The Vulgarity of Words in Sex Scenes
Ahhh, the holidays are here again. Thanksgiving has come and gone, and I find myself wondering the same thing every year; Wasn’t it just Christmas LAST year?
But aside from that whole “time flies” thing, I’m still diligently working on my writing and having fun doing it. Maybe this is why time flies, but I digress. In fact, I had a thought recently that has nothing to do with the time of year it is, and it’s a thought that occurred to me while writing one of those gosh darn tedious sex scenes. (Yeah, that was over exaggerated. Still, it gets my point across.)
So in editing a line (and you can probably imagine what I was writing when I came across this thought in my head) I wondered, “What words are too vulgar for a sex scene?” A good example is genitalia and the various ways authors can (and have) described it in stories. I mean coming up with plot points, character attributes, race mythology, and other story developing criteria is one thing, but describing what a man comes equipped with in his pants? Well that’s a whole different ballgame!
On a more serious note, this can actually be a dilemma for authors of erotic fiction in specific, or at least, romance with a strongly erotic nature to it’s love scenes. The irony lies in that the very genre of the story you’re writing can determine the sense of “vulgarity” your words may possess. Erotic scenes in this genre are written for the precise reason of creating fantasy, and certain words are employed to enable the reader to more easily witness that fantasy.
Some of these words on the whole, however, are considered vulgar in everyday language. So is it crossing a line to use them, or is that line only imaginary when it comes to writing these scenes? Well, I’d definitely say there’s a line, but it’s a different line depending on what it is you’re writing.
It seems to be largely based on the language you’re speaking to your readers in your story from the very beginning. Just how vulgar has your book been up to this point? Would the reader be completely flabbergasted to see the word “cock” suddenly pop out at them on the page? (No pun intended!) Or are they sitting there actually waiting for you to use such a dirty word to begin with?
When it comes to readers, I think they all have different expectations from different authors. I certainly do anyway. For instance, I know what to expect whenever I pick up a book by Kresley Cole, who’s had a whole series to get me used to her writing style and the way she presents her material. Alternately, I know not to expect the same thing from Christine Feehan, who’s also showed me what her words of choice typically are.
The thing about this word-use enigma that really gets to me as a writer is how there are actually lists people come up with that tell you which words are good to use and which are bad. But can we really do that? Can you honestly tell someone what to put in their stories or how to present their content? The words an author chooses defines them as much as the colors an artist puts into their paintings, or the pace of a song a musician writes. Simply put, words are a writer’s identity.
That said, I do think that yes, there are some words that you should probably avoid using. For instance, if I ever read the line of “he stuck his man root into her bearded clam,” in a story, I would be seriously wondering (after laughing myself completely silly that is) if I was supposed to be reading a serious attempt at storytelling, or if it were just satire.
I really don’t want to resort to using it as an example, but I will because there just isn’t a more perfect comparison; E. L. James wrote a line (among a plethora of others I could choose from) in “50 Shades of Grey” about, and I’m paraphrasing here, being looked at like a mother hamster ready to devour her young. Like the majority of the reading populace, I’m honestly still wondering if this was a serious attempt at writing or merely satire.
So there are words you probably shouldn’t use within the context of what you’re writing, but this doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t fit into another project extremely well. That’s what it all boils down to—context, as well as the general language you’ve established within a story that gives a reader certain expectations.
Now when it comes to sex scenes in specific, I’m always hearing that “the word sex shouldn’t be used to describe what men and women have between their legs.” Likewise, words like heat or, in general, cunt, shouldn’t be used.
Now grammatically speaking, the word sex is definitely not an acceptable way to refer to someone’s personal bits. But it gets used frequently in this manner, even by well known, published authors, and the readers don’t seem to complain too much about it as long as they’re satisfied with the story. (At least, not from what I’ve seen). Also, the English language, like all languages, is ever growing, changing, and evolving, so it may be a good example of a word gaining a new meaning altogether.
I myself, in reading a story that uses this term to define someone’s goodies, am not offended or even find it to be in bad taste. It could be argued that this is due to social breeding or perhaps even a lack of refinement on my part (oh ho ho am I unrefined!), but if so, then there’s a number of people out there just like me, as is evidenced by the lack of complaints I see in reviews on stories that break this rule so consistently.
The other thing is what a person considers vulgar in a personal sense. Reading a word like cock or pussy might be considered by a reader to be in bad taste, yet another might think it fit the context of what they were reading extremely well. (I begin to feel like I’m writing an article just to have a reason to use dirty words for the sake of using them, but I promise, I’m just being an analytical Virgo who won’t shut up until she’s gotten to the bottom of things!)
Lastly, you have the common words penis and vagina. I personally avoid using these because to me, it almost makes the scene feel like I’m reading the actual definition of what sex is from a medical textbook. These aren’t specifically, in my opinion, what someone might call artful words. They can be used most certainly, but again, it’s all in the writer’s identity.
So what’s acceptable and when/where does it work? There’s really no honest way to know that until you’re writing your story and letting it take you wherever it goes. There will always be a reader who doesn’t like your word usage regardless of how well refined you tried to, and even succeed in, expressing your work. This brings me to a potential golden rule of writing:
Write something the way you intend to write it. You’ll find your audience and keep them much more easily this way rather than pandering to a certain set of rules specified by someone else which, in the end, doesn’t suit you or your story.
Now that doesn’t have a lot to do with the vulgarity inherent in some words and how trashy it could make a story sound, but if it works for you, and it sounds right to you, then you should write it, and don’t apologize for doing so—at least, I wouldn’t. If it’s grammatically acceptable and flows with the story, I’m not entirely certain there’s a such thing as “too vulgar” for those scenes.
On a side note, after writing this up, I have the urge to make up a fake plant called “Man Root” and use it as a running gag in my romance novels.