Sex Writing 101: Common Mistakes

I’m a journalist by trade, which means I’m a language nerd. Ask any J-schooler for a list of their pet peeves and I can guarantee at least half of them will be language-related. It’s just the way we are.

I used to be a review editor at a certain unethical sex toy site that shall not be named, and because I encountered the same mistakes every single day to the point of wanting to smash my head on my desk, I wrote a post for the website’s discussion forum outlining a few common errors I saw in reviews. I received a message from one of the moderators, basically telling me to cease and desist because it wasn’t my place to give writers suggestions on how to write.

Well, this blog is my place to do as I please, and today what I please is to list some common mistakes made by sex writers and bloggers. Let me know if you’re into the idea of more posts on sex writing, because I’ve got plenty of thoughts to share.

Without further ado, here are some frequent problems in sex writing…

1. Come vs. cum.

This one drives me fucking bonkers, in part because it’s sort of ambiguous whether or not it actually is a mistake. Language is ever-evolving (a fact that someone always inevitably reminds me of whenever I complain about the misuse of the word “literally”), so it’s not technically incorrect to use the word “cum” as a verb or a noun in sexual contexts. Some dictionaries even mention that connotation of the word.

That said, I still think it looks incredibly unprofessional, like it originated from a 13-year-old’s MSN chat log or poorly spell-checked smutty fanfiction. So while it may not be a mistake to use the word “cum,” I think you should consider it carefully before you do it.

2. Discreet vs. discrete.

If you’re talking about sex toys or sex acts, “discreet” is probably the word you’re looking for. It means “modestly unobtrusive; unostentatious.” In other words, if your sex toy is discreet, your mom might be able to spot it sitting on the coffee table and not recognize it as a sex toy. Or she might be able to sit in the next room while you’re using the toy and not have any idea you’re using it.

“Discrete” means “apart or detached from others; separate; distinct.” You could say that a vibrator has seven discrete functions, which is to say that each of those functions is separate and different from the others. It’s not a word that would come up too often in sex writing generally, but hey, now you know.

3. Hyphens in lists.

In sex writing contexts, this tends to come up when you’re talking about lube, just because there are a lot of hyphens in names of lube types. Water-based, silicone-based, oil-based. See? Hyphens galore.

If you’re listing a bunch of different lube types for whatever reason and you want to make the phrase a bit shorter and less clunky, you can do it as follows: “Water-, silicone-, and oil-based lubes.” I know it looks weird to have random dangling hyphens, but that’s how ya do it.

4. G-spot, A-spot, P-spot, etc.

With these sorts of words, the letter at the beginning is always capitalized, because it stands for something. (In the cases above, the letters stand for, respectively: Grafenberg, anterior fornix, prostate.) It’s an initial and initials are always capitalized.

5. Proper nouns, or not.

Be mindful of what is and is not a proper noun. Latex, silicone, phthalates, glass, steel; none of these are proper nouns so they don’t need to be capitalized (unless they’re at the beginning of a sentence or they make up part of the official name of a product). Most toy names (e.g. Pure Wand) and special proprietary materials (e.g. VixSkin) are proper nouns and should therefore be capitalized, as should (of course) names of people (e.g. Ernest Grafenberg) and places (e.g. the Museum of Sex).

6. Apostrophes.

This is, unfortunately, a huge problem for many writers of every genre, not just sex writing. If you’re not sure where apostrophes belong or don’t belong, read some grammar sites or books because this is super basic information.

Most especially, learn the difference between “it’s” and “its,” and know where to put possessive apostrophes (hint: only when something is possessed). There is no apostrophe in plural nouns; the word “dildo’s” should not appear unless you’re talking about something that belongs to the dildo (e.g. “the dildo’s dimensions”) or you’re abbreviating the phrase “dildo is” (e.g. “This dildo’s great!”).

That’s just a really quick summary of some of the mistakes I see most often in sex writing. What are some of your sex writing pet peeves?