Heaven & Earth. Copyright 2015 by Fern Logan.
From the archives: this article was originally published in the Fall 1994 issue of Eidos.
Not long ago, one of my cousins confided to me that she has named her breasts “Sylvester” and “Tweety” for her lover. Sometime before that, I was surprised to discover that my best friend respectfully calls his wife’s vagina “Lady Guidevere” and she affectionately calls his penis “Sir Cumalot.” And for reasons entirely her own, my girlfriend refers to her backside as “Morgan” when she wants to tempt me with it.
It seems we men and women can’t help but find pet names for our privates in general and those of our partners in particular. Two famous examples in literature are the saucy Wife of Bath and Lady Chatterley’s bold lover.
In The Canterbury Tales, the five times married Wife of Bath talks unabashedly about the many pleasures of her “belle chose” in her “Prologue.” “So help me God, I was a lusty one,/ and fair and rich and young and well off;/ and truly, as my husbands told me,/ I had the best quoniam [quim] that might be,” she boasts.
And in a scene from Lady Chatterley’s Lover, this is what Mellors says in a rude Northern English dialect moments before entering Connie: “John Thomas! Dost want her? Dost want my lady Jane? Tha’s dipped me in again, tha hast. Ay, an’ tha comes up smiling!—Ax her then! Ax lady Jane! Say: Lift up your heads, o ye gates, that the king of glory may come in…. Tell lady Jane tha wants cunt.”
If ever two writers could pen truly bawdy passages, they were Geoffrey Chaucer and D.H. Lawrence.
Yet despite these great precedents, the question remains: Why use what some sex researchers call “cute euphemisms” in the first place?
For JoAnne, a 35-year-old software designer, the naming began with herself when she was a precocious little girl of about four. She remembers being fascinated by the human penis, thinking it easier to clean than a vagina and more convenient to use. “It seemed like the thing to have and I felt that I had had one,” perhaps, she said, in a previous life as a man. Since she wanted to have a penis but obviously couldn’t, naming her own make-believe one, JoAnne thought, was one way to go about it.
“My father [an Irishman] was very poetic and he used to write a lot of very proper British type of poems mocking the royalty in England, so I had all these royal names for it. My first one was ‘Lord Willywog.’” There was a king named William her father loved to denigrate. And to her, “Willywog was this foolish, dinky little thing that did absolutely nothing but hang about, had a life of leisure.”
This theme carried over from childhood into adulthood. “The Royal Subject” was ascribed to the penis of the first man she dated after her divorce seven years ago. (“That was a favourite for a long time.”) Then there was “Sir Bonsai,” the name given to her next lover’s member.
“I did a lot of gardening,” JoAnne explained, “and I know that bonsai trees are handed down through generations and generations in the Orient. And it’s something that has taken generations to become the perfect—what’s the word I’m looking for?—object that it is.” She laughed. “I felt the same consideration was worthy of a penis.”
Most of these names were used “any old time,” JoAnne said: while watching TV with her lover or after sex. The Royal Subject just smiled in response. Sir Bonsai reciprocated, calling her vagina his “Little Bouncy Bunny.”
Although JoAnne was obsessed with penises long before she met her ex-husband, she associates part of her mania with the fact that for most of their twelve-year marriage “there wasn’t any regular sex”; two or three times a year, if at all. “I think it’s really unfortunate that so many people are so inhibited sexually,” she said, reflecting on her ex-husband. “Even when they have had the same partner for years and years, they don’t seem to be able to relax and just look at [sex] for the wonderful, pleasuring joy that it can be.”
What many forget is that “it’s a give and take,” said Cathcart, a 33-year-old graphic designer. “I find the act of lovemaking—of intercourse—very, very special. So I’m not one to sit around and go, ‘Oh, I haven’t had it for such a long time.’ But when it does happen, I revel in it, and I hope my partner revels in it at the same time.” Cathcart finds cute euphemisms a way for men and women to let down their guards and not take themselves or each other too seriously “during the love play.” He also feels it’s a way to personalize a relationship.
Cathcart views terms like “pussy,” “hairpie” and “cock” as generic, if inoffensive, and finds cute euphemisms more appealing “for the simple fact that what is described between the two of us is between the two of us,” he said. “When I talk about Huey, Louie and Dewey, I know exactly who I’m talking about.” These names belong to a woman Cathcart dated for three years. “‘Huey’ was for the left breast, ‘Louie’ was for the right breast and ‘Dewey,’ for obvious reasons, was for the vagina.
“I came up with those—and we died laughing,” he said. “She was describing herself one night, and she said that she’s ‘dewy.’ And then all of a sudden it clicked.” But he doubts Disney would have been as amused.
“There’s a secret to what you don’t do and what you fantasize,” observed Clifford, a 41-year-old published poet. Referring more specifically to cute euphemisms, he said, “Certainly people don’t expect this kind of thing. That’s been my experience, anyway.” On the other hand, he believes most people use them. And he considers himself to be like most people. “Contrary to the expression ‘my mind’s always in the gutter,’ I think the gutter’s always in my mind. But I wouldn’t call it the gutter.” He wouldn’t call cute euphemisms cute euphemisms, either. “I just say it’s private colloquialism. I use the standard language of thousands of lovers throughout the ages.”
Terminology aside, such endearments have been an ongoing feature in his life as inducements to excitement. “It was more part of the game,” he said, “the merriment of sexuality, the bawdy kind of humour,” especially after sex.
As we spoke, he recalled a woman with whom he lived for four years in his early twenties. He drew on his Roman Catholic background to make their sexual banter particularly sacrilegious. He called his testicles “Cain and Abel,” for instance—“because one hung lower than the other”—and her vagina “Mary.” “Sometimes,” he said, “the cock and balls were referred to as ‘Father, Son and Holy Ghost.’” Other times, she would simply say, “I want to talk to God tonight.” In less blasphemous moods, she would call his penis “Harry” or a name he used, such as “Jack,” and he would call her clitoris “The Wiggly Wanderer” or her vagina “Jill.” They would joke: “How about Jack and Jill go up the hill and forget the pill and water?”
“I’ve never been in a relationship that didn’t involve emotions,” said Clifford, who equates the human sex drive with the survival instinct and the quest for God. “Many of our cultural realities have to do with this incredible action, this discourse, this intercourse, this thing we call fornication—this whole relentless pull we have to be bound to another body. And then the need to come apart.”
Even if Clifford was speaking figuratively, “there is no universally standard erotic vocabulary for use with a spouse or lover” according to a 1990 study by Dr Joel W. Wells (“The Sexual Vocabularies of Heterosexual and Homosexual Males and Females for Communicating Erotically with a Sexual Partner,” The Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 19, No. 2). Apparently, they occur spontaneously.
So if there is a constant in all of this, it’s probably the imagination.
When asked whether or not they believe it takes imagination to come up with cute euphemisms, everyone interviewed agreed. The general consensus was that sex can be anything and everything two people want it to be, it just takes some inspiration: like the promise of a more relaxed atmosphere in bed, freer and frequent sex, greater mutual satisfaction.
Cute euphemisms help lovers feel more comfortable about their bodies and themselves. And that, more than anything else, is reason enough to use them.
· Robert is the critically acclaimed author of the NBM Amerotica titles Attractive Forces, Stray Moonbeams and Great Moves. His other books include the novel And Sometimes They Fly; the story collections Intimacy 101: Rooms & Suites, The Tree of Youth and Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall; and the memoir Sand for Snow: A Caribbean-Canadian Chronicle.