Slang, Sexual

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Slang, Sexual

Sexual slang is informal language that refers to aspects of sexuality in a way that is secretive, humorous, or metaphorical. It results from cultural taboos, social constraints, contextual influences, ideological struggle, and personal stylistic preferences. Sexual language varies from the technical (to copulate) to the more informal, which includes polite euphemisms (to sleep with), slang (to knock boots), and obscenities (to fuck). Most informal sexual language can be considered broadly as sexual slang.

Sex requires slang and euphemisms both because it is fundamental to human existence and because it is frequently taboo to talk about it in public. Because sexual topics are considered private, slang has developed not just for the act of sex itself, but also for most things connected to sex, including genitals, menstruation, masturbation, pregnancy, and certain types of people such as prostitutes. Interestingly, the more taboo a concept is, the more it is talked about. Thus, the notion of copulating has thousands of slang, technical, euphemistic, and obscene terms and phrases that avoid directly naming this ever-present yet ever-hidden activity. Pointing out the difference between talking about sex and having it, psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, in his 1977 book, Écrits: A Selection, argues that sexual discourse acts as an outlet to express desire that often has not been satisfied through sexual activity.

Theorists such as Georges Bataille (Eroticism, 1987 [1957]) argue that taboos such as those on sexual discourse are necessary components of culture and that ritual activities that allow for the transgression of such taboos both are cathartic and reinforce the taboo. Proving this theory from a historical perspective, Michel Foucault notes in The History of Sexuality (1990 [1978]) that sexual discourse began to be altered in the seventeenth century as repressive governmental and religious policies made it improper to talk about sex outside official venues. As a result circumlocutions developed with metaphors, allusions, euphemisms, and slang, allowing people to talk about sex in code. This use of nonstandard English continued and flourished in the Victorian era, a period marked by repression.


Slang functions as an alternative to the official or standard language, and it is usually created by groups of people that are similar in terms of class, age, gender, race, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. Individuals create sexual slang in social groups in order to bond with others and establish common attitudes toward sex. Some sexual partners have their own sexual slang that acts as a secret code unknown to outsiders, expressing intimacy and a shared history. Because courtship often involves talking about sex, using slang, verbal sex play, double entendre, or innuendo can help establish a sexual mood, familiarity, or mutual desire. Sexual slang can also be fun, making light of a potentially intimidating topic or highlighting the playful quality of sex.

Evidence suggests that men have a larger sexual slang vocabulary than women, and men use sexual slang and dirty words almost exclusively in same-sex company. Motivations for doing so include affirming masculinity, group bonding, and verbal expression of aggression in general or specifically against women. This kind of talk often includes sexual boasting and challenging, mockaggressive curses and threats, and denigrating terms that render women as sex objects. Aggressive slang distinctly from the man's perspective includes bang, poke, and nail for sex and flog the bishop and spank the monkey for male masturbation.

Gay men and lesbians have sexual slang that is particular to their communities. Examples include cruising, which means looking for sex partners in popular rendezvous sites; breeders, a term for heterosexuals; friend of Dorothy, meaning a gay person and referring to Judy Garland's role in The Wizard of Oz (1939); and hasbian, a woman who used to be lesbian but who now acts as a heterosexual. The slang dyke refers to a lesbian, but it was originally one of many other slang words for the vagina that relied on the metaphor of a passage.

African-American slang includes booty call, a phone call or visit with the singular goal of having sex; and jungle fever, interracial sexual attraction especially by a white person for a person of color. Typical of all slang, popular phrases such as these can easily enter mainstream culture and lose their distinctiveness and exclusivity.


Sexual slang reflects the influence of both nature and culture on human behavior. Some slang emphasizes the fundamental and animalistic side of sexuality, such as eating and hunting, whereas other slang reflects cultural practices, such as sports and dancing. Slang related to the animal world includes cock and donkey for the penis, and pussy and kitty for the vagina. Referring to sex itself is to ride, which is found in Middle English with sexual meaning; to mount; to make the beast with two backs, found in William Shakespeare's Othello; and to horse, popular from the seventeenth century until the twentieth century. Another Shakespearean phrase, to pick the lock, refers to sex through the lens of the culture-specific chastity belt. Sports-related phrases for sex include to score, hole in one, and the national indoor game, whereas to play with oneself means to masturbate. Related to dancing are the horizontal dance and jazz, whereas the mixture of electronic and jazz music known as funk both resembles and is substituted for the more vulgar fuck.

Sexual slang is found frequently in mass media, including television, movies, and songs, and often functions to bypass censorship. Marvin Gaye's 1973 rhythm and blues song "Let's Get It On" is a classic of seduction that has been played frequently on the radio. Rhyming slang in Britain, from Cockney dialect, successfully communicates harsh and derogatory sexual terms in a very roundabout way. For example, instead of using cunt, which is considered highly offensive, rhyming slang substitutes berk, which is short for Berkeley Hunt or Berkshire Hunt. Likewise, many rhyming slang expressions exist for fuck, including bit of luck. The word cunt itself, which can be used to name the vagina or as an insult for a woman or man, has existed since 1230. It was used by Geoffrey Chaucer in the fourteenth century and was not considered vulgar until the sixteenth century.


Bataille, Georges. 1987. Eroticism, trans. Mary Dalwood. London: Marion Boyars. [Orig. pub. 1957.]

Foucault, Michel. 1990. The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage. [Orig. pub. 1978.]

Lacan, Jacques. 1977. Écrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock.

Richter, Alan. 1987. The Language of Sexuality. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Richter, Alan. 1995. Sexual Slang: A Compendium of Offbeat Words and Colorful Phrases, from Shakespeare to Today. New York: HarperCollins.

Spears, Richard A. 2001. Slang and Euphemism: A Dictionary of Oaths, Curses, Insults, Ethnic Slurs, Sexual Slang and Metaphor, Drug Talk, College Lingo, and Related Matters. 3rd edition. New York: Signet.

                                            Michelle Veenstra