Let’s Talk About Terminology: New Year’s Resolutions

A lot of my new year’s resolutions tend to center around language – which I guess makes sense, because I’m a writer and a very linguistically focused person.

Last year I resolved to eliminate ableist slurs like “crazy” and “lame” from my vocabulary. This year my linguistic resolutions are mostly sex-related. Here are some of them; maybe you should make the same resolutions!

Use the words “vulva” and “vagina” properly, even in situations where the audience/listener probably doesn’t know what the difference is, or has maybe never even heard the word “vulva” before. Take the opportunity to educate.

Make a point to say “women” and not “girls” to describe female adults. Again: even when it’s uncomfortable or doesn’t fit the speech patterns of other people in the vicinity.

Say “PIV,” not sex, when referring to penis-in-vagina intercourse. Specificity matters, especially when trying to avoid heterosexism!

Use the term “sex worker” in lieu of antiquated terms like “prostitute” or “whore.” It’s helpful because it describes the work as work rather than dumbing down sex workers’ entire identities to the work that they do. (Read more about this?)

Stop using “clean” to mean “STI-free”: people who have STIs are not dirty or immoral. (Read more about this?)

Be better about gender-neutral and trans-inclusive language. I got called out at a sex toy workshop months ago for fucking up on this, and it’s a shameful moment that still sticks with me now, which makes me think I really need to work on it. People with vaginas are not necessarily women, people with penises are not necessarily men, and calling someone “female-bodied” or “male-bodied” can be problematic because a trans man’s maleness makes his body male and vice versa. (So I’ve been told. I don’t claim to speak for trans and gender-variant folks! Feel free to pipe up in the comments if you have objections or caveats…)

Check on pronouns before writing about someone. I am usually good about this with people who I know to be trans and/or gender-variant, like Jiz Lee (who uses they/them) and Roger Wood (who I think uses he/him?). I start getting into trouble when I perceive someone as looking relatively gender-normative and then assume I don’t need to research their pronouns. (For example, did you know that Courtney Trouble prefers they/them?) I need to get better about checking the pronouns of every person I write about!

What are your sex-related new year’s resolutions for 2014? How do you plan to see ‘em through?

Let’s Talk About Terminology: Women

I’ll keep this post short and sweet, because I think it’s pretty self-explanatory.

Female adult humans are called women.

Do not call us “girls.” Do not infantilize us. Do not make the mistake of believing someone is “overreacting” if they take issue with being called a child.

Especially do not call us “girls” if you choose to use the word “men” in the same sentence. Do not juxtapose those two things if you do not mean them literally. Talking about female adults? “Women” is the word you are looking for.

Sometimes I like to be snarky in my enforcement of this language rule, so I trawl sex forums looking for threads with titles like, “Do girls like giving blowjobs?” and “How do girls feel about pubic hair?” and I reply (momentarily setting aside the fact that those posts try to generalize all women), “I certainly hope you’re not having sex with girls.” Or, sometimes, “I don’t know about girls, but I know some women who like giving blowjobs.”

As with any challenge to the status quo of misogynist language, there is always pushback. People scream, “You know what I meant!” And yes, I do know what was meant. I also know what was achieved: infantilization of women and the continuation of a verbal system that supports it.

Check your language. Make sure it’s not laced with oppression and archaic assumptions, ‘cause that shit’s gross.

And for those of you who pointed out that the word “girl” is in my blog name… Yep, you got me! It’s being used in a different context there, and there is a difference between “girly” and “girlish,” but yeah, this shitty language convention is extremely widespread, sometimes to the point that even feminists might not notice it!

Let’s Talk About Terminology: Sex, “Sex,” and Sex

If I said to you, “I had sex last night,” what would you think I meant?

Intercourse? Oral? Fingering and handjobs? All of the above?

As I am a woman partnered with a man, I think most people would assume I meant intercourse. They might suppose other sex acts were involved, but “intercourse” and “sex” are pretty well equated in the heteronormative world.

It’s frustrating, though, because not only does it shut out queer folks for whom penetrative sex might not be a part of their sexual repertoire, but it also verbally limits those of us who have opposite-sex partners. Are we supposed to believe that the centre and end-goal of sexytimes is always penetration? Because let’s face it: it isn’t!

Like Dan Savage says: “sex” is oral sex’s last name. Same deal with other kinds of sex, like manual sex (fingering and handjobs), anal sex, even intercrural sex. These are all sexual acts and can be just as intimate and fulfilling as penetrative sex – so why separate them out?

