Sex ed was the class that every middle school student was both excited and nervous about. Sure we talked about the opposite sex and the act of sex, but we used terms that were our own. As twelve year olds we referred to “wieners” and “raincoats” instead of penises and condoms as was required by our sex ed teacher. As a result, the class was full of giggles and awkward silences as both reproductive organs and acts were explained using the correct terminology. And then, like most other sex education classes, there was the infamous question box: an average sized adult shoe box, neatly wrapped with a colorful self adhesive paper, with a perfectly centered slit cut in the top of the box and “QUESTIONS” written in black along one of the sides. The rules of the box were simple: students could ask any question they wanted as long as it contained no slang terms. Any questions with incorrect terminology would be thrown out–and because of this, time and time again our teacher would simply read slips of paper and toss them in the garbage can. After seeing the effect of slang sexual terms on this tiny scale it makes me wonder what effect they have on a larger scale.
The barrier that slang sexual terms placed between my peers’ questions and the answer they desired in middle school sex ed was obvious. Our language was not that of our teacher’s, so inquiries went without response and curiosity unfed. But was this barrier limited to the classroom? Or could it be expanded into the home or even society? Do the barriers simply exist between generations, or do they exist between genders as well? Are the barriers simply that of the language, or does the language perpetuate barriers of other types?
Sexual slang is interesting, entertaining, and sometimes misleading; perhaps these are the reasons that our sex ed teacher discouraged us from using them. Terms such as “blow-job”, “head” and “going down”, all used to describe oral sex, don’t really give accurate accounts of the act. Therefore, children hear these words and are left wondering what these acts entail. I remember in seventh grade, the first time I hear these terms, having no idea what they meant, and therefore no idea if this was something I would want to ask my mom about. Like many of my peers, I turned to the internet. I can’t help but think that this begins a trend, at a very early age, or turning to sources other than parents to learn about sex. As an impressionable seventh grader, knowing only the basics about sex (what went where), typing such terms as “blow-job” into a search engine was shocking to me. With the banners that appeared being effected by he contents of my search and inevitable self-perpetuating pop-ups plaguing my computer screen, I was left with a very bizarre image of sex. With the internet being a source that is obviously questionable, one must ask their self if today’s youth is being painted a complete or even good picture of sex and what it involves.
Whenever I did talk to my parents about sex, I was given a good idea of the emotional as well as physical aspects. I was told about how easily girls can become attached to their sexual partners, about pregnancy, and or course about the several STDs that can be contracted during sex. I was also told how beautiful sex can be when it is between a man and a woman who love each other. These are all things that are left out when the internet is used in place of open discussion. After becoming dependent on the computer and my peers to define sexual slang, I found it increasingly harder to think about discussing such words with my parents. I went all through middle school, and through half of high school before sex was ever discussed between me and my parents. With such grotesque terms (hummer, clam, sausage, etc.) being used to describe sexual acts, I was no longer comfortable with the words like vagina, oral sex, and penis; and I certainly didn’t feel comfortable talking to my parents about these things. The sexual slang had created a barrier between my parents and I; one that perpetuated my already existing dependence on the internet and media to educate me. And why didn’t my parents take the initiative to bring up sex sooner? Did they think that I didn’t know anything about it, or were they just as uncomfortable with my language as I was with theirs?
Sexual slang creates a dual generational barrier, with language and awareness impediment running parallel to one another, but not intersecting. Not only does sexual slang have the power to prevent discussion between generations–an obviously language barrier–but also to create a barrier that prevents parents from being aware of their child’s thoughts and actions in the sphere of sex. I can remember talking about ” private parts” as far back as third grade. At that age every word that came out of your mouth was twisted by your peers to be representative of a sexual organ or act. From here the evolution of our sexual vocabulary and subsequently our sexual education begins. Every year new terms were added to the ever growing list, and sex began to dominate our conversations. With our own language that turned organs into everyday objects (snakes, kittens, disk drives, etc.) and used funny terms to describe very adult acts such as oral sex, sex talk became part of childhood and adolescence. In this sense, youth are talking about, considering, and sometimes having sex before their parents are even prepared to discuss it with them. Thus another barrier is born. Parents are no longer aware that their kids are thinking and acting in the scope of sex. This barrier which parallels the first widens the generational gap as a result of sexual slang by pushing the two generations further apart.
Parental/adolescent relationships aren’t the only place that you can find barricades built by sexual slang. Sitting at the lunch table in high school, it was a regular occurrence to hear our male counterparts discussing “self pleasure;” however you would never hear a girl talk about this. In fact, most girls would detest such acts, labeling them as gross and perverted. Male masturbation is thought of as a regular part of adolescence, and there are several terms to describe it, many of them quite entertaining. However, when somebody thinks of female masturbation, they cannot thing of a single slang term used to describe it, and can rarely recall a girl admitting to it. With most terms used to describe female genitalia having a negative undertone, talking about activity involving the vagina is even more taboo. One may argue that perhaps the lack of female masturbation (or at least discussion concerning it) isn’t a result of a lack of slang, but rather a lack of slang is a result of a lack of activity (or discussion, whichever the case may be). Even if this is the case, language still present a challenge to sexual equality between the genders, as it creates a self-perpetuating cycle. Because there is a lack of slang terms to make discussion more comfortable in the subject area of female masturbation, it is nearly, if not completely, impossible for females to break fee of the ideology that while male masturbation is acceptable female masturbation is not. Is masturbation given a double standard between the sexes simply because of its slang. or is that rooted deeper in other stigmas created by sex based slang?
At the dawn of a females sexual activity, she is almost automatically labeled a “whore”, a “slut”, or a “ho.” All of these words carrying a negative connotation, where as sexually active males are labeled “pimps” and “playas,” which have positive undertones. This makes it fairly clear that female sexual activity is thought to be taboo by society, and that no one wants to hear about it much less discuss it. Even on a trip to the gynecologist girls are given the impression that their sexual activity as well as their genitals are off limits in discussion. It has been shown that gynecologists rarely will mentions girl’s genitals during consultations, but instead refer to them as their “nether regions.1” With even medical professionals being unwilling to discuss female parts, one can’t help but thing that all of the sexual slang having a negative undertone when referring to females and a positive undertone when referring to males leads to a barrier between the sexes, an obvious double standard. And girls can’t help but feel the societal pressure reinforcing these unspoken rules.
Even as a college student who will soon be hading into the adult world, we hold on to these slang terms and their by-product. I recall a recent party I was at where a friend kissed a guy that she had just met. While the guy had no qualms about the fact that he had just met this girl, my friend continued to call herself a “slut” through out the night, and there was nothing that any of us could say or do to make her feel otherwise. The fact that she has personally identified herself negatively shows that while the labels that we carry are earned in a heartbeat, growing out of them isn’t as easy. Much of this can be attributed to the underlying connotations of slang sexual terms in the area of gender, and their ability to be self perpetuating in that once these terms tell us who we are, the continue to make it impossible to break free of their hold.
1.”Snatch,” “hole,” or “honey pot”? Semantic Categories and the Problems of nonspecificity in Female Genital Slang; Braun, Virginia; The Journal of Sex Research v.38 no2 (May 2001), pg. 146-58.