In fair Verona, Juliet argues that names aren’t important. She is desperate to convince the listener – or herself – that Romeo’s family name shouldn’t be a barrier to their love. As we all know, that first crush can be painful.
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.
The thing is, she was wrong. Names matter. If they didn’t matter, we wouldn’t have arguments about whether names should be changed after marriage. People wouldn’t agonise over names for their children, or companies over their product names. According to the biblical Book of Genesis, Adam had power over the animals because he was given the right to name them.
If names didn’t matter, I wouldn’t be writing this under a pseudonym.
More generally, words matter. We choose our words very carefully for the impact they have. When we get this wrong – by carelessness, failing to consider our audience, or misjudging the context – we are horrified that we could be misunderstood. This would be true even if we were perfectly accurate with our words. To demonstrate: tonight I’m looking forward to enjoying a segment of muscle tissue from the corpse of an immature castrated bull.
There. A blink, perhaps a muted sound of disgust. All because I’m going to eat a steak. And not just from the vegetarians or vegans, some of whom will follow that diet because they choose not to accept euphemisms to describe the food they eat; even enthusiastic carnivores may find that description a little shocking.
The words we use when talking or writing about our other appetites are telling. The language used in a classroom, or by a parent to a child, or a doctor to a patient, is very different from what you might use in the bedroom. Or perhaps not: if someone enjoys medical roleplay, clinical words might set the scene in a very thrilling way.
Even when we limit our discussion to slang, different words have very different connotations. Some of these will depend on where we are, and polysemy – where the same word means different things in different contexts – causes no end of confusion when a naive Brit asks an American if they can ‘bum a fag’. I suspect that Austin Powers: The Spy Who Fucked Me might have struggled to get a cinema release.
Even in private, between partners, words matter. How do they respond to different terms for their body, or yours? Many anatomical slang words are used as insults, of course, which means there can be a lot of personal or social baggage to consider. The same act can be described in so many ways, and those changes will change how we perceive it. They can make us eager and enthusiastic, or be such a turn-off that the scene comes to a screeching halt. Variations in language will have a much bigger effect than relatively small changes in the size or position of the toys involved.
“I’m going to insert this into your anus, Mr Smith”
“I’d love to use this toy to explore your prostate.”
“It’s time to see how this dildo feels in your ass.”
“I’ll fuck your hole with my silicone cock.”
With sex, it’s often the words rather than the sensations or actions which are intimidating. That’s because they set the scene, and make you question yourself. Does the partner on top always have to be dominant? When does holding tight turn into consensually holding someone down? Do you have to have a penis – or a prick, a dick, or a cock – to fuck someone?
It’s why talking dirty, or sexting, or writing erotica, can be so intense. We realise how much the words matter. Smiling over coffee with a friend as you say that your partner is great at teasing until you just can’t hold back is one thing; telling them that you enjoy bondage and denial, while you refuse to meet their gaze, is very different. Only one makes you think you should apologise.
“It would really turn me on to watch you touch yourself.” A compliment and a hint of her preferences. Compare that to a direct request: “Will you get yourself off while I watch?”. Specifying anatomy also makes a difference. “Stroke your dick, turn me on.” Those last few words also make it an instruction. There is no ‘please’ here, simply an expectation that this will be for her, even though it is my body being touched. And a step further: “You’re going to put on a show for me now. Touch that cock like you mean it.” Being objectified is a further boost to the intensity. “I’m going to watch you work that hard cock, but remember sluts don’t come without permission.”
As ever, what’s interesting isn’t the extremes – the words that always turn you on, or the ones which never do. What’s fascinating are the words and ideas which sometimes arouse you, whether that involves getting hard or wet. You might find it enlightening to explore what makes the difference, and how you can build those aspects into your play. That might be finding words and descriptions which are less threatening so you can try new things without fear. Or it might be about finding the loaded phrases which turn something mild into an intense or forbidden experience.
Whatever you do, whatever you call them, have roses. And apologise to nobody.
James Mycroft was a Sherlock Holmes fan before Benedict Cumberbatch made him cool again. He reads, writes and enjoys adrenaline sports, including those that happen in the bedroom. Sadly he is much less interesting in real life than online.