Nicknames for private parts

"Sex and the City," Season 3, episode. 15: "Hot Child in the City"

Charlotte and Trey are having problems in the sack: like 1 in 9.62 men aged 18 - 59, he's having occasional trouble getting it up. After Charlotte catches him going at it solo, their marriage counselor, as an exercise in sexual dialogue, asks them to each assign a nickname for their private parts.

For every medical term for "it," there must be 10,000 nicknames. A man's might be his dong, doodle, wiener, wang, or whale; a woman's may be her vah-jay-jay, hoo-ha, nu-nu, thingy, or-as the ladies of Sex and the City once dubbed it-her "sushi." And so on, ad infinitum: you can practically make it up as you go. Names for private parts cover a vast continuum, from coy to cocksure. But why do we create nicknames for private parts and not other parts, like the nose or the foot? Why don't we call a spade a spade?

More than one sex researcher has suggested that our incessant nicknaming of private parts stems from two incompatible urges-one to be bawdy, the other to be prudish, depending on the situation or one's comfort level. In either case, the clinical names can seem, well, just too clinical.

Consider them-or, if they make you blanch, skip to the next paragraph. There's the penis (the plural of which is penises or penes, but never peni), complete with testicles, scrotum, glans, and something called the meatus (don't ask). The vagina has its own penumbra of Latin- and Greek-rooted medical terms: clitoris, vulva, cervix, and labia. Uncomfortable yet?

For the demure, the aversion to biological terms leads to all sorts of euphemisms. Baby names (wee-wee), bodily-location names (down-there), even name names, personifications based on the owner's name-like "Little Bill." Plenty of hard-to-categorize euphemisms are out there, too. Jennifer Love Hewitt's "precious lady" comes to mind-in the same breath, Hewitt recently revealed her habit of decorating it with jewels-a process she calls "vagazzling."

The other end of the spectrum, the realm of the lewd and the cheeky, is, if possible, even more densely populated. The list of blue words for private parts is endless, much of it unprintable. A modest selection might include: tube steak, third leg, jackhammer, ----- , honeypot, pud, or one-eyed trouser snake. It's enough to make an online word filter go insane.

Some sex researchers suggest that nicknames like these reveal cultural assumptions about the roles of men and women. You may notice, for example, that many bawdy names for penises are metaphors based on tools, weapons, predatory creatures, superheroes, and images of optimistic size (poles, towers, and so on). By contrast, vaginal nicknames connote less power or dominance, and more sweetness, passivity, or occasional w-----hood. More than a few feminist critics have suggested that this imbalance imputes a negativity (unconsciously or otherwise) to womanhood. As Deborah Cameron, of the University of Strathclyde, puts it, a list of pudendal nicknames reads like "an experience of masculinity as dominance, femininity as passivity, and sex as conquest."

There is an upside to naming your private parts, though, as the above episode of Sex and the City demonstrates: giving them a name can facilitate sexual communication between partners. It certainly did between Trey and Charlotte, although sadly their union did not last. Maybe that's because they dubbed their doo-dahs "the schooner" and "Rebecca," respectively.

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