim” is certainly..um..purple. You’re right – words *do* have power. There are so many nuances in word choice. Personally, I’m with you – I love the raw, straightforwardness of “cunt” and “cock”. They’re strong and unapologetic and that, to my mind, is always sexy.

  16. I so loved this post. I read a ton of erotica because of the language that is used. Occasionally, I’ll run into something that reads more like a romance novel and it totally turns me off. It’s like the difference between making love and fucking. I prefer the later. So much more power in the words you listed.

  17. Interesting. I write erotic romance. My editor doesn’t like the word ‘cunt’, says many women find it an offensive term because of its use as describing the personality of some women rather than the anatomy of all women.

    1. I think that the conventions for erotic romance may be a bit different than those for erotica. Many women do find the word “cunt” offensive for any number of reasons, so it would make sense that an editor of erotic romance wouldn’t encourage its use. Readers of erotic romance also have an expectation that the sex they’re reading be within a more romantic context / narrative, which means that softer language may be more effective in that context.

    1. I read your post and it’s quite good, but I will say that it’s also important to remember that authors have individual styles – yours may be suited to words that are softer to the ear but mine is quite mutable, so I like having a breadth of language to play with – sometimes blunt Anglo-Saxon words are far less intrusive than lovely Latinate ones. It all depends. Regardless, when I use a word like “cock” or “cunt” or “fuck” it is a deliberate stylistic choice. While I can understand that these words appear in work that would fall into your “porn” category, I think that if they are deployed with purpose they can just as easily operate at a literary level in erotica. I’m very happy to continue using them and not worry about whether they are “porny” vs. “erotic”, which is as subjective as anything else regarding sex.

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