Monday, April 21, 2008

"His throbbing member"

by Olivia Knight

Dangerous Liaisons: the nasty and delicious Viscount Valmont has set about ruining the happy little virgin, Cecile de Valonges: ‘Now,’ he says, running his tongue down her shuddering breasts, ‘ I think we might begin with one or two Latin terms…’

He may begin with Latin terms, but for erotica writers, ‘penis’ usually won’t do. ‘He placed his penis in her vagina’ is a public information documentary, not porn. On the other end of the scale, no porn pastiche is complete without a throbbing member, as in ‘He thrust his throbbing member into her dripping honey-well.’ So what do we say?

Jean Auel, of The Mammoth Hunters fame, is the queen of throbbing members: they’re huge, hot, and they always throb:

Jondalar was so swollen, so big, how would he fit himself in her? … Her eyes were drawn to his throbbing member…His manhood was throbbing eagerly, impatiently …Only few women had depth enough to take in all of him…
– Jean M. Auel, The Valley of the Horses

No penises for Ms Auel: members, manhoods, or – at a push – shafts. She wouldn’t pass the Black Lace guidelines, which beg authors to ‘hold the euphemisms’ and specifically not to say ‘the centre of her womanhood / his rampant manhood’ etc. Body parts, they observe stiffly, only throb when they’re injured, and men do not talk about their ‘glans’. What’s arousing in a situation is ‘not the exact length, colour and consistency of the guy’s cock,’ which means curtains for Fanny Hill, too – arguably the first porn novel.

In his seminal (and there’s plentiful semen) book, John Cleland does much the same as Freud: take men’s experience, mirror-image it, get women’s. Voilà! And so he describes dicks, from his female characters’ points of view, with the loving attentiveness usually reserved for breasts:

I saw, with wonder and surprise, what? not the plaything of a boy, not the weapon of a man, but a maypole of so enormous a standard that, had proportions been observed, it must have belonged to a young giant: yet I could not, without pleasure, behold, and even venture to feel such a length, such a breadth of animated ivory! perfectly well-tuned and fashioned, the proud stiffness of which distended his skin, whose smooth polish and velvet softness might vie with that of the most delicate of our sex, and whose exquisite whiteness was not a little set off by a sprout of black curling hair around the root, through the jetty sprigs of which the fair skin showed as in a fine evening you may have remarked the clear light ether through the branchwork of distant trees overtopping the summit of a hill: then the broad and bluish-casted incarnate of the head, and blue serpentines of its veins, altogether composed the most striking assemblage of figure and colours in nature. In short, it stood an object of terror and delight.
– John Cleland, Fanny Hill, or, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure

We tend to be more restrained about ‘prodigious engines of pleasure’ and ‘tools of monstrous proportions’ – it’s a cock, not a battering ram, and we’re describing sex, not a photographic close-up. Occasionally, however, it’s an object worthy of detailed attention:

My mouth goes first dry, then begins to water with sensual hunger. As does his glans ... I smear the silky fluid over the hot, flared head of his cock. The solid flesh is hard, like polished wood, the superfine skin stretched by his extreme arousal. This magnificent organ is a thing of raw, physical beauty, the very expression of primal maleness, the essence of man.
…His body is a gift, a living sex toy.
And an object of worship.

Portia da Costa, In Too Deep, out in September 2008

She said glans! (I promise not to tell.) She also, mostly, says ‘cock’. We have a plethora of synonyms – just take a listen to Monty Python’s Penis Song

… but, as Janine Ashbless says, ‘Everyone knows what a cock is,’ even if she prefers prick. In historical settings, you can get away, as she does, with ‘pintle’, ‘pizzle’, and ‘tarse’ (I’ll pass). She swears blind that ‘phallus’ is good for high fantasy settings and she even throws in a few Latin terms: phalli, anyone? (Madelynne Ellis has already covered more historical terms in her post Sexy Slang.) Erastes, also writing historicals, manages to slip in some ‘loins’ in Standish and – this is man-on-man – cocks abound:

Then oh joy, hands again, on the top of his thighs, rubbing them gently, hot breath on his cock, then a tongue, lapping at his scrotum, making him gasp as each sac was licked and nipped, and taken into a hot mouth, rolled around and then left in the cold, while the mouth moved on, never still.
– Erastes, Standish

Action, not description, is the order of the day with modern erotica, but even to describe a cock in action you still need more than one word. After four chapters of my first erotic novel, The Ten Visions, my own inventiveness ran out and I summoned my free-minded friends to a cocktail bar for a brain-storming session. True brain-storming, it was a free-for-all: no word too foul, too childish, too naff, or too plain absurd for inclusion.

