Words mean things, Part 1: On Sex, Penetration, and Krakens

Words mean things, Part 1: On Sex, Penetration, and Krakens July 19, 2012

[trigger warning for rape, racism, colonization, sexual violence]





These are words that Douglas Wilson (supported by Jared Wilson) uses to describe the “role” a man plays in sexual relationships with women. Women, on the other hand, should “receive, surrender, accept.” According to the Wilsons (as mentioned here), these are the ingredients of a loving relationship. Says Douglas,

What I was talking about occurs within the bounds of a man and a woman who love and respect one another, mirroring the relationship of Christ and the Church. Anyone who believes that my writing disrespects women either has not read enough of my writing on the subject to say anything whatever about it or, if they still have that view after reading enough pages, they really need to retake their ESL class.

Dianna Anderson has already asserted that, despite D. Wilson’s slightly racist assertion that anyone who takes his words negatively needs to “retake their ESL class,” words mean things, and writers have to be responsible with and for the words they choose. Let’s talk about what these words could mean, exactly.

For today’s post, I’m going to talk about penetration. Tomorrow, I’ll come up with a post about the other three words because I have a lot more to say about those.

Many people have felt the need to inform me already that the penis enters the vagina during male/female vaginal intercourse. First of all, people, I know how it works. I don’t think babies come from storks. Secondly, penetration is not what makes sex, sex. In fact, you can have sex without penetration. I’m just saying.

But, anyway…

My question is, why do our discussions about intercourse have to sound scenes out of a horror movie? Why does sex have to sound like getting stabbed? And, if sex does have to sound like something out of a horror movie, can women be the agents of terror now and then? How about, “The vagina chomps on the penis and swallows it whole?”

Like the kraken. Nom, nom nom.

Does that make you feel uncomfortable, men? Now can you see a problem with the use of words to describe intercourse that make your penis seem like Jason Voorhees’ machete?

Seriously, though. Can we come up with a happier, more enjoyable set of words to describe penis/vagina intercourse? Like, “the vagina gives the penis a hug!” Yeah, I like that.

I won’t give Jared or Doug too much crap for this one, because “penetration” is such a commonly used word to describe sex. But I think all of us need to rethink it. Not only is it violent sounding, but it neglects women’s sexual agency in the situation. And when the Wilsons use this word in combination with other words like “colonize” and “conquer,” it shows that the language we use is not merely an accident. We are used to this violent, male-centered language because we live in a world where women are controlled by sexual violence and where women’s sexual agency is actively repressed.

In other words, words–even the ones that we use so often we don’t even think about them–mean things.

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  • Your post reminds me of this TV show I once watched when I was younger on USA’s UP ALL NIGHT. This guy was making out with this girl in the dark. And for some reason, he turned the lights on, only to discover that he’d been making out with his girl’s navel — that was really the mouth of a monster that ended up eating him.

    Sorry, not really relevant. I hate it that this was my first comment on your really great blog . . . I’ve been drinking. It’s Thursday night, after all . . .

  • When I’ve read discussions of the rape of cis men (which in some countries is restricted to the forced penetration of the mouth or anus), I’ve seen the phrase “rape by envelopment” where the baby-making act is forced upon a man against his will. I think envelopment is a close equivalent to penetration, and you never see it when folks describe a woman’s role being “to envelope”.

    I quite like the concept “to embrace” if “give a hug” is too informal.

    As well as being a disablist concept that “penetration” has to take place at all (not all straight couples can do that), it’s rather worrying that penetrate is the least problematic of these words!

    • embrace is good too! and yeah, the idea that penetration has to take place at all is so limiting.

  • brambonius

    Words have meaning, indeed; and it seems that those GC people are just clueless about what they are saying…

    As a non-native speaker who has the same word in his own language (penetratie in Dutch but I think it’s a lesser used word), I must say the the word sounds not aggressive to me, but just technical, mechanical, and completely non-romantic or loving at all. to me it gave the idea of describing what happens technically, without the emotions, love or anything higher than a dry description of ‘put A in B and move until sperms are released’.

    The other words seemed to me more problematic (don’t you Americans have Indian reservations to check what happened with the people who were colonised and conquered?) and horrible poetry.

    The planting sounds like some of the more naieve misogynist midievals who thought that a man planted a seed in the ‘garden’ of a woman. To use this kind of ideas looks like a very backwards anachronism to me.

    • yes, I agree that the other words are more problematic. Working on a post about that now and definitely going to address our treatment of Native Americans :/

  • The scary sex language is making me think of the sarlaac from Star Wars….

    • ahaha! I will never watch that movie the same way again!

  • browncl

    Um, I am definitely going to say the vagina “gives the penis a hug” the next time I am talking about sex. I don’t care what context it happens to be in. Haha.

    This kind of reminds me of a chapel speaker who talked about the male “spreading his seed” and such, and how our “sex roles” mirror our other life roles. Argh. Troubling just because of the conquering connotations, and because it suggests that only males have active roles in intercourse and in other aspects of life. Though I don’t always agree with it, I understand some of the reasoning behind the whole protector/nurturer dichotomy, but I think it confuses more than it helps sometimes.

    • I thought of that chapel sermon exactly when I read this. The hand motions. ahhhh. the hand motions

      • Yes, the hand motions made me go “BLECCCHHHH.”

  • OH MY GOSH, I love this post for SO many reasons!

    #1: “Secondly, penetration is not what makes sex, sex. In fact, you can have sex without penetration. I’m just saying.”

    You’re not alone! I’ve been saying that for years! 🙂 (As does my partner!)

    #2: ““penetration” is such a commonly used word to describe sex. But I think all of us need to rethink it. Not only is it violent sounding, but it neglects women’s sexual agency in the situation.”

    Yeah, let’s rethink this so sex is more fun for everybody! Cuz Lord knows it got better for me when I started . . . being more involved, let’s say. 😉