So I’m a word whore. I love words. I love language and the power of the words we blurt, or make a deliberate choice to use. When I was a kid it was a popular thing for parents to tell children that sticks and stones could break their bones but words can never hurt them. I didn’t believe it then and I don’t believe it now.
In fact, words have a great deal of power to harm. To raise up and elevate. To love, to cherish, to hate and destroy. Words are far more powerful than fists and they leave scars and other, better emotions.
As a writer, words are tools. Over time, with each book, my toolbox gets bigger and I hope, more sophisticated. I want to use words in a purposeful way to add character realism and punch. So, I choose to use loaded terms in my books. Cunt for instance. Cunt is a word of great weight. It’s got a dark history for women as it has been used to belittle and demean us by using the very thing that makes us female. Cunt is a hard word. It’s not a playful, casual term at all and when I use it, I’m using the power it has. When a man says to his partner that he loves her cunt, the way it feels or the way it tastes, it turns the negativity of the phrase into something else. He takes that abusive power away and imbues it with sensuality, with desire and longing and makes it into a compliment.
On the page, cunt is not a word you gloss over. It snags your attention and because of that, I think its use should be purposeful instead of an interchangeable term with pussy, center, etc. It’s a barb of a word, but to me when a heroine thinks of her body in those terms, she’s owning herself. It’s a word of sexual liberation for some heroines, used in the right way.
When a male character thinks of his woman’s body in terms of her cunt, it’s a thin line. I want him to be respectful and full of admiration and awe at the heroine’s body. There are some who read my books and see a man use the word cunt and they’re immediately pulled from the scene. But there are others who might work past that initial discomfort to see that in his case, thinking about her cunt is like thinking about her tits. Men, like women, come in all shapes, sizes and ways of thinking. There are men who’d never use the word cunt while having sex with their partners, just like they don’t think of breasts as tits. But, there are men who love women and all their parts who do indeed think in those terms. And do so lovingly and respectfully. When my heroes use those words it’s never in a negative sense, never disrespectful. I tend to write those men.
I get dinged for it sometimes. And words are intensely personal so I can totally understand why people recoil when they see cunt on a page. I’d never have a character call a female character a cunt. Because the word is a weapon then, it’s negative, a sort of gender slur and the energy of it is all wrong. But I write erotic romance and I use a full array of words for sexual behavior and body parts. To me, this is part of my job, though certainly I do not think it is impossible to convey sexuality with softer terms, I just don’t choose that path for most of my books. Sexuality carries a great deal of energy, emotion and power, when I write about it, I make deliberate choices about how I describe it, how my characters feel about it, how they feel doing it, etc. There’s a whole universe of the unsaid when it comes to sexuality, so many times people hold back and I want to get into a scene where my characters don’t hold back. Where they say what’s on the tip of their tongue and it’s raw and sometimes dirty. But if you can’t be dirty with a person you’re naked with, what’s the point? (and of course there are couples who don’t have dirty words on their tongues when they have wonderful sex, but I’m not talking about that)
When I first started writing erotic romance I had to stand in my bathroom in front of a mirror and say pussy over and over. I blushed like mad when I said it and at that point I felt like the word cunt was unnecessary. I didn’t use the word in my books because it did not feel natural to me. I think when authors force scenes or words, it always shows and I really just wanted to avoid that. I remember having a wonderfully spirited conversation with my friend Marci about pussy v cunt (and I still prefer the word pussy, it’s playful and sleek!) in another friend’s kitchen. I was adamant about not using it because it just didn’t feel right to me.
And then a few books later I used it in a very emotional, stripped to the bone scene with a very alpha male, very cocksure and bordering on arrogant. He said it and I just kept writing. It’s sort of funny to think of what a big deal it was to me at the time, but really when I think on it now, I think it should have been because I was using a loaded, taboo term and I wanted to use it right and not as a way to hurl anything negative out there.
My point is – LOL, yes I have one – words have weight. As writers, using loaded terms can be immensely useful to move a character forward, but casual use of loaded terms can diminish their power. It’s just like pacing – the choices you make do frame the world you build.