Dear Em & Lo, Is “Cunt” an Appropriate Word for Dirty Talk?

Dear Em & Lo,

Hello there. This morning for the first time, my new boyfriend and I fucked. It was going okay until he came out with the word “cunt.”  I froze. Maybe it’s just me, but, I always blush at this word. Now, he wants me to use it when, or rather if, we have sex again. Am I normal? Is “cunt” an okay word to use? Thanks!

— Virgin Ears

Dear V.E.,

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet . . .

So said Shakespeare’s Juliet when trying to convince herself that Romeo’s last name didn’t matter. Of course his name did matter. The fact that they were from two rival houses — that one was named Capulet and the other named Montague — is what got them both killed!

But it’s also, in large part, what gave their relationship such emotional weight and psychic significance.  Their love was forbidden, taboo. The obstacles they tried (and ultimately failed) to overcome to be together is what made their connection all the more special.

And so it often is with sex. The forbidden, the taboo, can make sex all the more erotic. When getting down and dirty, we do and say things that just aren’t polite or proper. It’s the nature (and the fun) of the beast!

So it’s really not surprising that your boyfriend would pull out an “off-limits” word like “cunt” to raise the sexual stakes. In an age of trigger warnings, it’s an easy way to be bad, to be naughty. Especially if you believe that what happens behind closed doors should stay behind closed doors, that your fantasies shouldn’t be dictated by political correctness. After all, there are plenty of feminists who like to be spanked and called “bitch” in the bedroom who would never stand for such assault or disrespect outside of it. How hot something is can be determined by how verboten it is.

Then again, the lines between the private and public are never that concrete. The personal is often political. Men calling women derogatory names during sex, perhaps inspired by degrading or down-right misogynistic porn, reflects a larger problem our patriarchal society has with sexism. (Yes, this prejudice is still alive and well — see Trump’s election as exhibit A).

And so, when it comes to sex, very rarely are there automatic rights and wrongs (except when it comes to consent and safety — those are non-negotiable). Asking what’s appropriate for sex is tricky when sex itself is often considered, by definition, inappropriate. Everyone has a line, but it’s not universal —  it ebbs and flows depending on the person, their past experiences, and their political persuasion. One person’s go-to dirty talk may be another person’s boner killer.

You’ve got to decide where that line is for you. Does the word “cunt” cross it? That’s fine if it does — you’ve just got to communicate that to your partner. Just think of it as another sexual preference. Maybe you can’t stand having your nipples pinched. You are totally within your rights to explain to your boyfriend, “Hey, I’m not really into having my nipples pinched/hearing the C-word during sex, let’s find something else we can do/use that works for both of us.”

Perhaps whether you can get behind your boyfriend’s erotic vocabulary will depend on how he uses it. There’s a big difference between him simply using it as a euphemism for “vagina” and him angrily screaming “dirty, filthy, whoring cunt!” at you in the middle of sex (though we’re sure there are at least a few women who’d be fine with, if not delighted by, the latter). The line “I want to fuck your cunt” could be interpreted as either worshipful or hostile — it really depends on the delivery.

We love Cory Silverberg’s take on sex-related words in his sexuality education book for kids, “Sex Is a Funny Word”:

Some people think there are two kinds of words: good words and bd words. A different way to think about it is that words are not good or bad. Words can be helpful, and words can be hurtful. A word is helpful or hurtful depending on how we use it. It also matters how the words feels the person we are talking with. It’s like the difference between laughing with someone and laughing at someone. The same word can feel good, or bad, or like nothing at all. It depends on who is saying it., how they say it and why.

So how you use it matters, too. You say you’re embarrassed by the word, but you could choose to embrace it. That’s the entire thesis of Inga Muscio’s book “Cunt: A Declaration of Independence.” That’s what a whole nation of women did with the word “pussy” after Trump was caught on tape spewing it in a decidedly un-erotic, unloving way (read our post “Why You Shouldn’t Be Offended by the P-Word Anymore”). Maybe you could try pushing your own boundaries by giving the word a whirl and delighting in your own embarrassment (shame can be a pretty powerful erotic tool). 

Just be sure you find — and use — an equally offensive term for his penis.

Your loving potty mouths,
Em & Lo

Need more encouragement?
5 Easy Ways to Talk Dirtier Tonight


This post has been updated.


  1. Of course, this is all in how you take the meaning of the word, and how he is using it.

    Personally (I am a man), I think it’s an ultra-naughty, sexy word, AS LONG AS…. he is referring to that part of your body and not YOU. Calling a woman a “C***” is a horrific insult because it generally means, stupid, cheap, slutty, and “not good for anything except f**king”. But if he’s talking to you about how much your c*** turns him on, or how much he wants it, etc, that seems to me to be a genuine, albiet naughty or dirty way to say it (and if you want to talk dirty to each other, that’s the point, right?)

    So here’s what I would do. Think to yourself about how it makes you feel to call that part of your body a c***. Does it scare you? Anger you? If so, why? Is it the same as if somebody were to call YOU that name? Are you mixing up the two uses of the word (The body part and the person label)? Does it somehow make you feel used, cheap, taken advantage of, if he calls your body part that name? If so, why?
    You need to settle for yourself, in your own mind, how you feel about that word in various contexts and why you feel that way.

    Once you’ve settled that, if you know you don’t like it, it’s certainly your right to tell him “no… don’t like that word”. I’m just suggesting you think through where your feelings are coming from, so you don’t shy away from something you might find really naughty and delightful, but decide to hate and avoid for the wrong reasons.

  2. Speaking of Shakespeare, here is his famous pun on the C-word.

    Malvolio: “By my life, this is my lady’s hand these be her very C’s, her U’s and (NB pronounced “N” in rather than “and” performance ) her T’s and thus makes she her great P’s.” _TWELFTH NIGHT_: ACT 2, SCENE 5

    1. Better known, and “taught” in high school, is the scene in Hamlet where asks Ophelia to lie in his lap. She takes his offer amiss and he says “Did you think I meant CUNTry matters?” You could look it up. Really. Yet another of the Bard’s dirty puns.

      1. Ciao AlanK,
        I had forgotten that one! I no longer have my tattered copy of _Shakespeare’s Bawdy_ by Eric Partridge, so thank you.

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