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Questions about word choice for genitalia in fiction
B/B Mirror Mirror on the Wall - lerdo
only_more_love
I know that's a bizarre subject line, but it's accurate. :) For a while now, I've been curious about readers' preferences around what words are used to describe male and female genitals in fiction. Then someone left me this comment, so I decided to post a poll.  When it comes to sex, I know word choice can be a very charged issue. Some people abhor the word "cunt," for example. Other people have no problem with it.

In any case, I would love it if you'd humor me and take a minute to participate in the poll I've placed underneath the cut. LJ limits you to a certain number of choices for each question, so in some cases, I ran out of space.  I didn't have room for "erection," for example.

Feel free to leave notes, clarification, or questions in the comment section of this post. In fact, I'd love it if you did so.  And if you're shy, do it anonymously. I promise you this isn't a joke or some bizarre attempt to get off; I'm genuinely interested your thoughts. What are writers, after all, but people who pick and choose words?

ETA:  If you know anyone else who'd be willing to participate, please nudge them over here.  Doesn't matter if I know them, if they could care less about Bones, or if they'll only participate anonymously.  This isn't scientific, but I'm looking for data. 


Poll #1109682 Questions about word choice

Which of the following words for male genitalia do you prefer in fiction?

Penis
0(0.0%)
Cock
1(2.4%)
Dick
0(0.0%)
Hardness
0(0.0%)
Himself
0(0.0%)
Arousal
0(0.0%)
Member
0(0.0%)
Length
0(0.0%)
Testicles
0(0.0%)
Balls
0(0.0%)
Sac
0(0.0%)
All of the above
3(7.1%)
Something else (Please type the word(s) in the text entry box or in the comments section.)
0(0.0%)
Genitalia? What is this genitalia of which you speak?
0(0.0%)
It all depends on the story and the point of view character.
2(4.8%)

I prefer the following words for male genitalia in fiction (Please type the words into the box below or leave a note in the comment section):

Which of the following words for female genitalia do you prefer in fiction?

Vagina
0(0.0%)
Cunt
0(0.0%)
Pussy
0(0.0%)
Wetness
0(0.0%)
Folds
0(0.0%)
Inside her
1(2.4%)
Between her legs
0(0.0%)
Juncture of her thighs
0(0.0%)
Where she needed him/her most
0(0.0%)
Most secret place
0(0.0%)
Clit
0(0.0%)
All of the above
1(2.4%)
Something else (Please type the word(s) in the text entry box or in the comments section.)
0(0.0%)
Genitalia? What is this genitalia of which you speak?
0(0.0%)
It all depends on the story and the point of view character.
5(12.2%)

I prefer the following words for female genitalia in fiction (Please type the words into the box below or leave a note in the comment section):

Breasts aren't genitals, but they can be sexualized. So, what words do you prefer to see used to refer to breasts in fiction?

Breasts
16(39.0%)
Chest
0(0.0%)
Tits
0(0.0%)
All of the above
4(9.8%)
Something else (Please type the word(s) in the text entry box or in the comments section.)
0(0.0%)
Breasts? What are these breasts of which you speak?
0(0.0%)
It all depends on the story and the point of view character.
2(4.9%)

I prefer the following words for breasts in fiction (Please type the words into the box below or leave a note in the comment section):


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(Deleted comment)
can i just raise my hand and say i'm proud to be the only person (thus far) who also checked "genitalia? what is this genitalia of which you speak?" score.

however, i do think this is a really interesting topic. to be honest, i think the key thing is to be tasteful. i think some terms are just way to graphic and explicit for me to take seriously when i read a fic, and when i do i am immediately turned off by it. you know what i mean? i think a lot of the times it can be really unnecessary to go into such explicit detail about a dude's "throbbing member" or whatever. at the same time, it really depends on the author and the story. but i guess my bottom line is that the key is tastefulness. and somehow being classy even in the face of such a graphic act.

Man, I totally go through all of this when writing an M or NC-17 rated story. Usually my word choice depends on the type of sex they're having and what characters are in it, but in general, I usually keep away from a couple words: I hate when people use the word 'cunt' and 'pussy', and I also hate 'dick', but that's just my personal preferences.

In a romantic scene, the moment is totally ruined for me if the writer uses the word 'dick', or something else really slang/dirty sounding. But in an erotic scene, I'd hate to see 'her most secret place' or something similar. It's like the words are out of place depending on the context of the scene.

Also, I tend to stray away from adjectives that are more than two words to describe male or female genitals. Example: 'her most secret place' is too many words, it makes it sound like the writer is 12. Even in a romantic scene, I'd feel like it would be out of place. Simple says it best. If it's a whole phrase used to describe one thing, it's probably too word-y.

I can get turned off by word choice once in a while, like if a writer repeatedly uses the same word for the same thing every time - excessively. If every other word is 'cunt', you can bet I'll be hitting the 'x' button.

I think that's basically it for me!

As English is not my first languaje, I don´t really know which words sound rude, or childish, or just weird. But I have read tons of smut and, well, I do know what I like to read in M-fics, so I wanted to answer your poll and collaborate, so to speak :-)

I found it very interesting! Great initiative! :-)

Being a fan of The Vagina Monologues, I have no problem with the word 'cunt'. But in fic, it can be a bit iffy. It's one of those words that only suits a very small percentage of characters in fandom. I can't imagine it in any of the fandoms I read/write.

Anyway, fun poll! As an ex-smut writer, I found the results fascinating.

