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My Genitals Are Not Junk, And Neither Are Yours

November 24, 2010

Because talking about our genitals matter-of-factly seems to be beyond us, there seems to be a virtual requirement that we euphemize these parts of our bodies.  I’m not a fan of that.  We seem to have three bad options: clinical/technical, vulgar and cutesy.  I don’t like any of those, but on the whole I can best live with clinical/technical.  The terms are often latinate and strange to our eyes and ears, though that’s mostly because their use has been limited to technical discussions and that might not remain true of they were used more.  Cutesy bothers me because of the infantilization, the dismissiveness, the notion that sex isn’t a subject for real grown-up thoughts.  But what’s really problematic is to default to the vulgar, and in particular a certain kind of vulgar.

If anybody touches my junk, they better be in the waste hauling industry, because that term does not refer to my genitals.  My penis is not junk.  Me testicles are not junk.  They have served me well, they have served my partners well, they have created and been the locus for a lifetime of pleasure.  How do I repay them?  By insulting them?  Not me.  They are not junk, they are not shit, they are not dirty, they are not worthless.  The Romans called the genitals “pudenda,” parts of shame, and they can tell that shit walking, because I am not ashamed of my penis or my testicles.

This manner of reference is the worst of all worlds.  When we’re fucking, if we fuck, or stroking, if we stroke, or referring to others who do, we have our vulgar terms: cock, prick, dick, balls, sack.  Pussy, cunt, clit.  It’s a different vulgarity, isn’t it, the complicit vulgarity that the user shares by saying the word?  The vulgarity of the participant.  But “junk” — there’s a distance in it.  It’s the worst of all worlds, the association with the dirty and the worthless, without the immediacy of the wetness and sweat and the smells and tastes and textures of touching and rubbing and joining those sensitive parts.  Which, when some of us think about how fun that can be, makes us inclined to value our genitals all the more.

[Other people, and recently Jeff Jarvis, have called out this particular form of euphemism in the last week]

[Edited to add:  on Tumblr, many folks have pointed out that I presume to police how they feel about their own genitals.  I realize that’s a bridge too far.  Our bodies are each our own.]

9 Comments leave one →
  1. November 24, 2010 1:00 pm

    Don’t you think you’re taking this just a little bit too seriously, Thomas?

    For God’s sake it’s just a slang term!


  2. November 24, 2010 1:30 pm

    I have to agree with Thomas. It goes right in line with self-defeating language. It sticks in the subconscious that sex and all things associated with it should be shameful. I never understood why anyone called their bits “junk” anyway…

  3. cmb permalink
    November 24, 2010 8:57 pm

    one problem i have with latinate anatomical precision is that there doesn’t seem to be a word to refer to the entire “package” except ‘genitals’ which i find somewhat lacking. if i’m talking about the crotch region i think it’s silly to say “vagina” because that’s not all there is to it.

    i personally don’t see anything dirty about any of those vulgar words: cock, prick, dick, balls, sack. they’re coloquial, vernacular, the word “vulgar” used to simply mean “common” until “common” began to mean “dirty”.

    i rather like the more vulgar terms for anatomy. i remember once when i was in middle school some girl called me a cunt and i was shocked! scandalized! and it got me thinking what a powerful word it is: cunt. and ever since then that’s what i’ve called it. vulgarity is in the mind, it’s an aesthetic judgement call.

  4. November 25, 2010 12:00 am

    I would be all for de-vulgarizing those words for the genitals which are of Germanic origins. To me, they seem easier to say than terms that may be considered politer. They feel closer to me and more ordinary, just as a word with a Germanic root often feels more ordinary in conversation (chew vs. masticate, finger vs. digit, blahblah.) For instance, the word “cock” makes me feel less squirmy than “penis” (though that’s probably because “penis” reminds me of urine first.)

    Genitals are not more or less important than any of my other organs. I would feel silly referring to my arm or my leg by a technical term, and I feel silly doing so with my genitals too.

  5. November 26, 2010 2:12 am

    Movie Reviewed said:

    Don’t you think you’re taking this just a little bit too seriously, Thomas?

    For God’s sake it’s just a slang term!

    Terms have power. I take anti-male and anti-sex language seriously, and I’m glad that Thomas does, too.

  6. November 28, 2010 2:21 am

    I don’t know if you follow Tumblr, but if you haven’t seen this I think it’s important for you to. I honestly had a problem with the idea that I’m not allowed to decide whether or not my own genitals are junk. If you don’t appreciate someone else calling YOUR genitals by a label you don’t want, why do YOU get to do the same to ME? If I consider my genitals junk- that’s my business.

    From masculinetoast

    I don’t like being told what my junk is (or is not, in this instance). Especially my trans junk and how I relate to it. Not everyone can relate directly to their genitals in terms that mean they like their own junk. I certainly don’t. And it has probably very little to do with me been ashamed and more of a trans thing for me.

    You can tell me what your genitals are, but don’t tell me what mine are.

    From byakkoyanomusume

    Since when is “clit” vulgar? Just because I use the word “pussy” sometimes doesn’t mean I don’t respect my genitals. It’s all relative.

    From neutresex

    We’ve got to get rid of the assumptive notion that everyone likes their genitals. And even if they do, language is a personal choice. Even if I do call my vagina my junk, I’m not expecting you to call your genitals your junk. Trying to police bodies through means of linguistics can cause unwanted erasure.

    From Queer Movie Man

    People! You can use whatever words you want to use to describe yourself! Also, I don’t say “phalanges” so why should I say “genitals”? I don’t want to seem like Temperance Brennan.

    From Yo

    Genital policing being disguised as “sex positivity” is something that I increasingly encounter and thus increasingly pisses me off. Queer/feminist spaces shouldn’t be “mandatory vagina-appreciation spaces.” I love that female sexuality is something that is talked about at my school (we even have a cool zine about it!) and celebrated, but I have definitely felt uncomfortable in some contexts in which certain genital-centered language or sex acts are discussed as synonymous with liberation.

    From rabbitarmy

    You know, I can’t deal with just about any form of genital-centred language. The topic’s traumatic enough for me that basically everything elicits some form of pain. Junk certainly produces less pain than the dominant term used to describe mine—that itself is experienced as a form of invalidation and ungendering (and any alternatives/resignifications I explore are constituted socially as tricky wordplay and just sheer denial of “reality”).

    Silence is not a viable political option, and I certainly support people’s self-definition and urge to carve out some space through talking about it.. but yeah, not sure anything’s really going to work for me, personally, and often feel triggered just by someone talking about themselves. Which is my issue, but there it is.

    you can follow any other reblogs from any of the above links.

  7. Kaija permalink
    November 28, 2010 6:41 am

    Very good point. Words (and their associated uses) DO have power and there is too much negativity and shame around sex and sex organs as it is. As part of my personal campaign to call out* people who use the slang words for MY genitals as a pejorative, e.g. “don’t be such a pussy”, I have also vowed not to use the words for anyone’s genitals in a negative way; I don’t refer to someone as “being a real dick” or “needing to grow some balls”** either. I like my parts and being a straight girl, I really like guy parts too, so I shall treat them and speak of them with respect. 🙂

    * I usually do this humorously, with a smile and something like “Don’t you be taking the name of my very favorite body part in vain!” Usually makes the other person stop and blush (apparently because I am talking about my own pussy, but it gets the point across).
    ** I now use the word “asshat” as a placeholder because a) everyone has an ass, and b) when I say that, it calls up a mental picture of a butt with a cowboy hat sitting on it, and that just makes me laugh. Other friends have shared that they picture top hats, ball caps, berets, you name it.


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