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Snatch. Moist. Cunnilingus. Why Do Female Sex Words Have to Be So Gross-Sounding?

Maybe female sexuality is such a ‘mystery’ because we say things like ‘Let me eat out your gash gruel.’

Do you enjoy eating moist clunge? Do you get hot at the thought of grool, skeek and flange batter? Have you ever flicked your bean, or fondled a wet cleft? What about cunnilingus? Do you like eating out a squirting snatch?

It’s highly probable that you, like me, are feeling violently ill right now. I wouldn’t blame you. It’s almost as if this hateful concoction of words are describing something shameful and repulsive, rather than a woman’s sexual pleasure. And yet, mysteriously, these have become some of the more commonly used phrases for female sex in contemporary English.

This disconnect between language and reality doesn’t come as much of a surprise. For centuries, female sexuality has been feared and pathologized — whether by 19th-century medicine (which recommended clitoridectomies for women who enjoyed masturbation), or 20th-century psychiatry (which viewed clitoral orgasms as a mental disorder). Even today, science still hasn’t fully figured out how women’s genitals work, and remains confused over both the physiological and mental causes of female desire

Historically, women have been seen as the more passive sexual partners, with weaker desires,” explains Lancaster University professor Jane Sunderland, author of Language and Gender. Men, however, “have been seen as more sexual, often with uncontrollable sexual desires.” 

This biased, sexist perception has seemingly also become embedded in the English language, and its roots run deep. Take “vagina,” for example. The 17th century word is Latin for “sword sheath,” which positions it merely as a receptacle for a penis. “Vulva,” from 15th century Latin, similarly means “wrapper” (while “gladius,” the widely used Latin term for penis, translates to “sword”). Rather than having any agency of their own, these words taught us that vaginas were passive, defined solely by their accommodation for a man’s genitals.

There are also, more notoriously, the words “prick” and “cunt.” Despite both coming from middle English origins and referring to genitalia, it’s the feminine version — cunt — that’s always been more insulting and taboo (a clear example, says Sunderland, of “linguistic misogyny”). Then there’s “cunnilingus” and “fellatio,” both coined in the 19th century, which have clear phonological — though admittedly more subjective — differences. To me, cunnilingus (which means “vulva lick” in Latin) sounds creepy, like a scuttling spider or deceitful centipede. Fellatio, however, (which comes from the Latin, “to suck”) sounds almost melodic, like the name of a Shakespearean hero. 

It gets worse the further in time we go. Penises turn into cocks, dicks, hot rods and members (exciting!), while vaginas turn into twats, minges, gashes and axe-wounds (rank!). Men get blow jobs; women get eaten out. Men spunk; women grool and squirt. And when it comes to masturbation, men’s options are endless: They can jack off, jerk off, beat off and fap. Women can… frig, I guess? Or maybe flick the bean? (There are other made-up slang options out there, but they’re not as widely circulated as their masculine equivalents, probably because they sound mildly disgusting to say.)

Of course, your personal feelings on these phrases and words may vary. Some people might hear the words “damp gash” and tremble with desire. Others, though, will likely find this language uncomfortable or feel an aversion toward it, particularly if it’s used outside of an immediately sexual situation. And word aversion, or “logomisia,” is a very real phenomenon. “Moist,” for instance, is famously considered to be one of the most repulsive words in the English language, for reasons that are hard to pinpoint. 

Research into what makes certain words so viscerally disgusting is limited, but one study from 2016 tried to get to the bottom of it. The four-year project, led by professor Paul Thibodeau of Oberlin College, examined the factors that make some words more aversive than others. This included sound — so, the phonetic properties, and how our mouths move during pronunciation (sometimes, like with moist, our muscles end up mimicking facial expressions of disgust) — as well as the word’s associations, and its cultural and social transmissions.

Generally, it seems associations play the biggest role. The study found evidence to suggest that words like “moist,” “wet” and “damp” were all relatively unpopular, mostly because of their links to bodily fluids (or effluvia). In fact, the same people who found these words unpleasant were also averse to “phlegm,” “mucus” and “vomit.” 

That said, given the connection that “wet” and “moist” have to the female genitalia function, this revulsion could also be related to sex and gender. In other words, maybe people dislike those words because it reminds them of a vagina? That’s a “reasonable” conclusion, Thibodeau says. “The data suggests that the connection between ‘moist’-aversion and bodily function goes beyond an aversion to female genitalia function exclusively,” he explains. “But it probably does play a role.” 

“It’s safe to say that there are big differences in cultural expectations, standards and associations around sex as a function of gender,” he continues. “It seems very likely that words related to female sexuality and bodily pleasure elicit a more aversive response, as a result, than words related to male sexuality and bodily pleasure.”

As mentioned earlier though, not everyone agrees that the language around female sexuality is bad. As Sunderland points out, the terms “wet” and “moist” — when used to refer to a woman’s genitalia — are generally celebrated in both porn and fiction. Additionally, in her study of written erotica novels, professor Sara Johnsdotter of Malmö University in Sweden found that female cum was “almost exclusively used in a positive and appreciative sense,” and was “closely associated with delightful consumption.” She posits that the term “eaten” — or, to be “eaten out” — helped liken female genitalia to a delicious banquet.

Plus, even if you don’t like these words, there are plenty of other, less controversial options already available. Per a 2019 survey from Refinery29, women are now choosing to call their vaginas “rose garden,” “twinkle,” “lady” or “foof” (for me, these are arguably far more mortifying, but at least the connotations aren’t so obviously negative). Likewise, if being “eaten out” sounds too graphic, you can try being “dined at the Y” or having your “peach eaten.” “‘Tipping the velvet’ [Victorian slang] is a nice positive ‘equivalent’ for cunnilingus,” suggests Sunderland. 

But how do you get these phrases to catch on in a meaningful and widespread way? Many have tried before, and many have failed. In 1983, Cyndi Lauper tried to rebrand female masturbation as “She Bop” in her single of the same name, but its linguistic legacy died shortly afterward. On Reddit, there are also calls to normalize “diddle,” “figging” and “jilling off.”

More recently, in 2015, Sweden introduced klittra, a portmanteau of “glitter” and “clitoris,” as the first official definition for female masturbation. The goal, according to a spokesperson from the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education, was to “highlight the importance” of the clitoris for pleasure: “Women aren’t expected to have desires and be turned on in the same way as men, which is reflected in the lack of words [for masturbation].”

Unfortunately, the English language is still trailing behind in this respect. For now, slang is all we have, and the best we can do is try and push for something better, or just make up something and hope it takes off. 

Until then, I guess, we’re stuck fondling our flanges, squirting our quims and fingering our pussies.

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