This article originally appeared, in a slightly different form, over at Emily Veinglory’s EREC blog. Then last summer it was published in the September issue of Lady Jaided, the Ellora’s Cave online magazine. But it occurred to me this evening that I’m quite proud of this little piece, and it should be on my site. So here it is.
The C Word
It’s a perfect word.
It’s evocative. It’s short. Its roots go back over 15,000 years. Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Casanova were among its most famous literary champions.
And yet, cunt still gets the short end of the stick. So to speak.
In erotic romance, “cunt” is generally considered the division between sensual and erotic. Do you have forty sex scenes in your 25,000 word story? Do your characters say “fuck” and watch each other masturbate, do they use vibrators and have so much oral sex their jaws lock up? Great. That sounds sensual to me.
But do you have only three sex scenes and use the word “cunt” to describe your heroine’s love canal? Yes? Then you’re writing erotica, my friend.
Why is that? Why is it that one small word has the power to change sexy to erotic, to change arousing to offensive? And is it that offensive, really?
Most women seem to think so. Studies have shown that women find “cunt” to be the single most offensive word in the English language. (Seriously.) It’s forbidden. It’s absolutely taboo.
But what is forbidden is often what is most erotic, as well.
I never used to write it. I didn’t like to read it. Until I found a few erotic romances that used it, to great effect. My dislike of the word changed to–not indifference, because I don’t feel a word like cunt can ever inspire indifference–but more like approval. The word was forbidden. The word was direct. The word was a little shocking.
In short, the word was pretty hot.
Remember that episode of Sex and the City where Charlotte is trying to woo that painter to her gallery? It’s an old man, and he proudly informs her that he’s been doing a series of paintings of cunts. Charlotte is, of course, stunned by this. He asks her to sit for him, and you can see she’s about to refuse when the old man’s cute-little-old-lady wife enters the studio. She’s holding a tray of lemonade and says sweetly, “I bet you have a beautiful cunt, dear.”
Think about that for a minute. “A beautiful cunt.” Think how you might feel if someone said that to you, in an obviously complimentary and admiring tone. Or a deep, dangerous, sexy one. Maybe if we think of cunt as a strong word, an arousing word, a descriptive word, instead of a nasty one, we can replace it in our vocabulary and our books and hold our heads high. Just hearing the phrase “beautiful cunt” made a difference to me, since we so often associate the word with less pleasant adjectives. But if we think of the word—and the objects—as beautiful…as something that deserves its own special, grown-up word…
That’s what cunt used to be. Chaucer used it in The Canterbury Tales, spelling it “queynte”. According to Charles Panati’s Sexy Origins and Intimate Things, “Chaucer believed the word was derived from ‘quaint’, which meant ‘a many-layered, in-folded mystery’.” Now really, what better way is there to describe a woman’s sexual organs than “a many-layered, in-folded mystery”? Can you think of another description as poetic, as accurate and lovely?
Of course, pre-Chaucer, cunt was a name. There are many families on the rolls in thirteenth-century England named “Cuntles” or “Clawcunte”, or many variations thereof. There were “Gropecunte Street”s or “Cunte Lane”s in medieval England as well. Clearly, the word’s meaning was fixed even over 700 years ago—it first appears in written record in 1066, but seems to have had a different meaning then, although “cunt” is derived from early language, when “kuni” or words like it were used simply to mean “wife” or “woman”.
Which is all very interesting, except it doesn’t mean much to us or help us. Women don’t want to see cunt. There’s an implication that if they do, they’re the type of woman who likes really graphic, nasty sex—the hardcore erotic stuff—instead of the lighter, sweeter, gentle-spanking kind of sex. (Which I think are the best kind of women, but hey.)
What’s a writer to do?
See, the problem is, “cunt” works so well. As I said above, it is evocative. It does give the reader a distinct message: this is going to be pretty graphic. This will be pretty hot. Isn’t choosing words to set a mood part of what we do as writers?
I decided to try using cunt. I wanted to see what t felt like to actually write it, to actually put that forbidden word on paper. Could I still turn people on when I threw a cunt bomb into my work? Could I still write scenes people would enjoy, even if a cunt bobbed up at them from the page?
To my surprise, it worked. And it wasn’t too bad. It was actually pretty sexy. And so exact! We’re always looking for words to describe or identify female body parts. Aren’t you tired of writing about slick folds or swollen entrances? Or channels, or tunnels, or whatever? Isn’t it hard to use “pussy” to describe both the vagina and the vulva (a word I don’t like, btw)?
This is where cunt fits in. I can talk about pussies and cunts as two separate (but obviously closely related) entities, and I can describe a vagina without adjectives but with a word that everyone can visualize. The many-layered, in-folded mystery of a woman.
I don’t use the word much; overuse deadens the impact and feels overdone, just as with any other word. But of late I’ve been abstaining, and I have missed it. All those folds and entrances just can’t compensate for the brevity and clarity of cunt.
I think it’s time we take “cunt” back. It’s time we allow ourselves to think of our sexual selves, our sexual parts, as deserving of an adult word (rather than the kittenish—and kind of childish—“pussy”). As able to see that some words have more than one meaning, and there’s nothing shameful in reclaiming such a rich history? There’s nothing shameful in possessing something as strong and powerful as a cunt, in saying that yes, we have this incredible body part, and it’s capable of amazing things, and we’re going to use a real, strong, mature, and age-old word to refer to it?
Say it loud! I have a cunt and I’m proud.