On Vocabulary of Sex

There has been a flurry of sex-related short stories in the past little while, some written by women [See Parinaz Samii]. This effort in itself is pushing the envelope and creating a space that didn’t exist before and my hat’s off to the writers, regardless of their literary merit.

Reading these stories and also readers’ comments make it evident that Farsi language offers few choices in sex vocabulary. Writers have resorted to all kinds of indirect reference to genitalia, as well as directly using the few terms available in Farsi, thus creating various reactions in readers that range from outrage to mockery. The “K” terms in Farsi carry their traditional connotation and writers have either intentionally attempted to change this connotation and bring the “K” terms into the realm of neutral and publicly-acceptable terms or have used them due to the lack of any other available terms.

I neither claim to be a linguist, nor an expert in social sciences but the effort of these writers has prompted me to share my humble thoughts with you. I am sure most of you who speak the language of a developed country, have noticed how you switch languages whenever you encounter a void in Farsi to express yourself. You will have a very hard time to readily find a sentence in Farsi that would carry the meaning of: “You should maintain his self esteem by avoiding negative remarks”, or “I need my space and don’t want to compromise my privacy”.  The same phenomenon happens more intensely in the realm of sex and becomes extremely dependent on the gender of the speaker. A female speaker can say: “I fucked him” in English and it wouldn’t be groundbreaking in any manner, but the same sentence in Farsi would sound either meaningless, in the context of a male-dominated culture, or would be understood and encouraged by a listener who supports equality for men and women; nonetheless such sentence yet has to establish a space in the Farsi language.

The void becomes painfully clear when a speaker, attempting to address male or female organ, in a neutral or “respectable” manner, would have to resort to another language (be it Arabic like “فرج” or French like “vagin”) to avoid the Farsi term’s connotation and “vulgarity”, or would use vague and general terms lik “آلت تناسلی” that may not be the best choice of terms.

One should ask how the culture of developed countries allow terms such as penis and vagina be used with a neutral tone, in a manner that doesn’t raise eyebrows and can be heard during six o’clock News of the most conservative TV channels.

I’d like to point out that such rich sex-related vocabulary in developed countries has not always been around and has come about through a long and hard evolutionary, and sometimes revolutionary, process. Many pioneers have suffered and taken the brunt of opposition to new spaces and change. More specifically, you can trace this process of social change back to the 1920’s with Dr. Sigmund Freud redefining sexual desire as the primary motivational energy of human life and moving away from the Victorian concepts of sexuality that were intertwined with concepts of guilt and sin.

Dr. Alfred Kinsey was another pioneer whose extensive research and reports on sexual behaviour in human male and female in the late 40’s and early 50’s changed cultural attitude toward sex, established facts about sex and paved the way for many other pioneers in various fields.

One such important field that has always been a venue for free expression, exposure to the truth, and an agent for change, is comedy. Pioneers such as Lenny Bruce (50’s and 60’s) and George Carlin (60’s onward) pushed the discussion of sex (amongst a lot of other things such as race and religion) into the public realm. Both comedians were taken to court by conservative forces. Lenny Bruce’s obscenity trial led to the first posthumous pardon in New York history. George Carlin’s comedy routine “Seven Dirty Words” was central to a 1978  U.S. Supreme Court case that challenged the power of the government to regulate “indecent” material on public airwaves.

In summary: Vocabulary expands with the level of development in a country. The basic purpose of development is to broaden people’s choices. Vocabulary of sex is just one small indication of many voids in the path of development for Iran.

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