In Praise of Talking Dirty


Some people are turned on by lewd talk. Others are shocked. One thing's sure: it's transgressive.

We recently heard from an unhappy purchaser of my partner Sheri Winston's award-winning book, who complained that it contained "crude language ... words I would never use out loud let alone during intimate moments with my loved one. Both my partner and I were appalled by the language [Sheri] feels should be normalized by having everyone say it out loud."

Now, this isn't quite accurate. Sheri doesn't proselytize people to use lewd language. She encourages them to use whatever they're comfortable with.

There is a case to be made for talking dirty, though. Here's the letter I didn't send to Sheri's disgruntled reader.

Dear Unhappy Purchaser:

I'm sorry you were offended by the language in Sheri's book, and even sorrier that you are horrified at the thought of using dirty (I'll spare you the quote marks) words in the bedroom. Genuinely sorry, as in compassionate. Why? Because you seem not to understand the power of transgression. The healing power of transgression.

Wherever you look, whatever you look at, a person has two options. There is the acceptable, the appropriate, the authorized. Call it "Plan A." If you're at a dinner in a restaurant, use the cutlery, don't eat with your hands. That would be Plan A. If you're the President of the United States, don't use the F-bomb at a press conference. That, too, would be Plan A.

Plan A is always situational, always contextual. If you're at a picnic, it's fine to eat with your hands. If you're sharing a barrack in the military, a sentence would be lonely without an F-word in there somewhere.

At any time, we have the option of diverging from Plan A -- if we're not on automatic pilot. We can choose to break with habit, to conduct ourselves in a way that is not customary personally or culturally.

There are two reasons for doing this: to shock, and to grow.

Teenagers specialize in breaking with Plan A as a way to shock the authorities. They put pierces in weird places; they're surly and otherwise break the rules of polite (read: Plan A) discourse. In fact, they're so predictably Plan B that it's like a virtual Plan A for them.

Many artists make a career out of challenging Plan A. It's their calling to illuminate the margins outside the conventional text, and one way to do this is by exposing Plan A as the usual way, not the only way. They invite their audience to see the world transgressively.

But we can also break with Plan A for personal-growth reasons. Let's say I have a bad habit. (I know, it's unimaginable, but work with me on this.) The whole point about a bad habit is that it's ... habitual. It's a default position, something we fall into over and over again because we're operating from a comfort zone where we're not really choosing, we're just doing. When the zombies take over my body and I find myself in front of the freezer (yes, ice cream talks!), I can choose not to open the door. I can choose not to listen.

In theory I can do this, certainly, and in practice I can do it too, so long as I can re-locate my awareness to a place where I am capable of choosing.

With this for background, let's move this conversation to one of my favorite places -- the bedroom. If you're a Plan A person through and through, in other words if you're afraid to look beyond the frame of what's "appropriate" and "acceptable" and "authorized," lewd boudoir language won't be for you. Talking that way isn't respectable (in fact, it's decidedly unrespectable!), and so, if you absolutely, positively must view yourself as a respectable person, your spirit will recoil at being dragged through the mud of that foul language. You will feel ashamed by the terrible things talking dirty says about you.

Here's the thing, though: even respectable people aren't only respectable. They're more than that, as are we all. Lurking out beyond the walls of their (and our) self-image are desires, fears, passions that are as much a part of them as their ability to make small talk in the living room. Sometimes these feelings are threatening. Maybe they're too intense; maybe they're too weird. Whatever their content, these renegade emotions are as real as they are unrespectable. We are all more than the Plan A frame we build around ourselves.

Ultimately, our choice is simple. We can either deny these emotions or acknowledge them. We can be ashamed of them or we can celebrate them. We can pull down the blinds around Plan A, or we can open the windows wide and put out the welcome mat for ever more inclusive doses of who we really are.

When we share lewd talk in the bedroom, we're choosing Plan B, even if we believe we're only being potty-mouthed. Talking dirty is an inherently radical act. It's intended to shock (we shock ourselves out of our narrow Plan-A complacency) and a personal-growth strategy too (it's a wake-up call, an invitation to ourselves to get comfortable with a self-sense that goes beyond Plan A). And it does all this with its own special energy -- unequivocally and shamelessly.

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This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.