I feel his breath hot in my ear. “Just tell me where,” he whispers.
I demure. “You know where.”
His hand traces up and down my thigh, just barely brushing the place I want his fingers. “Not until you say it.”
My mind floods with words: vagina, way too clinical; cunt, too demeaning; snatch, too 70s porno.
We go back and forth like this for a while: me, kissing his neck, trying to tempt him to give me what I want without actually making me ask for it. Finally, it becomes clear we are both waiting for the other person to choose which word we are going to use.
We think of sex as a purely physical act, defined by the interaction of one body with another. But the words we use to describe what we are doing affect the meaning and experience. When I first started having sex, I never used the word “fucking.” It felt too dirty and harsh, far removed from the gentle and courteous way my then boyfriend (let’s call him Desert Not-So Solitaire) touched me. Later, however, when I trusted him more, I would beg him to “Please, please, fuck me harder.”
The longer we were together, the more the words we used for sex became codes for the type of sex we wanted at any given moment. Lying in our sleeping bags watching the sunset and anticipating saying goodbye to one another, he might have whispered, “I want to make love to you.” Then we might have had slow, rhythmic sex while staring into each other’s eyes and whispering that we never want morning to arrive. Or, he might have swung his Mazda onto the highway shoulder, leaned me against the hood and growled, “You’re so desperate to get fucked,” and then proceeded to rip down my overalls and give me exactly what I was desperate for.
I was with Desert Not-So Solitaire for enough time that the words we used became our own secret language, and I didn’t feel awkward asking for where I wanted to be touched, or for what I wanted him to do to me. But starting any kind of new relationship — from a one-time hook up to something exclusive — means choosing new words and creating a new language, both for what you are doing and for the parts of your bodies you’re doing it with.
This summer, while working at an archaeology site, I started spending my nights at first just talking and kissing a boy (let’s call him Bone Digger). I liked everything about Bone Digger: his body, his lips, our chemistry, the way his tent always felt so cozy and warm, so separate from the rest of the world and our long days of working. Still, each time we lay pressed together under his sleeping bag, there would come a moment when he would ask me where I wanted to be touched and I would freeze. I would try to flip the situation, ask him instead where he wanted me to touch him, or where he wanted to touch me, but still he wouldn’t budge, just continue to trace his fingers up and down my thighs, just barely grazing between, until I felt dizzy with longing for more.
Finally, I sat up and admitted, “I really don’t want to be the one to choose the word for … that,” I motioned between my legs. “There are so many options, and I don’t want to pick the wrong one.”
He laughed a little. “I don’t want to be the one to choose either.” Then after a moment, “You can’t choose wrong.”
It should’ve felt awkward or weird, admitting our shared apprehension, but it actually made me feel closer to him. I knew then that I wasn’t the only one who felt nervous or shy, even more so that I wasn’t the only aware of how words can influence the shape of intimacy.
I let my hand wander down his chest, feeling the heat of his skin, then leaned in to whisper: “I’ll choose for you, if you choose for me.”
He eased down my leggings, kissed my neck, and finally, finally, touched me where I wanted. “I love how your pussy is so wet for me,” he half-growled in my ear.
“I want your cock in me so bad,” I moaned.
This is how it begins: in halting, awkward questions, in the kind of words you blush at while relaying stories back to your friends. You meet someone and they are a stranger. In fumbling glances, in too-long moments before kisses or inopportune laughter, you feel your heart moving. In the bedroom or a tent, you write a dictionary of desire. You leave, break up or move on, close the book and put it back on the shelf to flip through again some day.
Dirty Blonde is a student at Cornell University. Love in the Time of Tinder runs monthly this semester. Sex on Thursday appears every other Thursday.