When studying literature at University, I had to study John Cleland’s 1748 novel, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure – otherwise known as Fanny Hill. Not that I knew it then, but this was my introduction to the world of the erotic novel.
Amongst my circle of author-friends, there is often much discussion surrounding what words to use to describe body parts and intimate acts, also the choreography we must make our characters perform in order to relay what is happening in that moment to the reader.
Even Shakespeare, in his flowery and often obscure prose, managed to titillate audiences by allowing his word choice to form images, emotions and feelings, allowing them to be fully involved in the sensuous activities carried out by the characters.
So, I began to wonder, with so much history of describing the sex act in such an adequate way, why then do we today grasp at just the half dozen or so plain, often crass, words to describe putting tab A into slot B? The words for the magnificent act of love, or even the passion-driven desire to couple, are left to some over-used nouns and verbs that have somehow become swear words, or terms of abuse.
As a writer of erotic romance, I’m searching for the right words to convey what the characters feel, taste, smell, hear, and see, and then merge them with how their heart feels, the reaction of their body to the stimulation, their internal thoughts, the urgency of desire, and the need for fulfilment … phew! And you know what? I’m searching for just the right words that will allow my readers to be in the moment, to go on the sensuous ride with my characters, to feel exhausted at the end of it. Then, how great would it be for them to be able to recall the scene later, maybe as they commute to work, with a smile on their face.
Erotic romance doesn’t have to be ‘dirty’. Nor should it have to be propped up with everyday terms that are used for anything from hitting your thumb with a hammer, to being a major part of the vocabulary of thirteen-year-old girls and boys who, rather than search for a better adjective, insert it as every second word, morphed into something that sounds like ‘fuckn’.
I recently came across an article written in 2011 by Lili Loofbourow, titled ‘The Golden Age of Dirty Talk’. In it, Loofbourow discusses how our restrained and shadowy way of describing sexual practices are a far cry from pre-Victorian times when “sexual practices had little need of secrecy; words were said without undue reticence, and things were done without too much concealment.” (See link to article below). She draws on Michel Foucault’s seminal book The History of Sexuality, saying that whereas now we have d-words and c-words and ‘naughty bits’, in the 1690s you could put your ‘spigot’ in a willing ‘well’. Or offer to plop your ‘vagary’ onto someone’s ‘cabbage stump’.
Are you laughing yet? You should be. What if we suddenly started reading erotic romance where the heroine ‘welcomed a rolling pin into her treasure’? Or ‘he explored her terra incognita with his Robin’. Yes, it’s funny. They are still euphemisms for our ‘bits’, however they don’t seem to have transformed into swear words as modern day terms have, but rather have a charming naivety about them.
Consider this. Instead of reading:
‘...Her heart pounded and her breathing became heavy. His lips traced a feathery line down her stomach, then further down, until his tongue found the rosebud knob, sending waves of longing through her...’
– you could be reading something like:
‘...His warm, sweet breath filled her senses. His taste on her lips was intoxicating. Soft, feather-like kisses caressed her neck, moving downwards towards her breasts. She felt his plentiful vagary nudging her tinderbox. Parts shuffled and recombined in circumvolutory spirals as he swiftly entered her...’
Aah, got the picture? I’ll continue on my quest to find just the right words to convey images, actions and feelings, so that readers can have a fulfilling, technicolor experience right alongside my characters.
Reference: The Golden Age Of Dirty Talk by Lili Loofbourow October 25th, 2011 http://www.theawl.com/2011/10/the-golden-age-of-dirty-talk