Friday, July 26, 2013

Cunt by Lily Harlem

Cunt, now there is a word that can make people gasp, or smile, or their hackles go up. Even seeing it spelled out can make some people tremble. I use it in my novels sparingly - note the word sparingly - because I like the impact it has. But because of its power, it can also be a word that knocks readers from a moment when you really want them to be immersed in the story - but more about that in a minute.

First of all, a quick sweep around the world wide web about the origins of this complex word.. (not a polemic, just a bit of info!)

It seems that etymologists debate the word cunt but the overall belief is that the word derives from the Proto-Germanic word kunton meaning the female genitals. What is known for sure is that by the 13th century cunt was being widely used. The earliest known citation of the word comes from a street in London known as Gropecunte Lane. This name was common in many towns in Britain as the street where prostitutes conducted their business. The street name described the activity that took place, e.g. grope meaning to touch for sexual pleasure and cunte meaning female genitalia. This street existed under its current name in London up until fairly recently when the residents decided to change its name to something a little more PC - I'm just guessing at this new name LOL!

      So originally cunt didn’t have the obscene connotations it has today, it was merely a noun for the ladies private parts. But over the years its meaning evolved, by Shakespeare’s day it seems to have become quite obscene and although the great playwright never actually used the word in any of his completed plays, before him, Chaucer did in Canterbury Tales.

     However, moving forward a few centuries, the way in which Anais Nin used cunt in her writing is pertinent, titillating and I think beautiful. Erotica is more likely to use cunt with acceptance & grace unlike the rest of society who've pushed cunt to the outer rims of the majorities vocabulary. For a long time cunt was an outcast. Only uncouths and drunks used the word that once all enjoyed so merrily, until fairly recently when, luckily for it - society liked to shock.

      Now it is the golden age of cunt, everybody uses it from the humblest beggar to politicians in a way they hope will get a gasping reaction at their daring. There is, however, also a long-standing movement among feminists that seeks to reclaim cunt not only as acceptable, but as an honorific, in much the same way that queer has been reappropriated by LGBT people. I for one, hope they succeed.

     But despite its resurgence many are still confused on when and in what company it is okay to say the previously unutterable...

      Until the feminists are victorious in changing the general population's opinion of the word, utilising cunt in the modern age is a difficult balancing act. If you underutilize or refuse to say it then you are missing out on one of the most powerful words in the English language. If you overutilise cunt then you run the risk that people will think you're either a misogynist or a feminist, depending on your gender, and cunt will lose all its punch and forcefulness. (information sourced from Live Leaks, sexloveliberation)

     So, back to Anais Nin who paved the way for modern day erotica authors and readers. Well, I know we don't generally share lots of excerpts on Oh Get A Grip, but since I have a new trilogy out this week - Sexy as Hell co-written with Natalie Dae - that uses the word cunt in several different ways I thought I'd share a few examples of how Natalie and I like to work it into stories.

      This is the first snippet, and what I should point out is that cunt is in the very first line of the very first book. Why? Because it shocks, it hooks, it shows us a lot about not just the female lead, Zara, but also the reaction of the man she says it to. Here goes...

Excerpt from The Novice book #1 in the Sexy as Hell Trilogy

Chapter One

“Lick my cunt,” I said.
I wondered what Victor saw, standing there fully dressed as he was against my bedroom wall. A woman sprawled out on the bed, naked, her fingers spreading her slit apart, or me, Zara Watson, the girl he’d picked up in a coffee shop after work? Or so he’d like to think. I’d picked him up, but I wasn’t about to let him in on how. It had been easy, making him believe he had the gift of the gab, what it took to successfully snare a woman, but in reality I’d orchestrated every move. I doubted his ego could take the truth.
“What?” he asked, dark eyebrows going up, eyes widening.
So he wasn’t as sophisticated as he’d made out. In my experience, they were all the same. Confident and all-knowing until someone like me threw them. Came out with a simple statement that had them reeling. No idea how to claw back their self-assured air without a pause to take in what had been said. The shock of it was usually too much. Hang on, lady, you’re not meant to be saying things like that to me. It should be the other way around. I ought to be shocking you.
“You heard me,” I said, holding back a smirk. “So?”
He remained where he stood, more was the pity, and smiled, a tactic I’d seen so many times before. I‘d bet his mind was swirling, him trying to think what he could say that would get him back on top. I only wished he would get on top, or at least do something that would live up to the promise of his sexy words in the coffee shop. I sighed. All mouth and no trousers, that one. Shame he still had his trousers on. Black ones that matched his shirt. A grey silk tie that could be taken two ways—he was either a stuffy prig or had no choice but to wear it for his profession. And he’d told me all about that. An architect, don’t you know, well paid and with a flashy car that he’d wasted no time in describing to me. As though a hunk of metal was of interest. The only hunk I was interested in was him, and the way things were going, I wouldn’t be getting my mitts on him as quickly as I’d envisaged. Shame, because he was a great-looking guy and I wouldn’t be surprised if his body matched the aesthetic appeal of his face.
“A bit forward, aren’t you?” he said, rubbing the cute, vertical dink he had in his chin.
“Is that a problem?” I leant back, bracing myself on my hands. My breasts didn’t move. Pert things, they’d brought many a man to his knees. A pity this one wasn’t on them between my legs now, supping the cunt I’d so graciously offered.
“Well…” He frowned, seemingly at a loss on what to say.
“Well what?” I smiled inwardly. Talk about getting to him. I could almost see him trying to hold in a squirm.
“You…you didn’t seem this type when we met.” He lifted one hand, running his fingers through his floppy brown hair. Sprinkles of silver weaved through his sideburns and the wispy, longer hairs at his temple.
“And what type is that?” I was enjoying myself. 