The words fell into categories, most distinctly masculine. We had weapons: club, spear, javelin, flesh burner, arrow, shot-gun, and sabre. We had machinery by the truckload: sledgehammer, drill, rocket, tool, sputnik, gear-stick, hose, shuttle, and piston. We had a bit of food (sausage, meat-and-two-veg, hotdog) and some appeals to the natural world (stamen, branch, woodie, slug, snake, trunk). We got coy, with manhood, length, appendage, his triumph, hardness, member, loins, and lingam, or preferred to describe the smoke rather than the fire: his bulge, his groin. We turned childish: weiner, willy, schlong, and dong. No-one remembers or will admit to putting forward ‘fish’.

I lurched proudly homewards with my very own Olivia’s Thesaurus of Filth (penis wasn’t the only subject we covered), but as the cocktails wore off I reread it. When would I ever refer to a man’s sputnik? Could I ever write ‘stamen’ or ‘lingam’ without hurling at my own cute bashfulness? And why, pacifist and feminist that I am, would I ever describe cocks as weapons? Did I even have three useful terms? Yes, as it turned out, because it’s all a question of context.

In The Ten Visions, when Adrian gives it to his ex with Sarah witnessing through magic, weapons are perfect for the scene:

She felt the thrill of that constricting passage, the ache to push harder, how Adrian’s spear danced with excitement at Clara’s wail. His hand seized one of the small breasts, using it to pull himself up from his knees onto her. His weight lodged his weapon deeper inside and the girl howled to be fucked.
– Olivia Knight, The Ten Visions

In a very different scene between Sarah and Adrian, they’re in a place of perfect purity and she’s discovering his earth-magic, so the flowery terms I disdained suddenly have their place:

The deliberation of each movement made it exquisitely tense, as they trembled against each other’s skin. She pulled her leg up gradually until her inner thigh rested on his sharp hip bone. Her tender lips unfurled like an orchid, exposing her entrance to the cold air. The swollen head of his stamen nudged against her small bud.

In ‘Barely Grasped Pictures’ – still my favourite of my short stories – only ‘cock’ would do, but in ‘Innana’s Temple’, in 3000 BC, ‘tool’ made sense. And in the novella The Dragon Lord (coming out 1 May in Magic and Desire), I found a place for arrows, rods, shafts, and even, memorably, a slug. Everything has its time and place. Perhaps I’ll go hard-core urban soon, and use some drills and sputniks.

So what’s your preferred word for – you know, a thingie – and what makes you cringe? What’s the best and worst descriptions you’ve read (or written)? And have you ever said, in all sincerity, ‘his throbbing member’?

33 comments:

Janine Ashbless said...

through the jetty sprigs of which the fair skin showed as in a fine evening you may have remarked the clear light ether through the branchwork of distant trees

Actually I really like that!

I also like 'member' and 'hardness' and 'length'. I think I'm a historical romance writer in disguise! I don't think 'cock' has any emotional weight in my mind - it is a perfectly functional, neutral word, which I why I wish for alternatives. Oh well.

BTW - where does that little statuette come from?! It looks to me like it's wearing a woman's headress - is it a satirical thing?

Madelynne Ellis said...

Prick, cock and phallus. I think those are my usual choices, although I think ramrod, pole and even bowsprit have had a look in.

Oh, and I've used manhood too, but don't tell...

Olivia Knight said...

I found the statuette picture on this post about homosexual gods, but don't know where it originates.

I used to shrink from 'cock' as too aggressive and blunt, but now it's softened for me (oh god, someone save me from my own double entendres, I swear they're not intentional). To me, now, it's cheerful and straightforward.

Is it possible to say anything about penis-words without triggering every Freudian alarm in the building?

Portia Da Costa said...

I never think about what word I'm going to use for parts, male or otherwise. I just write and the word that appears is the right one for the job in that particular instance. Could be cock, prick, penis... whatever. I don't choose them they choose me.

And if manhood or member happen to choose me, and they also happen to be throbbing at the time, well so bit it! LOL

Janine Ashbless said...

so bit it

What was that you were saying about Freudian double-entendres?
;-)

Erastes said...

I must admit, although I've probably used "throbbing" I wonder where it comes from - I can't say that my extensive erm reserach has shown much throbbing. Twitching, yes...

I researched terms of the day with Standish, using Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue 1811 which is a treasure trove

http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext04/dcvgr10.txt

and the Proceedings of the Old Bailey where the witness statements sometime made giggle out loud.

rod, perch, pole, yard (amusing that men have such an inflated sense of LENGTH...) Manhood can be used sparingly, but I have seen "boyhood" and even "womanhood" (and once, hilariously, "elfhood" which is just SILLY.

