By Lisabet Sarai
When it comes to sexual vocabulary, I'm agnostic. I will use whatever word seems to fit in a particular situation. Some authors I know are uncomfortable using terms that are particularly graphic or viewed as obscene. In contrast, I have no problem calling female genitalia a “cunt”, assuming the term is consistent with tone of my tale and the personality of my characters. On the other hand, I won't eschew a bit of euphemism, even somewhat purple-tinged, when the story, the characters and/or the readership require it. I'll use clinical or anatomical terms, too, if that's what seems right. I think carefully about the words I choose in sexual description, because an unfortunate decision can distract and even alienate readers.
Hence, I don't appreciate being told what words I can and cannot use in my fiction. For the most part, I am deeply satisfied with my main erotic romance publisher, Total-E-Bound. They're the most well-organized, diligent and supportive publishing company I've ever encountered. And they let me get away with a lot! However, I've had a few run-ins with editors when I wanted to use the word “prick”.
I've been told that, according to their style guide, “prick” is not acceptable terminology. I'm really not sure about the rationale for this, since for me the word is no more graphic or offensive than “cock”. It's true that in American English, calling a man a “prick” (or a “dick”, for that matter) is considered deeply insulting (though the two epithets do not have the same implications). Does that carry over into the original use of the word to denote the penis? Not in my dialect, anyway. It has occurred to me that the connotations might be different in the UK, where TEB is based, but we do have readers all over the world.
I'll sometimes choose “prick” as an alternative to “cock” when a man is thinking about his own organ. It seems to capture, for me, some aspect of gritty physicality. It makes me think of locker rooms and surreptitious hand jobs, of embarrassing hard-ons and Internet porn watched on the sly. Personally I wouldn't tend to call a penis a “prick”, because I don't have one, but I feel that a man might (and I hope that our male Grip members will either confirm or refute this).
“Prick” also has the nice implication of something that pierces or penetrates. I'm certain that extra level of meaning makes it sound a bit dirtier.
Anyway, when I received the edits for my most recent erotic romance, Challenge to Him, there were several instances of “prick” called out.
He could scarcely look at her without imagining her rounded limbs wound with rope, her neat bosom bared to his pinching fingers, her lively brown eyes hidden by the blindfold that would give him license to use her however he chose. His prick swelled to an uncomfortable bulk inside his trousers. He was grateful that the motoring duster he wore concealed the evidence of his excitement.
This example fits in with my commentary above. The hero is slightly embarrassed by his sudden arousal, and thus thinks of his organ as a “prick”.
I thought a long time about whether it was worthwhile to fight about this. Ultimately I decided to change the word to “cock”. In my opinion, this loses a bit of the meaning, but not enough to justify antagonizing the editor.
However, a second case occurred here.
“You’re a clever little slut,” Andrew muttered through gritted teeth. “I’ll wager this isn’t your first time eating a man’s prick.” He wound his fingers into her hair and held her head still. “Open!” Jerking his hips, he drove his cock down her throat with bruising force.
I refused to change this instance. Andrew has deliberately selected the term “prick” to embarrass and excite the heroine. Replacing this with some other term would weaken the utterance. There's also the problem of repetition, since I wanted to use “cock” in the following sentence.
Some authors agonize over every word. I have to admit that I don't do that. However, I can usually trust my instincts, especially in a sex scene.
I'm not a prima donna, I swear! You can even ask my editors. However, I'll stand up for my right to use the words that work in my story. Penis, cock prick, dick, dong, schlong, shaft, meat, phallus, skewer, screwer... there's a place for each one. Maybe even “hardness”. Words are my tools. I'm not going to reject any of them out of hand.