People really don’t enjoy talking about sex. Most find it clichéd, offensive, insensitive. I will say that I’m somewhat sympathetic though I spend a lot of time doing just that -- talking and writing about sex. But I have to say there problems with sex talk: the vocabulary is inept and the sex is, well, not so clear.
If you want to know the state of any issue, all you have to do is look at its nomenclature -- a fancy word that describes the language used to discuss a part5icular topic or discipline. When it comes to sex, we have a lousy vocabulary. We have a small set of words that offend some or others, even though they’re as old as the English language itself and actually convey important meanings. We have a sort of Jim Crow-era style mentality when it comes to certain sex words -- a linguistic segregation. We have the words we can say in front of children. We have one set of words deemed appropriate in front of the “ladies,” others for the old geezers, the ones for the upper classes, the ones for criminals -- god forbid if I were to try to be sensitive in my sex blog! Our language, our nomenclature, for sex -- the medicalized, the four lettered, and the romanticized -- is indicative of our anxieties about sex.
Take a good old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon word like fuck, as an example. In our current movie ratings system, if you use fuck to mean actually having sex, then the film isn’t deemed unfit for younger viewers and must be rated for mature audiences. However, If you use fuck as a swear word to express anger or outrage, you can still advertise the film to minors. It’s the hypocrisy of middle class values that there is more concern with appearances (and fucking isn’t an “appearance,” it’s the dirty deed). We’re conditioned to condone the use of sex words for hostility but become anxious when they are used to express warmth or sex.
Fuck got a new lease on linguistic life during the counter culture of the sixties, along with the rest of the underground language for the body. Fuck embraced free love and snubbed its nose at the Vietnam War all at the same time. Sociologists like to describe the so-called sexual revolution in terms of The Pill, but it was just as much a revolt of language -- sexual language. Artists of the time wanted to speak their minds with the entire range of public language at their disposal. Some, like Lenny Bruce, were censored. But in the end, the state lost. The words were emancipated -- at least for men. African Americans and other people of color had been on the forefront of sexual language for decades, with artists like Redd Foxx and those before him, exploring and pushing the sexual language envelope, but that was going on underneath the radar. Later black comics, like Richard Pryor, did all kinds of shit to let loose all kinds of words.
Eventually, feminism -- the cutting-edge side anyway -- emancipated women to use all the “unladylike” words, reclaiming bold language like dyke and pussy (and yes, cunt) and claim them as women’s turf, not merely men’s labels.
People are sometimes afraid to use sex words because they fear they will be perceived as sexual. If we keep our lips sealed (or "zipped"), we can maintain the illusion that we are not sexual creatures. Fuck became a word that so-called “well-bred” women could use and it also defined a generation gap. Popular music turned it into a lyric. But saying the word stills says more about your political stance than about your sexuality.
Think about it: words describing other controversial or painful aspects of our life don’t get people so upset. No one ever says, “I can’t stand the word war,” or no one goes off on a rant that “the word torture is too cruel to use,” or screams, “I won’t allow anyone to say taxes in my home!” We manage to discuss all kinds of horrible and psychologically conflicted issues privately and publicly without choking up. Even words the insult and stereotype, like spic and nigger get more public debate and defense than George Carlin’s “seven words you can’t say on television.” Sex is the only topic where we blame language for holding us back. We suffer from a collective sexual tongue-tiedness. Almost any sexual expression we come up with bothers someone either because it isn’t sensitive enough, or it’s too Disneyfied.
I had a woman friend who hated the word cunt. I happen to like it because it’s -- I don’t know -- to me the word cunt crosses certain boundaries and I appreciate crossing borders. It’s subversive, profane. I have met people who can’t even bring themselves to say cunt. The point is that perhaps we do need more words that are sexual. As a Spanish/ English bilingual, I can tell you English misses the mark totally, when it comes to matters of sex. But we’re afraid of the words we do have at our disposal. In a way, we’re afraid that if we let the dangerous words out, sex will be more dangerous, life will be uglier, we won’t know what to expect.
I personally believe we need that surprise. There’s nothing uglier than silence and denial. We’re choking on our own sex words, drawing a line between this word and that. I have a cock, and I have balls, intelligence, and an active imagination and sometimes I have a range of experiences that begs for as many names as I can conceive.