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Anatomy of the Anatomy (From LN&V, March 1, 1999):

More on Words - Anatomy of the Anatomy: Back in November, we began a discussion of various words to describe male and female body parts. I started the discussion about the word "penis" and the term "to come," and readers and authors continued the discussion, expanding upon it and naming words and phrases they'd seen used to describe the, ah, male member and the act of completion. Of course, my own twisted mind wants to know who came up with "orgasm" or "coming" to describe said orgasm altogether? We know that Thomas Crapper invented the flushable toilet. Where did orgasm come from (she wrote with a perfectly straight face)?

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Readers are never shy about stating their preferences in this arena, so let's continue that discussion now:

Dee wrote that she prefers realism to euphemism. "I don't want to be in the middle of reading a steamy love scene and find out that the heroine has decided to 'cup the masculine sacs' of the hero. I burst out laughing. I don't mind the 'p' word since, basically, that is what it is. I have the 'manroot' issue as well (images of carrots and beets - yuck!) Sex is an okay word but it seems kind of impersonal in the context, as though the body part is behaving independently of the character (course, in some cases it is). Personally speaking, C_ck needs to be used when the pov is from the hero. That is what most men call it - especially in contemporaries. I have yet to find a word for the female anatomy that doesn't, if I concentrate too long, make me giggle. And as far as the act of completion goes, that is tricky business. How does one actually verbalize such a unique experience? Climax is a place in Saskatchewan - people should "come." The word can be very sensual if used properly. Granted this is all coming from a reader who likes more spice than nice in her romances, but even the racy ones can be destroyed if the adjectives get too ridiculous."

Mark, our resident humor expert, calls our culture Dionysian Puritanism, which sounds about right to me. He commented on Amanda Quick's use of imagery and language based on the characters themselves in her love scenes. He wrote, "In Dangerous, there was the lock/key and fire/ice language. In Desire, it was flowers and scents. In Deception the language was of the sea and exploration. The character theme distracts from or adds to the basic bodily language."

Although I've enjoyed many an earlier Amanda Quick love scene, the one in Mystique referring to "the entrance to her secret citadel" seemed altogether silly to me. On the other hand, in Jayne Castle's Zinnia (Amanda Quick and Jayne Castle are both pseudonyms for Jayne Ann Krentz), I didn't care for the reference to proud nipples or to the use of clitoris. Proud nipples seem silly; clitoris seems clinical.

An anonymous reader prefers "penis" for nonsexual situations; when in the midst of a love scene, "manhood" and "his sex" works better for her. In the right context, she wrote, "I kind of like "c_ck. Susan Johnson uses it well. It's a word best used by hardened characters (you know what I mean - those men and women who have had a lot of sex without love)."

Reader Nora had this to say: "There is definitely a hierarchy of male reproductive organ euphemisms in romance. It is ok for men to say whatever about their parts, especially when they are around other guys and being all manly. Whores get to use an extensive vocabulary, too. But God forbid that our litle heroine should say anything other than breathless metaphors. Personally, I prefer penis to some of the other things that I've read and for once I would like a heroine who has at least some clue about male anatomy."

The author Kat Mallory doesn't mind the word "c_ck," especially if a male character describing himself uses the term. She added, "This is something one of the characters in my books does. After all, when a man refers to himself, he usually tells it like it is. Right? However, I agree with Laurie that it does take the "romance' out of a lovemaking scene to use such a vivid description. Especially by a female character."

The Come Conundrum (From LN&V, March 1, 1999):

Queasy can't stand the term "to come" at all. "It is so distasteful," she writes, "that even in a clinical setting I can only bring myself to whisper it. It causes such an unpleasant mental image that I can't read it without wincing, blushing or vomiting. A dignified couple should by all means 'climax'. It is rude and coarse to do otherwise."

While some readers find coming too vulgar, others find it that way only when spelled as "cum." I'd have to agree; "coming" is fine but "cuming" is vulgar. As for dignity in romance? I couldn't disagree more. Sex is not dignified; it is wonderfully wet, squishy, and altogether funky. To picture a man and a woman making dignified love seems rather sad to me and connotes sexual intercourse solely for the purposes of procreation.

A Couple of Questions (From LN&V, April 1, 1999):

Anyone who can explain "pouting" or "pouty" breasts, please do! And, aren't heroes' afraid they'll put an eye out when they settle down to feast on those "diamond-hard" nipples?

