Posted in Alexa Day, Musings
April 12, 2015

Giving Good Tongue: A (Dirty) Word on Sexual Language

Can you see the Ural Mountains from here? (Image: Christian Fischer)
Can you see the Ural Mountains from here? (Image: Christian Fischer)

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.

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  • Post authorSheila Gallagher

    I see no problem with tits. I have more problems with the euphemisms used. Adults are reading these books and it should reflect what we would say and think. If you want a story clean of foul language there are sweet romances or Christian romances or Amish romances that will give you the language you want. I want erotic romance with lots of sex and I want it to be graphic in content and language. When I tire of it I’ll switch genres for a book or two. But I haven’t tired yet.

    Reply to Sheila Gallagher
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      Sheila! You make me want the verbal gloves off. I’m a big fan of frank language, but I love it when readers remind me not to pull my punches. 🙂

      Haha! Tits FTW.

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    Let the word fit the narrative point of view, I say. Tits is urban and snarky coming out of a woman’s mouth. I think of this same woman saying ‘the girls’ to be more polite. I feel like boobs is so generic and doesn’t convey much about the speaker. Like a guy might say rack instead of boobs, and a woman might say, ‘your boobs look fine don’t worry,’ to a friend when she’s really thinking about something else.

    Meanwhile — Damien Lewis. I know exactly the nasolabial folds of which you speak. Blog post please.

    Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      Lol. Don’t start me talking about the buccal fat pad. Or do. Either way.

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorElizabeth

    Tit’s is totally fine! About the only word I don’t care for is cunt – which is like the “N” word with african-americans – a derogatory descriptor of a group of people, in this case women.

    Reply to Elizabeth
    • Post authorMadeline Iva

      I don’t mind cunt. I took latin tho where it’s a common ending to a whole category of words, so I’m sure I’m desensitized by that. You know what I don’t like — ‘cow’. The British tend to go there, and ‘silly old cow’ really grates with me. I think for me, ‘twat’ has the power that cunt used to have. Esp. if you’re saying it in a really angry way.

      Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      ‘Cunt,’ to me, is more about delivery than anything else — ‘twat’ is the same way for me. But I know they’re both a little more sensitive (sorry, had to) than tits. One used to see ‘cunt’ all the time, but I think it’s being reined in now, which raises all my usual concerns about the slippery slope, and now I need to stop before the Inner Teenager goes straight up innuendo on everyone. 🙂

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorKel

    Tits doesn’t work for me – too close to teats, and the very antithesis of sexy.

    Tits makes me think of farm animals. Sorry, but someone refers to breasts as “tits” and I’m thinking cow udders. And while horses might be sexy, cows never are. Even if I drag my brain back, the underlying shudder down my spine has completely killed all the built up attraction at the back of my brain.

    That’s the problem with slang. Some people find it erotic, some people don’t. The dividing line is generally classist, with a hint of background experience. I don’t know that there’s a good alternative for breasts, but hopefully someone will come up with one.

    And don’t even get me started on “jugs”. Gah.

    • Post authorAlexa Day

      ‘Teats’ is a little biological, I think, not tingly at all. But hey, maybe in the right hands (OMG, sorry), ‘teats’ can be hot. Who knows?

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    Teats! Teats is the *worst*! Except for jugs — jugs is just as bad. Ugh.

    Reply to Madeline Iva
  • Post authorLisa Medley

    Oh my GOD! I totally feel your pain. The only thing worse than writing those words is reading those words, ha! I came across this great little desk reference, and it’s a miracle. I think it will solve your problem for you: Naughty Words for Nice Writers by Cara Bristol A thesaurus of naughty words. Not. Even. Kidding!

    Check it out! 😀

    Reply to Lisa Medley
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      Oh, hey! I am so down for a “dirty” thesaurus. Thanks for the heads up!

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorArla Dahl

    Tits is shocking, as is cock and snatch if used in the wrong place by the wrong characters. I think every word is an option and should be spoken by the character most likely to use it. Otherwise, it’ll call attention to itself instead of the action in the scene. For you, it sounds like “tits” happened for the right reason. Here’s hoping your editor sees it that way, too.

    Reply to Arla Dahl
    • Post authorMadeline Iva

      Snatch — absolutely shocking, I agree.

      Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      I am delighted to report that “tits” has survived edits. 🙂

      Usually, when things like this happen in my writing, it’s because I’m deep in the guy’s coarser POV. I love being in there, but sometimes it’s a little awkward.

      Just a little, though. Just a little.

      Reply to Alexa Day
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