Talk Dirty to Me: Sex and Language in the 21st Century
A popular meme circulating via the Internet since 2011 quotes nonagenarian comedic actress Betty White thusly, ““Why do people say ‘grow some balls’? Balls are weak and sensitive! If you really wanna get tough, grow a vagina! Those things take a pounding!” The problem is, like many things on the internet, this simply isn’t true. Unfortunately, Betty White never said this. But I sure wish she had. It would go a long way in abrogating so much of the pejorative connotation associated with words like “pussy”, words that form the popular parlance of our times but retain a latent deleterious impact on our notions of human sexuality.
Words are funny things. They can have a profound impact on how we view a particular topic, yet we often give little conscious heed to their selection when uttering them. Think of the various words and phrases we generally use when referring to sexual conduct. You could easily imagine yourself saying any of the following to a partner:
“Oh, I think we should throw on some Michael Jackson and be bad tonight.”
“Hmmmm…. I sure do like it when you start getting nasty.”
“You better call Santa because I am definitely going to be on the naughty list.”
“Do you like it when I talk dirty to you?”
“It’s been years since I appeared in a smutty magazine.”
Ok, that last one might only apply to me, but I think you get my point here nonetheless. There sure are a lot of words that refer to sex as something immoral or salacious.
And this portrayal of sexuality is bound to have significant repercussions in how we, in turn, view and practice our own individual sexuality. By characterizing sex as something filthy or unchaste, we create an inherent shaming that leads people to see sexuality through a lens of immorality. And it is just that distorted lens that perpetuates so many of the falsehoods, hang-ups, and inhibitions that riddle modern day sexuality.
America may be like to fashion itself as the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”, but when it comes to sexual liberty, we also have a long history of puritanical sexual repression, After all, our nation was founded by a group of religious zealots who fled the “religious persecution” of England so that they could be free to burn women at the stake for showing just a bit too much leg. And while the Victorian age had more than its share of sexual promiscuity, these folks mastered the art of hiding everything they did behind closed doors. When folks from the 1800’s talked about being in the closet, they literally meant they were having sex in the closet because that was the only place that was safe from public scrutiny.
All of this has led to an outlook on sex that is, and please excuse the obvious pun here, completely fucked up. Sex is not inherently bad, quite the opposite. As the source of procreation for the entire human race, sex is literally the lifeblood of our existence. Pretty much every single one of you reading this column right now is alive because two people got down and did the “nasty” (Yeah, you can thank me for that little visual reminder of your parents copulating). Moreover, physical intimacy, in its purest form, is an opportunity to transcend the limitations of our physical forms and merge our soul with another while expressing, beyond the power of words, our love and appreciation of another. So why is it vilified in contemporary culture?
Of course sex has been used in negative contexts. It can be used as a source of violence, domination, control, and manipulation. And sure there are plenty of folks who engage in sex frivolously and without emotional investment. But that is only because of the participant, not the act itself. Sex is prima facie an act of connection, of love. If it is not that for you, you’re doing it wrong. That’s on you.
The issue with this detrimental view on human sexuality is that it then becomes the source for moral judgment and shaming, especially for young women. The word “slut” has long been used to debase women for engaging in the same sexual behaviors that are deemed just plain hunky dory for men. The result is a series of repressions of natural desires and the development of inhibitions that keep women from the full sexual enjoyment they are entitled to.
And of course, the results have been even more pernicious for the LGBTQ community who have spent most of the past century hiding in the shadows for fear of retribution for their own latent sexual desires. Too often have these acts been decried as “perverse”, “taboo”, or “deviant”, thus standing outside prescribed social norms when all acts of love should be embraced for being exactly that, regardless of what form they take.
Sadly, the reality is that this unconscious societal tendency to disparage sexuality has the result of taking one of the most beautiful things we are allotted in this lifetime and turning it into something tawdry and cheap. Physical intimacy has the potential to bring us together in magical ways, to deepen and strengthen the connection between us, but ironically that power is only unleashed when we are vulnerable enough to truly open ourselves without impurity or inhibition. It is in letting down all of those defenses that society has instilled in us that the beauty of connection is forged, a beauty that somehow defies the words used to describe it.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com