Answers to These Questions (From the LN&V message board for April 1, 1999):

From Candy: Pouty breasts never made much sense to me either... I associate pouting with puckering up and smooshing your mouth out, and while it can be sexy if done right, I can't imagine it would be particularly attractive on breasts. In fact, it would be well-nigh impossible, if you think about it. Perky, yes; pouty, no. And as for 'diamond hard'... I don't know about other people out there, but I don't think it's particularly attractive (or comfortable) for nipples to get that hard. And speaking about pointy objects, what's up with 'cones of flesh'? Yuk! Globes (a word favored by Karen Robards, I discovered) is another silly sex word for me. They bring to mind hard, cold, round objects. Unless the heroine has had a boob job, I don't think 'globes' really describe breasts. The hero might get concussion if he slipped and fell against the heroine's chest, to my thinking... You know why I think authors (and not just romance novelists, either) get silly with breasts? They're trying too hard to hide the fact that they're basically globs of fat with some glands thrown in. <g> Now that's sexy! And can someone explain to me how hard, continued thrusting can drive a virgin to ecstacy? I mean, owwwwieee..... I know the hero is supposed to be a studmuffin, but couldn't he demonstrate his prowess later? Like, when the heroine isn't bleeding on him?

From Mary Lynne: That's the exact problem I have with globes. They make me think of breast implants. As to the virgin in passion on her first experience as the hero drives into her over and over - oh, please. It's become a cliche. I actually give credit to the author who's willing to *avoid* this lately.

From Alb: Diamond-hard nipples makes me think of precious jewels and pierced nipples. I'd be afraid he'd swallow one. And how fun would that be to have ‘em sucked? Ouch.

From Katarina: As for diamond-hard nipples, I can't get rid of the picture of uncut gems being licked into their sparkly, cut shape by the hero. Now that's an abrasive tongue! Or should be think that "Diamonds are a girl's best friend?"

Mine Never Have. . . Pulsated, That Is (From LN&V, May 15, 1999):

There was also lots and lots of sex in this book (Patty Salier's The Sex Test), most of it out-and-out silly. Here are a few of the silliest descriptions: "naked globes," "chestnut patch of pleasure," "pulsating breasts," - well, you get the point. If reading a love scene makes me grab a pen, it's just not working.

Ouch! (From ATBF, June 1, 2000)

"He plucked pert, woolen-covered nipples into prompt obedience." - Corbin's Fancy, Linda Lael Miller

Oh, those wacky Corbin boys! Linda Lael Miller came to prominence in the mid-1980's with the Corbin family quartet - we've even got it listed on our Family Series list. So when I ran across the books at the library and UBS, I decided to give them a try. I'd read LLM before, both in hardcover and paperback. Her most recent releases have been far tamer than the books she used to write. Comparing her recent The Women of Primrose Creek: Bridget to those older books (I'm speaking of her historicals and time travels), her writing has gotten better. Apparently when all those love scenes are removed, there's a need to write an actual story. Because, you see, those Corbin books are so filled with plucked nipples that I felt like covering my own with Band-Aids after reading them.

I was going to read the entire quartet before commenting on it, but after the third book, I realized I was beat. I could no longer read these books wherein the couples fell in love immediately yet fought incessantly while surrounded by explosions, leprosy, stabbings, shooting, etc. We've all read romances where the couples fight constantly, but usually by the time they've each realized they love one another, things calm down. Not so with these books - both hero and heroine fall in lustful love immediately, and when they're not boinking like bunnies, they're fighting like mad. Maturity is not a hallmark among this clan.

What am I missing here? LLM's Princess Annie is a romance I remember fondly, but if I read it again today, would I find it as unappealing as I found the Corbin books? Until recently, Miller's style was so sexual that her characters practically came to orgasm from a heated look or baited breath. Yes, I think her new books, while still not all that good, are filled with better writing than her older ones, and the toned down love scenes are more erotic than in those earlier books with page after page of plucking and suckling. There is so much nipple action going on that in Corbin's Fancy, the hero at one point must soothe the heroine's disobedient little nubbins of love with Bag Balm. While I was reading, I wondered what happened when nipples were disobedient. Would my own husband shout, "Bad, bad, nipple!"?