And not cock, but cock related, the final sex scene in Vadrail Vail refers to "the tears of Eros" for sperm.

*BLICK*

Janine Ashbless said...

Hah hah! Look what I found on Youtube...

Another penis song

Portia Da Costa said...

Yikes, yes, v. Freudian! I really must learn to prufe reed my posts... LOL

Madelynne Ellis said...

Elfhood! Aw gawd, please no-oooo!

kristina lloyd said...

See, I like cock precisely because it is blunt and aggressive. And I like dick because it's crude, vulgar and blokeish. I used to try and vary the nouns but I don't bother much now. I prefer repetition. I think sex-writing is one of the places where repetition and accumulation can actually work in your favour, as long as you don't go bonkers with it. So cock and dick for me (please!) when the action's hot, plus others such as erection, hard-on, length, boner etc, depending on context.

Penis - ew! Only for flaccid cocks, medical fantasies, historicals and puritanicals. (Puritanicals - a whole new genre!)

This makes me laugh till I cry: The Ballad of Peniston.

Fantastic post, Olivia! And now I'll be thinking about John Malkovich and cock all day long. Again.

Jeremy Edwards said...

men do not talk about their ‘glans’

Now you tell me. No wonder I've been getting funny looks at dinner parties.

There's a certain phase of arousal that does feel to me like my fill-in-the-blank is throbbing. A kind of stiff, pulsing tension, perhaps going hand in hand (ahem—or, as I originally typed it, ah me) with the kind of "ache" that has nothing to do with pain and feels rather nice, thank you very much. I would say the "throbbing" sensation arises, not at the peak of arousal, but at a plateau that sometimes occurs somewhere along the way.

Valuable data, or TMI? If the former, mine's a Sam Smith oatmeal stout (and do with that what you will, Freud); if the latter ... mine's a Sam Smith oatmeal stout.

Olivia Knight said...

If all writers had to curb their words to what "most people" use, the language would be poorer for it, I reckon... like telling artists to paint only what other people can see.

I'm all for throbbing, actually, but I consider it a sensation - so to write "his throbbing whatsit" from a female character's point of view becomes odd. And of course anything with naff associations has to be used very carefully - you can rescue words from the bad company they've been keeping, but it's tricky.

Kristina - I completely agree on the value of repetition in erotica. If his shaft becomes a cock and is then a pole and the next sentence is a sturdy branch then a dick then a throbbing member before transforming into a rod, then a) it sounds like you're in a tool-shed, and b) it sounds like the writer herself is too embarrassed to name IT. After all, we don't switch rapidly between chair, seating, four-legged furniture, bum-rest, etc... By sticking to a word you define a vocabulary.

limecello said...

I don't know that I have a preference, but I will say the machinery and food groups amuse me. I'm not a fan of prick because it's too distracting for me. I associate prick with the slang for a "highly unpleasant person - esp male." Total negative connotation.

Madeline Moore said...

But Black Lace prefers we not name these parts...or do we have new guidelines. And yes, I know we do name them, but my understanding is we're supposed to avoid it as much as possible. Otherwise I would use 'cock' pretty much exclusively. And 'hard on' which I like. But I do use 'rod' and 'length' and such to try at least to avoid the words BL frowns upon. Same with the girlie parts, no?

No throbbing members (at least as far as I can recall) but yeah, sometimes I'm reaching for something 'new' only to find I've written 'log' or 'club' (?) though never 'slug'.

Slug, Olivia? How - um - erotic - you know - for, perhaps, another slug...

Great post! Thanks O, tons of fun.

Jeremy Edwards said...

I associate prick with the slang for a "highly unpleasant person - esp male."

Ah yes, those "personality" words (unfair to both sexes):

She felt the tip of his arrogant prick against the lips of her cowering pussy. But she really would have preferred that he put his complete dick up her silly ass.

Olivia Knight said...

Black Lace prefers we not name these parts

Really? Never came across that prohibition.

"Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts."

Madeline Moore said...

Well, half my work in writing for BL is trying to avoid using 'pussy' and 'cock' etc. My understanding is (was?) to try not to name them at all, as in 'He slid inside her'

Interesting, also, the idea of not incorporating too many different words for these parts, in the same book.

I think my work just got easier...
But I'm interested in what other BL writers think on this subject. Are we not asked to avoid the usual four letter words for body parts, except in dialogue?

Alison Tyler said...

The worst I've read was "his 57-year-old salami," which permanently put me off cured meats.

We talked cock on my blog the other day, after engaging in the companion conversation: "All About My Vagina."

