How do we really talk about sex? Language, sex, and power all work simultaneously.

The way we talk about sex exposes how society really works and what, ultimately are its flaws. From the stigmas surrounding masturbation to the language of sex being oppressive, and sometimes intimidating and violent, it is apparent that language creates realities, especially social realities.

The way we express sexual desire is often in terms that my grandmother would cringe at, while rushing to get the soap to wash my mouth out. Consider the conversations you have with your friends about sex. It is not uncommon to hear the terms ‘hooking-up,’ ‘screwing’ and ‘banging’ during the conversation. Gone are the days of Boyz II Men’s, ‘I’ll make love to you, like you want me to,’ now it is ‘the way you grab me, must wanna get nasty.’ When did ‘making love’ become corny and ‘soft?’ Through metaphors and phrases, we legitimise attitudes that connect sex with violence, degradation and dominance.

Words are powerful, and have a great impact on the way we shape our minds and perceptions about certain things. In the same way, perceptions about sex and things related to sex have stigmas attached to them as a result of false ideas being perpetuated. Take masturbation. For men, masturbation is spoken about as a non-stigmatised act, an easy topic for conversation, usually spoken about as a normal thing to do. ‘I wank a lot’ will slide out of man’s mouth as easily as ‘I like my coffee hot.’

Unfortunately, there is a shameful stigma attached to women masturbating. The reaction is often one of repulsion and confusion. It seems, at times, as if society is afraid to speak about it at all. The issue of dominance and power flares up: who does the language of sex empower and who does it disempower?

When we talk about sex, the power struggle between men and women becomes evident. Sex is often spoken about in terms that degrade and subjugate women. Phrases such as ‘I hit that’ or ‘I banged her brains out’ are not uncommon. Sex becomes an achievement of some sort; the ultimate conquest.

The language we use when talking about sex speaks to our aggressive and fast culture. Take the dating app, Tinder, for example. It is fast and easy, you see a picture of someone, if you like it, you swipe right, if they like your picture, it is a match. Tinder enables ‘matches’ to chat to one another too. This is where phrases such as ‘Send nudes’ and ‘DTF?’ (Down to f**k?) are rife. A bit like ordering pizza toppings, I’d posit. Men use the terms freely and are often glorified when they do. However, women are almost always shamed when they do the same.

Sex, remains a controversial topic, heavily discussed by some and swept under the carpet by others. Talking about sex or even to a member of the opposite sex is still heavily prohibited in a lot of countries today. People are often reprimanded for just standing too close while talking to a member of the opposite sex in places like Saudi Arabia. It is evident that the language of sex deals directly with power, which is why it becomes so important to choose your words wisely.

Written by: Jemima Lewin

Originally published: varsitynewspaper.co.za/opinions/4736-i-hit