 

Since two very recent issues [summer, 2000] of At the Back Fence (August 15th and September 1st) had lengthy sections devoted to silly sex, I won't include excerpts here, but will instead provide links to both columns: August 15th ATBF and September 1st ATBF.

Much of what was posted to our ATBF Message Board after that August column was reported in the September column, but my request for words and phrases for use in this dictionary has yet to be reported. That's what follows, as well as this small excerpt from the September 1st column:

Lis was kind enough to create a list of some of the euphemisms she's seen. I'd like to share it with you now:

  • Female Euphemisms:
    • Reached her zenith
    • Crested in waves
    • Brought to pleasure
    • Crumbled over him (this I envision with much laughter because I envision cake or doughnuts somewhere in the mix)
    • Orgasm went on. And on. And on.
    • Rippling, pulsing, pressure and pleasure muscles clenched
    • Splintered apart
  • Male Euphemisms:
    • Warmth flooded her
    • Took his release
    • Thrust until spent
    • Burst inside her like a tidal wave (hope she was still somewhere in the vicinity following the big one)
    • Expanded and released
    • Spurted into her deep
    • Growl of release
    • It overtook him
    • His release came hard and fast
    • Swelled and exploded - yikes!
  • F/M Euphemisms:
    • Dancing toward the shore (Lord help me but that sounds rather too tame)
    • Bucked and came
    • Milked dry by the rhythmic pulse of her climax' (Beats dancing to the shore)
    • Spilling open
    • Exploded in release
    • Paroxysm of pleasure
    • Shattered reflexive tremors splintered together
    • Came in scalding pulsations.

Lis' list is the direct result of my going to readers and asking for the words and phrases they feel are overused, too euphemistic, or out and out bizarre. Here is some other terminology provided by our readers - some of them are lucky enough to have been awarded an author-autographed book for helping "write" this encyclopedia:

From Koala Bear: Is it just me or is anyone else driven crazy by Nora Roberts' classic reference to an orgasm as: "Erupted like a geyser"'? I just have visions of hot, grey mud going blop blop blop!'. She's used it in quite a few of her books.

From Wendy: My all-time favorite silly sex term is 'nubbin of flesh'. When I read this in a medival romance last year, I burst out laughing. Something tells me that's not what the author intended.

From Sharon: Here's one of my favorite silly terms describing a hero's erection: "His sex was throbbing like a toothache." This is a quote from one of my very favorite authors, Linda Howard, in one of my very favorite novels, Mackenzie's Pleasure. I must admit that I had to put the book down, I was laughing so hard. I am glad that I picked it back up, though.

From Christine: If I never read the word "shaft" referring to the male anatomy again, I would be a happy woman. First it always makes me think of the Richard Roundtree movie, and second I have never heard it outside of a fiction setting. A man just would never say "Behold, my shaft." Also the whole "sword and sheath" analogy causes me to roll my eyes heavenward.

From Kim: A few others that go along here and with a few further down are his staff, his member, and - get this one - his tree of life (I read that one somewhere in an older historical). Somebody mentioned turgid further down -- it's often coupled with member - his turgid member - his throbbing member, etc. As for women, well, I just read a contemporary from the '80's where the hero's "fingers...found the moist heart of her desire" (right up there with dew and core of her desire). I just loved her response to this - "her hips bucking" in pleasure.

From bchad: "Nubbin of flesh', 'nubbin of pleasure', 'nubbin of love' are so silly they're irritating! Medievals can sometimes contain too many 'sword and scabbard' euphemisms to suit me.

From LLB: Why have I read "hard thighs" probably 500 times in 600 romances?

From Wendy: The funniest, most purple sex term I ever read was in a book by (I think) Judith Gould of all people - she referred to the hero's penis as a "weapon of flesh." She was apparently perfectly serious, but I was rolling on the floor with laughter. I didn't bother to finish the book and I've never read another by her.

From Lynn:

There are a million silly terms, truthfully I'd rather see the clinical terms or modern slang terms with the exception of the nasty c-words: How about all those terms for women, lets see, some of the worst Dewy lips, didn't someone say they read a book calling a womans labia as forested lips? Dew is a bizarre term to my mind. Slickness might work. Describing a clitoris has a bunch euphamisms - nubbin of flesh, anything with button (ackk), place with nerves, etc. Less bizarre but just as obnoxious descriptions of her 'womanliness' or describing her 'womb' during sex. Isn't the womb her uterus which may contract during an orgasm, but otherwise isn't where we have sexual sensations? I'm waiting for someone to talk about the g-spot. And all those descriptions of 'full feelings', or better yet, that 'unusual feeling of fullness, not unpleasant'. Or she felt stretched, but not unpleasantly. All virgins sleeping with men with extra large peni. Lets see, for breasts and nipples, describing nipples as diamond hard (ouch) puckered, or how women's nipples pucker up at every sighting of their love.

