When I first started dating my boyfriend, my good friend innocently tried to come up with a couple name for us, à la “Kimye” and “Brangelina” (r.i.p.). My name is Liz, and his name starts with a J. To everyone else’s humor, and to her own genuine confusion, her best idea was “Jiz.” This incident just became another on a list one can reference as proof that my friend never went to middle school ( it was never really a drawing of Squidward). To be perfectly frank, I didn’t know “jiz” was semen until high school. My high school years are peppered with memories of my goonish guy friends insisting that in a class of teenage boys, these are things I have to know, and and that by the end of high school they’d have corrupted me. But I reminisce all this to ask: why do people come up with alternate terms anyway? According to a timeline of sexual slang, compiled by Jonathan Green, people have been using sexual slang since 1888, when “jism” was used to refer to semen.
According to Timothy Jay’s book, Why We Curse: A Neuro-psycho-social Theory of Speech, researchers in 1979 asked subjects to write the word they use or learned for various genitalia and sexual acts in different contexts. Parent context “produced the most restricted range of terms” in 1979, and again in 1982 when the study was replicated. Parents are most likely to speak in euphemisms and to avoid using “sexual words,” impressing upon children that these words have a lot of power. Until they begin to learn slang from their peers, these words and topics remain taboo. The study shows that people use separate lexicons depending on the social setting or listeners. Jay’s four systems of sexual language could technically all be used to describe the same thing, but herein lies the problem: the sex ed. we learn in school is only tied to the medical-scientific lexicon. Sex ed. in most schools is largely anatomical. It’s about organs, and microscopic processes, disease and protocol. It fails to address the cognitive, emotional aspects of sex, as well as our other understandings or sex. Sex ed. as it is now, is merely a chapter of anatomy class. It only serves to drive a wedge between parts of a whole, and not without consequences. Separating the feelings of sex from the science can lead to disassociation between them. The social implication that sex is taboo leaves many people to figure it out on their But what are the consequences?
At the risk of being too candid, I offer up my own realizations. My only form of sexual education was through school. My parents never had the talk with me. I understood sex at a basic procedural level. I never connected the dots or understood that the same procedures, specifically an erection, could happen without actually having intercourse. When I became aware of this fact through real life, I was horrified, because I’m planning to wait for marriage to have sex. Until it was explained to me that erections can happen often for guys, especially in the close company of their girlfriends and even at random, I was in a state. My lack of knowledge and disassociation between process and emotion left me unprepared, which in turn caused me shock, horror, and even shame, anger, and fear that I had done something against my values. For someone else, it could be an actual breaking or their values, an STD, or an unplanned pregnancy.
I have to say my classmates failed. There’s still a lot that I’m clueless about. And our separate contexts for different terms don’t bring us any closer. Rectifying this issue may ask us to take a flying leap out of our comfort zones. The gap in understanding isn’t necessarily caused by the fact that schools use medical-scientific terms. It may feel uncomfortable or too “formal” to say “vagina”, so use “pussy.” Too rigid to say “penis”, so say “dick.” (See what I did there?). And should you need to talk about semen, you may find it more casual and less obvious to say “jiz.”Our task is to tie these different language sets together so that we understand what we’re addressing no matter what words are used to communicate it, so that we can be prepared for sex (horizontal exercise, hot beef injection, bit-of-that-there, mattress polo, pudding…whatever you want to to call it), and everything that comes with it.