tagReviews & EssaysSuck It!: Sex-Negative Language

Suck It!: Sex-Negative Language

bycand86©

"You guys are assholes. And not the good kind." - Xander, "Drawn Together"

*

I don't, on principle, swear often. My family doesn't do it that often, so I never grew up in the habit of littering choice, juicy words in my speech. Moreover, I'm not a confrontational person. In an argument, should there be an argument, I'm not going to be the one tossing around words that conventionally mean "fight" or even just "let's take this to the next level". I've always felt a sort of dirtiness at those four-letter words, and I remember, as a child, being appalled to hear my beloved fourth grade teacher use the word "crud". Much of my respect was lost for her as I disapprovingly told my mother, who assured me that "crud" wasn't a bad word (in my young little brain, I must have gotten it confused with "crap"). I'm the kind of girl who has a hierarchy of curse words- from the innocuous "hell" (honestly, it's real place, isn't it?), to that word, to quote Ralphie in A Christmas Story, "THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the 'F-dash-dash-dash' word!". And, it would appear, the rest of the world seems to agree with me- you can get away with certain words on TV, others not at all. Of course, I've never exactly subscribed to the idea that obscene properties infect can infect other words (will someone please explain to me how it's the "hole" in "asshole" that gets bleeped, or the "God" in "goddamn"?).

Yet even I succumbed to peer pressure. I remember trying to shed my good-girl reputation in junior high school; I carefully planned my sentence and uttered in perfect frustration "Aw, I've got fucking piano practice today.". I got the wanted shock factor, but the word felt odd in my mouth, so foreign, so unused. Basically, I didn't care for the feeling. I didn't feel more adult for having said it, no adrenaline rush at the defiance of society's expectations. I just said a word. And now, as a burgeoning linguist, I can say with a deeper understanding that a curse word is just that: a word. Many tricky, cunning kids have innocently protested to their parents that "craps", "hell", "ass", and "bitch" are all real-life words (a card game, the underworld, a donkey, and female dog, respectively). Their parents, of course, see through the ruse; what gives a word its naughty factor is how it is used, its context, and the feelings it communicates.

None of this is a real problem (a few words that happen to offend somebody's sensibilities aren't the end of the world), except when we start using words that already have a real-world meaning, and imbue them with the negativity of a curse word. Particularly, of course, when it has to do with sex. It's interesting, in fact, that the majority of 'bad words' have something to do with sex. Granted, many don't, as well, but sexual slang is always up for the task of providing a good substitute when you're in need of something to pack a whallop of shock. To me, that says a certain something about our attitudes on sex, if shock is our response to words simply because in real-life they refer to genitalia or sex acts. But that's besides the point . . . let's take a look at some of the accumulated sex-negative words and phrases that I've come across:

1) He's a dick/ass/asshole/jerk-off. (Nope, don't start envisioning a 6' tall walking phallus, winking anus, or masturbating man- what's meant here is something along the lines of "He's a real jerk.").

2) Don't be a pussy! (Once again, no worries about envisioning some crazy transformation- here we're alluding to cowardice, perhaps following some sort of dare.).

3) What a boob. (And here- not an actual mammary, but rather,something akin to a ninny, an idiot).

4) That's fucked/screwed up. (Nope, it/they aren't laying there in a sweaty post-coital heap; this means that things are bad, very messed up, or unfair).

5) This sucks./That blows./This sucks balls. (Three permutations which suggest, and one which directly references, some sort of oral copulation, all meaning that something is really bad, or, again, unfair).

6) Fuck you! Screw you! (Sadly, not an invitation. Indeed, quite the opposite- a statement of hatred of and a hope for bad things to happen to the addressee).

7) I got screwed/fucked over/reamed. (Again, not a moment for a knowledgeable smile or congratulations. Apparently all these things mean treated badly, tricked/duped, and given the short end of the stick).

And there you have it. In only seven phrases, every sexualized organ on the human body- the breasts, the vagina, the penis, the buttocks, and the anus- all turned into objects of degradation and disgust and negativity. Sexual acts- from masturbation to oral sex to penetrative intercourse- are turned from pleasurable, fun, happy acts to terrible experiences. I recall a vaguely unfunny comedian on Comedy Central once who complained about cell phone reception and how, rather than bars, the symbols should be changed to "a little guy getting fucked in the ass" when you have no reception. How vulgar- and not because of the image it evokes. No, rather, it's the treatment of such- that being ass-fucked is a bad thing. I know lots of men- both gay and straight- who simply adore it to death. What with the prostate and all, it can be an out-of-the-world experience- the equivalent of having five bars AND free service on your phone for life.

My point, after all of this, is simply that maybe we should evaluate the language that we use and what it might mean. Is it sex-positive? Or does it quietly paint sex as something nobody wants to willingly be a part of? I think that if we look close enough, you'll find most sexual slang gets . . . the shaft? No, that's not right. Let's just say that it could use some more positive usage, eh?

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