Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

The Real Consequences of Imaginary Sex Acts

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

The Real Consequences of Imaginary Sex Acts

Article excerpt

The urge to classify and define seems to be an innate human quality. People define cuts of meat not only by the animal from which it came, but also by the specific part of the animal, defining it by particular qualities and giving it a specific name, such as NY strip steak, top round, or filet mignon. Some of these names are derived from the part of the animal itself, such as flank steak, while others, such as NY strip, seem to be purely a human invention. This taxonomical urge is applied to most everything in the human universe, as we define and classify things, acts, and individuals according to specific qualities. As such, it should come as little surprise that people have applied this behavior to sexual acts as well.

In such works as the Kama Sutra, Perfumed Garden, Ananga Ranga, and countless modern sex manuals, one can learn of such positions as Niagara-tittana-bandha, (1) which the KoIca Shastra calls nagaraka (town manner)(2) and the Western world calls the missionary position. The Kama Sutra describes oral sex techniques such as "Sucking the Mango"(3) and "The Crow,"(4) which is commonly referred to as "the 69 position." Alan Richter provides an almost exhaustive description of sexual language, with slang for many varieties of sexual intercourse(5) There are, of course, countless varieties of sexual acts. What I am interested in for the purposes of this essay is not the names of sexual acts commonly considered to provide pleasure, but rather the positions that seemingly no one would actually engage in. I write of those apocryphal sexual positions that are so disgusting, degrading, dangerous, or even deadly that they seem to exist in name only. My contention is that such imagined acts serve a normative function, providing limits on not only sexuality but also on the kinds of individuals worthy of such acts.

Throughout this essay, I will argue that the language itself matters. Kenneth Burke explains that particular words can filter our perception, calling this phenomenon "terministic screens": "Pick some particular nomenclature, some one terministic screen.... That you may proceed to track down the kinds of observations implicit in the terminology you have chosen, whether your choice of terms was deliberate or spontaneous."(6) This can be seen in the taboos on particular words--vagina is acceptable, while cunt is considered almost universally offensive. Virginia Braun and Celia Kitzinger suggest that the terms used to describe and define female genitalia "would thus be expected to encode ideas about women's bodies, women's place in the world, and women's place in sex."(7) Language is rarely neutral.

How one describes acts such as sexual intercourse can portray the participants in different ways. To "score" denotes competitiveness, "getting in someone's pants" portrays the act as a kind of strategic endeavor, "bumping uglies" denigrates the genitalia of both individuals, and "making love" overshadows the sexual component in favor of the emotional. Linguistically, there are many terms that are gender neutral--most notably the ubiquitous "fuck." As Richter explains, fuck, "in its primary sexual sense, is intersexual and does not pay too much regard to the active/passive distinction. To indicate sexual intercourse one can say 'she fucked him' without any contradiction or linguistic unease, and even without necessarily implying activity/passivity; 'she poked him,' though, sounds quite ridiculous."(8) In short, the language that we use to describe sexual acts matters because it can shape the way we view the act.

S. I. Hayakawa notes that "all verbal expressions of feeling make use to some extent of the affective connotations of words."(9) In this essay, I am interested not in the ability to offend, but the ability to amuse. The sex acts that I will discuss are certainly offensive and often taboo, but these rhetorical creations are meant to be funny. As such, my aim is to explore how these acts are portrayed and what they tell us, in turn, about the role of sexuality in society. …

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