For men - organ, hardness (which is ok with me), turgid anything -turgid!!??? That often pops into my mind, and is so much more pleasant than erect or hard (sarcastic). sword, manliness, manhood. I've said this many times, so much of it is silly to me, everyone has different sexual preferences and sexual attraction and tension is what makes a scene for me, not the actual mechanics. I'd prefer less detailed explanation and more discussion of the thrill or being with someone you really like and desire. Descriptions of the general feelings both emotional and sexual than the mechanics. The other thing- in many books, they kiss once, he sticks his tongue in for five seconds and then onto her organs - don't most people even in porno movies spend more time in the beginning hugging and kissing. If the he's doing something I would find annoying - say incessant plucking (ack) of her rose buds (nipples) - it ruins the scene for me. If however, its more general with short descriptions I can insert my own likes or dislikes.

From Patricia: I once read a book in which the heroine's nipples puckered or tightened or something everytime she saw the hero. It got to the point that everytime this happened I'd yell out loud "there go her nipples again." Honestly, does this ever happen in real life?

From LLB: I think Linda Lael Miller is one of the biggest offenders in this area. Not in her newer, tamer books, but in every other book I've ever read by her (which is why I lead off a previous column with a quote from one of her books), nipples are not only hard, but they are constantly being plucked and tweaked that my own chest hurts just reading these books. And, I think I once said in a review of her from when I was at The Romance Reader, that just having the hero close by and breathing on her neck that the heroine nearly had an orgasm.

From Bridget: I wish that was all it took!

From Phyllis: I agree with a lot of what is being said here. For males, manhood works for me because the penis is the part of a man's anatomy that most epitomizes his maleness. But I also like realistic terms rather than most euphemisms. What is a great wonder to me and seemingly egotistical on the male's part and naive on the female's is the often used adjectives to describe an erection. Usually, huge or enormous come ('g') to mind. Nothing is ever average.

From Vivien: The one expression that always jars me out of an otherwise good love scene is the 'dance as old as time' thing. It is so hackneyed! Whoever invented it may have had a burst of inspiration, but all those who followed do not seem to understand that certain terms get on your nerves if you hear them too often. Call me picky, but I guess sexuality as we know as human beings it is not as old as time! Another pet peeve of mine: pouting nipples. If there ever was a silly metaphor, it's this one. When I told my boyfriend about this expression, he was practically in stitches.

From Jennifer: Why don't they ever call it an orgasm? "Climax"' is okay; "culmination" is a descriptive but a little awkward; "tummult" is just goofy. For contemporaries, I see no reason why an author shouldn't write, "She came." That's what most contemporary people would say, if they talked about it. One of my least favorite descriptions is when an author writes, "She came apart" or "she shattered" (usually into rainbow-hued fragments of pleasure, or something).

From Bridget: Terms that bug:

  • button - you mean like "cute as a ___"? sheesh.
  • pleasure bud
  • pleasure pearl
  • nubbin
  • column of flesh
  • manhood
  • womanhood
  • petals of flesh
  • woman's place
  • turgid anything
  • humid anything - ick! I need a shower
  • any kind of fireworks or pyrotechnic display during climax.

Sorry, but when you get a good one off you're not thinking 'Oh, this is just like the 4th of July!' You're not thinking at all. You might wonder 'oh-my-merciful-god-am-i-still-breathing" but rushing rivers and exploding suns and cosmic communion with every blessed thing in the universe? Gimme a break.

From Patricia: Especially when the climaxer (word?) in question is a virgin. I really can't see one "climbing the cliffs of ecstasy" her first try up the mountain. Maybe thinking to herself "Hey, this could be good and next time I'll 'scale the peak of passion'or 'soar over the summit of desire.'"

From author Alison Kent: Oh, I am so loving this discussion. I write for Temptation, but am now contracted to write for the new, even hotter Blaze line. And writing about contemporary sex in contemporary language is so incredibly, ahem, orgasmic. <g>

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