I think it all depends on the character. I don't watch Bones so can't comment on what applies to characters in that fandom. My fic writing/reading is in Buffyverse and Battlestar Galactica (new), where my favorite characters usually are fairly edgy females who own their sexuality to a great degree. So I prefer words that aren't fluffy euphamisms or sound like the author is too sexually repressed to use words that the character would use. On the flip-side, writing a high-school Buffy fic where she's going on an on about her pussy also throws me out because I think high school Buffy was too sexually inexperienced and also too much a product of her cultural upbringing (mirroring American culture at the time) to casually use a word that most high school girls of her generation would not. Also, I think it's important to note that I don't just mean using words in dialogue that the character would use, but also being consistent in the narrative.

The one commonly used phrase for female genitalia that I can't stand is "folds", usually preceded by "moist" or "wet". That just sounds like a really chronic yeast infection waiting to happen. It particularly annoys me when "folds" is used to refer to Starbuck's genitalia because of the reasons stated above-- brings the author's language hang-ups into a story that the character would not have.

In closing, I like the word "sex" to refer to either an erection or a lubricated vagina. It's unisex, it isn't prejorative, it isn't too clinical, and it isn't too slangy.

I write in the voice of the character. It doesn't matter what my personal opinion is.

If I writing Buffy back in HS she's not going to be able to say any words. If I'm writing Spike, he's going to say cunt and twat. It's all about the character.

The number one reason I don't write smut is the groan factor associated with the words used to describe the 'parts'. I agree with the original comment that 'erection' is a great choice but everything else... insert groan here.

Answered the poll .
I never commented on your fics . bad bad bad brennanite . I should have as I read them all ....... ;)
Will do better from now on .
Thank you ;)

Very intriguing, L! Interesting to see the prefs of all the authors I love. Honestly, for boys (Booth :)) i'm not picky, but GOD do I hate the word cunt. Ew, ew, ew. I was raised in a place where that was the most derogatory thing you could say about a woman. Hate it. If it's used in a fic, I'll still read it if it's a good story, but I cringe a little. I'm not a huge fan of tits either. Kinda crude. My older Godsister always says that she doesn't like smut writing because the phrase "moist honey pot" freaks her out. Me too. :)

Oh, I've had this conversation many times... possibly in short with you, once. I understand the influence of context but some words... I just can't deal with.

I remember in primary school, we'd say dick. Now I just can't use the word, unless as an insult. But penis in fic? Only works in very secial circumstances. Like, it would have to be PERFECT context for me to forgive a writer for saying penis. It's just so.... BLAH!! Arousal I can deal with, but not past the point of nekkidness. It's a great word, like hardness, to use when the pants are still on. But once they're off, let's switch to cock or erection. It just seems... silly once you can see the appendage in question.

AGH! AGH! MEMBER! NO! NEVER SUBJECT ME TO THAT WORD IN FIC EVER EVER PLEASE! Ugh.

Same with sac. I mean, I don't have much of a problem with any of those testicular words :P but sac makes me think of spider's eggs and icky things.

The word 'vagina' makes me think of primary school again, kida being smart. Cunt, I'm not sure about. Sometimes it works, sometimes it's really jarring. I'm trying to get over the shock it gives me, because I'm doing the whole 'reclaim the meaning' thing because I don't like that it's the worst insult ever and also a part of my body. Like, wtf? But still, sometimes it doesn't fit.

I HAVE ISSUES WITH THE WORD PUSSY! I mean, how STUPID is it? Pussy. Like it's a creature. And it's so ridiculous. If someone said to me, no matter how attractive they were and at what stage of the proceedings we were in, ANYTHING to do with 'my pussy', I would leave. I mean, guh? I want to yell at the world. QUIT ALIENATING ME FROM MY GIRL BITS WITH YOUR STUPID NAMES!

Wetness can work but it's a bit of a cop out and a lot of the time, it just makes you roll your eyes.

Folds, I understand, is a necessary term. I mean, it's not great but it's not awful and it's at least anatomical without being 'lips' which just says badly narrated porn to me.

Inside her is fine but sounds stupid when paired up eith the words arousal and hardness. It's like "Guys, you're writing smut. You have to use at least one explicit term. Save yourselves and make it 'cock' if you want."

Between her legs is also fine but sort of the same. Better to use in describing unfulfilled-as-yet arousal.

Juncture of her thighs is a phrase that has been abused and is now the fanfic bike and should be ignored as such.

Where she needed him/her most and most secret place just make me snort and screw up my face. At least you didn't mention 'core' or 'sex'. Blagh!

I *LOVE* that you only mentioned 'clit'. None of this other horrible bullshit. Seriously, nothing but clit will do. Nub? No. Pearl?? God no. "Bundle of nerves"? OH GOD KILL ME NOW! And 'button' doesn't even get a mention. Just... ew.

I'm ashamed of most of our words.

As long as you don't say 'quivering alabaster mounds' for breasts, I am so cool. Anything else is fine.

Erection is a nice word.

So far, you haven't fucked things up so's I'd notice (and I notice these things as the above may have indicated). Good on you for polling!

(Deleted comment)
LOL... overuse cock. Oh, you win. You win a LOT.

What a nice way to start my day!

(Deleted comment)
It all really depends on the characters. If, for example, the narrating character were Brennan, she'd probably think in very clinical terms, "penis" and such. She's not one for even the most basic euphamisms.

When I write sex scenes, I don't like to mention specific body parts at all; it makes me feel like I'm writing an instruction manual. I hate slang words like "cock", especially with characters that would never think in that way. It's so disrespectful. But that is how I handle my own writing. If an author honestly thinks that Dr. Temperence Brennan would think "cock", than she should write that way.

Edited at 2007-12-26 06:51 pm (UTC)

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