Giving Good Tongue: A (Dirty) Word on Sexual Language
By Alexa Day
It’s such a little word, right? The last on George Carlin’s iconic list of Seven Dirty Words. Short, punchy and a little coarse. The word rolled out of me and onto the draft of a short story, and as soon as I saw it there, I stopped for a just a second to consider it.
I’d spent the whole draft trying to find a way to refer to the heroine’s breasts without being repetitive. I loathe most of the euphemisms I see out there now — mounds, globes, what have you. I mean, who looks down at her own chest and sees globes? Just thinking of the word conjures the image of a beige ridge marked with the neatly printed words “URAL MOUNTAINS.” I envision the old republics of the USSR. I see Czechoslovakia, not breasts.
Those cute little nicknames don’t work for me, either. I’m not going to write about “the girls.” I don’t even care for “boobs;” I think it’s something we teach little girls to use in polite society without telling them when to abandon it.
And so, in the throes of drafting, “tits” happened. I paused for a minute to decide whether it was okay. Most of the Seven Dirty Words are rather commonplace in erotic romance today. I don’t think the world will take issue with “tits,” but I haven’t heard from an editor yet, so it’s still anyone’s guess. If she thinks it’s too much, I’ll have to decide whether to fight for it, but for now, I’m rooting for it. If I lose “tits,” I stand to lose a lot more.
The ugly truth about erotic romance is this: it’s sexual. It’s very sexual. And since the sex is linked to the emotional arc of the characters, it’s going to run the gamut from something ethereal and spiritual to something savage and dark. I think erotic romance has to be this way, honestly. How are the characters evolving if they’re only having one kind of sex?
As long as this is the case, we have to have the whole spectrum of sexual language available to us. If “globes” are an option, as little as I like it, then “tits” must also be an option, right?
More importantly, if we start to police sexual language like “tits,” we’re making a statement about our readership. I think we already live in a world that underestimates women in general and romance readers in particular. I’d prefer to live and read in a world where each of us can choose the level of protection we need from subject matter, and for choice to be meaningful, options must be plentiful.
A while back, I wrote about the overuse of the word “fuck,” which I still believe is being worn out for shock value. Every day, I still see little snippets of dialogue posted to social media with shallow “dirty talk” between characters I don’t yet know, who therefore lack the ability to shock me. Context matters so much more than one word or another.
So is there a right time and place for “tits”? I sure hope so. If not, I’ll have to start sexualizing other words. I’ve got my eye on “nasolabial” right now. Blame Damian Lewis. I want to get inside those parentheses ever so badly.
Where are we on this? Are “tits” as shocking as I’m making them out to be? Do you dare me to use “nasolabial” three times in the next story? Are there — and should there be — Words We Dare Not Use? Show me the love in the comments.
And follow Lady Smut. Getting dirty’s never been so much fun.