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’?