Zara goes on to ask him how a naked lady on a bed, asking him to 'lick her cunt' can fail to turn him on. It's clear from his reaction that it's that one word that's thrown him, the straw that broke the camel's back in this scene, and a great place to start his character development.
This next snippet is from book #3 The Vixen, a shorter excerpt because it's quite plot heavy and I don't want to throw spoilers around, but I wanted to use it as an example of cunt being a word filled with hate and the power it can have when used that way. Plus it's such a short, hard word on the tongue, can be almost spat out, that even when reading and not saying it out loud it still reverberates.

I hadn’t had to put the incredulous in my voice, because I could recall my shock when they’d asked me, or rather Conner had told me what I had to do. 
Conner. I’d told myself I’d never say his name, never think it, but things had changed. He was the one who’d liked the games the best, the others had just watched with folded arms and amused sneers on their faces.

This is just a tiny section of Zara's thoughts in that scene, but I still think the depth of her hate is evident on the page from that final word.
Finally, an example of cunt used in a heated moment which leads to lots of loving and caring and written as a thought while in the heroine, Zara's, point of view. This is taken from book #2 The Player.

Oh, God, he meant it. The fire in his eyes was plain to see. I’d pushed him way too far. What the hell had he and Ollie been talking about?
He shoved me and I fell onto the bed, the backs of my knees against the edge of the mattress. Still standing he straddled them, loomed above me, staring down with such menace in his eyes I knew I really should give him a snippet of the truth before he exploded in spectacular fashion. His cock tented his jeans—oh, yes, it tented them quite nicely—and I clenched my cunt muscles to stave off the stirrings of desire.
“I don’t know the proper rules,” I said. There, there was some truth. “All I know are mine and the games that I play. I don’t know any other way. Satisfied?”
My chest went up and down as I fought to catch my breath. It seemed as though my admission had taken all the air out of me, had left me weak and boneless, vulnerable—something I’d vowed never to be again.

Fairly subtle in that last one, but I like how it is in the protagonist's thoughts, again it tells us a detail about her, how she thinks, that she's comfortable with the word if she has it in her head like that, and also that she uses it in different ways herself.

On a different note, recently I was at a reading in Cardiff with fellow erotica and erotic romance authors KD Grace, Lucy Felthouse and Kay Jaybee and we had a question and answer panel at the end of the readings and the open mic. One of the audience asked us about using the 'c-word' in our books. I took the route of it having positive female connotations in history as a noun and that I found it particularly useful when writing. I also put forward that if readers are picking up erotica they're not too likely to be shocked by a single word. This seemed to be a general opinion of the other authors on the panel, and I know full well, because I've read and loved their work, that they, too, use cunt in a variety of different ways.

Do share your thoughts, I'm hoping to be having a little r&r with Mr H this week but will do my best to check in and say hi! And again, I've just skimmed the surface on this subject, it can be debated at length...

Lily x

Oh - And I probably should say, that The Novice, Book #1 in the Sexy as Hell Trilogy is FREE for a few days only! Grab your copy from Amazon and feel free to tell all of your friends, friends who can cope with the word cunt that is! Or if you're feeling brave, just grab the whole box set!

Please note the original title The Virgin, was switched to The Novice after a dispute with Amazon.


  1. Great post, Lily! Where'd you find the images?

    Congratulations on the release and thanks for sharing a few snippets. I loved the last book I read by you and Natalie (That Filthy Book).

  2. I use the word sometimes in my erotic fiction. In the context of my stories, it's a reverent and exciting anatomical term. In my view, it can have more impact than "pussy," so I rotate it in a little less frequently, and with an eye to a more "in your face" effect.

    When I worked in a bookstore, we sometimes carried the book called Cunt from the 1990s(?) that celebrated the term as a beautiful word that sex-positive feminists ought to reclaim. At one point a co-worker of mine, also a man and also on the progressive part of the ideological spectrum, objected to our carrying the item. All he could see on the cover of the book was a term that he thought was inherently degrading to women. I offered the explanation that the whole point of the book was that the term oughtn't be viewed that way or used that way... that this was a book by and for feminists, not misogynists. I wasn't on a campaign to get him to adopt the word—I just wanted him to understand what the attitude of the book was. But he just couldn't get past seeing the word as offensive, no matter the context and motivation of its use.

  3. Kristina Lloyd tackled "cunt" for Lustbites awhile back...

    I loved her title: "Cunt or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the C-word"


  4. Alison! It's great to see you here!

  5. Maybe it's because I'm older than 50, or maybe it's because I was brought up as part of a large Polish family that swore to excess as an art-form whenever possible. To me, cunt is a pejorative, to be used sparingly when you really want to insult a woman. I also like "pandejo", which is Spanish for "cunt-hair", meaning you're not even important enough to be a cunt, you're merely a hair on it. I'm considered a rebel among my friends since I'm the only one who has ever said "that word" out-loud. But my family taught me early on that "No shit, Sherlock" was perfectly acceptable in polite company, and "Pencil-dicked geek" was a great way to describe the shortcomings of a male I wanted to insult. Large trucks and Hummers make me comment, "Compensate much?", especially when they have those obnoxious "truck balls" hanging in a realistic "sack" on the back fender of their trucks. I feel for the women in their lives.

    I know I'm in the minority of erotic romance writers, but to me that word pulls me out of a sex scene whenever it appears. I won't stop reading, but I take a second to blink and move on, and sometimes that's enough to ruin the mood for me.

  6. Great post, Lily. Now I'm wondering what I could possibly add to the subject on my day to post! "Cunt" as a word to be proudly reclaimed is one of the Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler, which is performed aloud, usually on or near Valentine's Day (V-Day) to raise funds for women's shelters and other organizations that raise awareness of violence against women.


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