XXX,
AT = "Always Throbbing"

Shanna Germain said...

I loved this post...such a great read!

I let my characters choose. Some characters shy away from the term cock, others don't. I will say that very few of my characters use anything flowery, just because their creator can't stand to write it :)

I've said it before and I'll say it again:

I'm a cock and clit girl, all the way.

Can I have that on a T-shirt?

Best, s.

Shanna Germain said...

*rereads AT's signature*

SG = Slick Glans

*tries again*

SG = Semen Guzz...

*blushes and shuts up*

SG = Serious (about) Genitals

*bonks head on desk*

SG = Sex Goddess

Okay, close enough for this early in the morning.

*scurries off before she gets herself into serious trouble*

Madelynne Ellis said...

I've never been asked to avoid using cock, prick etc by BL.

BL have just updated the guidelines BTW. They're posted on the message board.

Sacchi said...

"Throbbing member" tends to make me envision a particularly heated discussion in Parliament.

And then it makes me giggle.

Lil said...

I never liked the term 'manroot'.

TeresaNoelleRoberts said...

I don't mind "manhood" in certain contexts (historical or fantasy settings) but for everyday use, I'm a fan of cock. (Well, yes, yes I am...as of pussy, but we were talking about writing here, weren't we?)

I find I fall into the cliche of making all the penises/dicks/cocks/pricks in my work HUGE. Trying to learn to avoid that!

Kate Pearce said...

I tend to keep it simple because I reckon any word for penis that has the reader either a) laughing or b) thinking "Wow I never knew you could call it that" takes them out of the story.
So, like Portia, I use the simpler most appropriate more well-known terms and hope my readers just get it and move on to the good stuff :)

p.s. I'm baack!

Olivia Knight said...

If anyone missed the bright red box in the right sidebar, linking to the Black Lace Chat Board, you can jump in here. The guidelines are under Calls For Submissions / Black Lace Guidelines.

57 year-old salami - URGH! It disturbs me when a story makes a huge deal of a man's numerical age. An older-man fantasy can work (for those of us younger!) with the some of the finer details, but exact number ages... (Well, I avoid those anyway; my characters aren't ageless, but I try to avoid bracketing them too narrowly.) A description of grey pubic hair nearly killed me once.

And no meat should be described as old. I just think "flies, rancid".

OK = umm... OK.

Olivia Knight said...

P.S. That last comment sounds terribly ageist. Really, I'm not, but there are attractions about age (like this) and equally flaws. Without creating irritatingly Barbie-and-Ken characters, I think erotica does best to slide around the flaws. After all, lovers do...

kim said...

I am not a fan of prick either. Throbbing is ok. The one I liked the least: Purple-helmeted warrior.

Alison Tyler said...

Okay, OK, I have an older man fetish. Yes. But when I told that to a younger man once, he said, "I only have one image for you: Old men have old tongues."

It was probably one of the strangest conversations I've ever had. And I've never forgotten the comment.

XXX,
AT

Jeremy Edwards said...

Well, when I turn 50, I'm planning on getting a tongue job.

From a plastic surgeon, I mean.

JE ("Jubilant Erection")

Delilah Devlin said...

Oooh! I wish I'd been there for coctails. What fun! And what an interesting list!

I love dick, cock, shaft, rod, club. I'm dying to write the writer who can't think of any new ways to describe it and gets squashed by her editor for using "purple snail shell."

jothemama said...

Hahaha, manroot. Purple helmeted warrior! Hee! They actually sounds more like flowers togehter.

I agree with Shanna, I want the tshirt too.

I take Jeremy's point about throbbing, but that's fine from an internal perspective. If you could actually SEE the throbbing it would be cartoon like and alarming, no?

Oo, yeah, I got sidetracked by the coments. I meant to say, I jsut LOVE Jean M Auel's sex scenes. I've enjoyed her terrinle, wonderful, cavegirl books so much, repeatedly over the years.

Ayla the protofeminist protagonist invents something (a hairband, a slingshot, knitting, abefreinds a wild animal and then makes tender love with her handsome blond manfriend, Jondalar, who is ever considerate, it's always tits first, then down, ha ha! They have exactly the same sex each time, at least once per chapter. It's great! She invents contraceptives too.

t'Sade said...

Hrm, coming a bit late on this one (damn this move). I use a few, but it feels kind of repetative after a while, specially with the gay sex. I'm fond of cock and shaft the most, but I've used dick, manhood, length, and hardness (oh, and silk over steel to describe it).

The word "turgid" is banned from our house in general. :)

The problem is, I don't have that many common phrases I use often.