In reading my blog, you might have noticed that I do my best to always say “intercourse,” “PIV sex”† or “penetrative sex” when that’s what I mean, rather than using the word “sex” to refer to that particular act. I think it’s more precise and also helps abolish the gross heteronormativity that pops up in so much of our sexual language.

Some people think it’s awkward to use terms like that. If you decide to take up the mission of using specific words for different acts instead of just “sex,” be prepared for people to think you’re weird. There will always be pushback when you challenge established limitations, but be brave and persistent and maybe one day we’ll live in a world where our sexual language is wonderfully inclusive and deliciously accurate!

† “PIV” = “penis-in-vagina.”

Let’s Talk About Terminology: Oral Sex For Ladies

(Blogger note: sorry for the dearth of sex toy reviews recently! I am waiting on a bunch of toy shipments at the moment. Don’t worry your pretty little head – I’ll be back to talking about dildos and vibrators on the regs in no time!)

There are so many ways in which misogyny manifests itself in our culture – ugh, so very many! – and language is definitely one of those. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons I decided to start this feature: to dissect sexist language conventions.

You can observe this shit in the different terms for oral sex performed on a man and on a woman. The gents have cool nouns like “blowjob,” “hummer,” and “brain.” They have great verb phrases like “sucking cock” and “giving head.” And there are specific terms for individual BJ techniques like “deepthroating” and “teabagging.” (By the way, if any of those look unfamiliar to you, get yo’ ass to Urban Dictionary, stat!)

What do we ladies have? Well, there’s the über-clinical “cunnilingus,” which is a fabulous word but not always practical in casual, heat-of-the-moment situations. There’s “eating pussy,” “eating out,” and “going down,” which are fine but sort of standard and boring (plus I really don’t like the word “eating” being used in sex terms unless there is actual eating involved). There are goofy slang terms that no one takes seriously, like “eating a box lunch” or “dining at the Y.” And as for non-clinical nouns, there isn’t a good one. “Tongue job” is the closest I’ve found, and I think it can be kind of hot in the right context, but mostly it’s still the sort of thing that elicits laughter rather than dirty thoughts.

So how do we remedy this slang situation? I propose a two-part plan…

First, reclaim non-gendered slang. I love the phrase “getting head” (or giving it) as a gender-neutral term for oral sex. There’s no reason why it ought to be gendered; oral sex, after all, involves somebody’s head and somebody’s genitals, regardless of whether those genitals are a penis or a vulva (or something in between!). Some people use “giving face” as the female equivalent of “giving head,” but whatever, bro. I don’t see why a distinction is necessary.

Second, make up your own slang terms and spread ‘em around. That’s what I try to do with “tongue job.” I’d love to hear your ideas for pussy-munchin’ vocabulary. In fact, I’d love to see the whole sex blogosphere agree on a few terms for cunnilingus and start propagating the hell out of them!

Photo credit: I can’t figure out who did the modifying, but it’s an altered version of this image from Comically Vintage!

Let’s Talk About Terminology: Vulva vs. Vagina

I am troubled by people who use words wrong. Especially when they do so in ways that actually impact the way people view the world. That’s why I’m launching this new feature, Let’s Talk About Terminology, to discuss sex-related terms: the right ones, the wrong ones, which is which, and why.

First up: female genitalia. Of course.

Let’s just ponder for a moment the way female genitals are viewed in our culture. They’re seen as a hole, both terrifying and enticing, through which one’s body emerged into the world and into which one wants to stick one’s dick. That’s an oversimplification, but I think it’s basically accurate.

The perception of female parts is focused around that hole – the vagina – and as a result, the entire vulva (a word which means the external female genitalia, including the clitoris, labia, mons pubis, and so on) is lumped into that name.

It may not seem like much, but it’s extremely denigrating to female sexuality. It defines our entire genital region in terms of the one part of it that is perceived as useful or desirable to our male-dominated culture.

You would never see someone use the word “balls” when they meant “penis,” or vice versa. It just doesn’t happen. Those are two specific and separate parts of that whole setup. And it ought to be the same with the female genitalia, but it isn’t.

The clitoris is an important, significant, distinct organ. The sensations it provides are different and separate from the sensations in one’s vagina. It deserves proper identification.

So I implore you: use these words correctly, and teach them to people who don’t know what they mean. Don’t let someone get away with saying they’re going to “shave their vagina” (oh, dear god, I hope not) or “lick your vagina” or whatever, unless that is what they actually, literally mean.

Vulva’s a much prettier word, anyway.