5 Rough Ways We Refer to Sex, with Kinder, Gentler, Sometimes Ridiculous Replacement Options

You'll never look at a ball of yarn the same way again.
Publish date:
November 4, 2016
vocabulary, euphemisms, sex sex sex

If there are two things in this world that I love and cherish, they’re sex and language. For whatever reason, so many of the little phrases we use to describe sex are overly aggressive and violent in nature. OK, the reason is probably patriarchal in nature if we do all the math on that and show our work. And as consenting adult humans with partners who are also consenting and adult humans, you may very well enjoy sex of the overly aggressive and even violent variety, which is your prerogative.

But do we have to call it one of the same names we’ve heard forever? Even if you’re not bothered by an etymological history of violence, how about some variety? I’m not interested in policing your particular sexytimes — I want you to have a ball! Or balls, even. Baller status, if you will.

I’m just tired of hearing the same old ways in which we’ve conversationally conflated sex and violence being dropped into so many conversations all willy-nilly. There are hundreds upon hundreds of euphemisms for sex, dating back many centuries, and yet the main ones that have survived and thrive in common contemporary parlance are violent in nature.

They also perpetuate a narrow and archaic view of sex as always being intercourse between a man and a woman. Fam, I know there are many ways in which we can do the deed, and that people exist on a wide spectrum of sexuality and gender. And that is glorious. This list is not about purity or chastity, but rather having a good time and being able to describe it without including an implicit threat.

1. Bang

The use of the word bang in a vulgar sexual manner is so popular that it’s been added as a line item in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary definition. Some would argue that vigorous sexual intercourse that involves a penis or is otherwise penetrative by a device could aptly be described as “banging,” and — ahem — might even produce that sound. Onomatopoeia aside, it’s just overused, juvenile, and played out.

Alternative: Shag

“Shag” as a way to reference sex dates back to the 1700s, although specific etymological origin is unknown. The word has always been way more popular in Britain than in the U.S., but it’s been a favorite of mine since way before the second Austin Powers movie used it in its title. Maybe it’s the Anglophile in me, but I adore the straightforward cuteness of saying, “Fancy a shag?” or “I could go for a shag.” Bonus points for prefacing your shag with a hearty snog.

2. Screw/Nail

Hardware store proprietors and construction enthusiasts probably don’t even use these words with as much frequency as an enthusiastic frat boy using limited vocabulary to describe a sexual conquest. Interestingly enough, though I’ve combined them here, screw and nail are not as identical in meaning as they are in overuse and unnecessary Tool Time with Tim Taylor imagery.

A cunning linguist at the English Language & Usage Stack Exchange notes that, "Interestingly, both ‘nail’ and ‘screw’ can refer to sexual intercourse — but with the very fundamental difference (borne over from the basic meanings of the word) that screwing someone just refers, in a roundabout way, to the general ‘in-out’ motions performed during sex, while nailing someone indicates that there is a nailer and a nailee: one party is ‘using’ the nail, and the other party is implicitly likened to a wall that the nail goes into. In other words, it is quite common for a guy to brag to his friends that he ‘nailed’ a girl; but not very common for a girl to say that she ‘nailed’ a guy.”

Toppling sexist metaphor use one ridiculous suggestion at a time, allow me to suggest...

Alternative: Wind up my little ball of yarn

This plucky little phrase was actually a popular way to talk about the sex in England and Scotland in the 19th century. It even has its own traditional folk song, in which the narrator is out for a stroll when a “maiden fair” makes the titular offer, which, of course, sounds delightful.

Partial lyrics:

Well, I gave her my consent, and behind the barn we went

I promised her that I would do no harm;

Then she pulled up her clothes, and I pulled out my hose

And then I wound her little ball of yarn.

Ball of yarn, ball of yarn, and then I wound her little ball of yarn.

Ball of yarn, ball of yarn, and then I wound her little ball of yarn.

It was nine months after that, in a poolroom where I sat

That I felt a heavy hand upon my arm;

And a gentleman in blue said, "Young man, we're after you

You're the father of an eight-pound ball of yarn."

The unfortunate “unknown pregnancy” trope juuuuuuust might be offset by that explicit mention of consent.

There are a few olde stories of balls and winding up that have similar fates, and, like many centuries-old ballads, there are alternative versions of the song. As a knitter, I’d like to see this charming phrase make a comeback. You can’t even say it without being adorable.

3. Beat it up

Along with its colloquial cousin “tear it up,” “beat it up” is a popular way that men frequently reference what they’ve done or will do to their female partner’s genitals. The conflation with violence here is so on the nose as to be preposterous, and yet men everywhere are proudly declaring the beatings they’ve distributed.

This one has a song too, but there are no references to yarn, fabric, or any sewing or knitting supplies at all. In their un-ballad “Fight Night,” rap trio The Migos detail exactly what “beat it up” means as sexual slang, in their extremely NSFW fashion.

As a Migos fan, they’re way up there on the degree of difficulty scale involved with being a Black feminist woman who loves hip-hop. It’s a moment-by-moment, verse-by-verse situation.

Alternative: Make whoopee

I bet you’re already smiling just reading those words! See? Instead of bringing to mind fisticuffs and bodily harm, that romp in the sack suddenly seems more fun, right? “Make whoopee” as a phrase is memorable to many of us as the standard stand-in phrase for sex on the classic Newlywed Game (including in the most infamous TV game show answer of all time).

Even better, however, is the song Makin’ Whoopee, released in 1928 and recorded by dozens of great vocalists, from Ella Fitzgerald to Cyndi Lauper, and given freshly amorous life in the 1989 film The Fabulous Baker Boys. I challenge anyone who thinks this is an antiquated term to watch it drip from Michelle Pfeiffer’s lips as she writhes atop a piano (doing her own vocals!) and not want to make a little of their own.

4. Smash

This one is just plain lazy, and such a trashy thing to say that it leads me to praise the aforementioned vulgarities “screw” and “nail” as at least having some anatomical connection. But “smash”? No one wants to be smashed. Like most things made popular by a basic cable reality TV show, we’ve got to let it go.

Alternative: Hitting a home run

This phrase combines two great things, baseball and winning, and applies them to sex. What could be better? Sex and baseball metaphors are a natural fit, and a home run is the ultimate goal. Whether one scores that home run with a metaphorical crack of their bat, or slides into home plate, a homer is just the kind of triumphant feat I’d like us to all aim for in our bedroom activities.

There is the phallic connection one could make to a “bat,” but that’s wishful thinking on the part of most men, so if we’re in fantasy/wish land already, then anyone can swing for the fences. Go on and do a celebratory lap around the bedroom after. You’ve earned it, champ.

5. Making the beast with two backs

This phrase is literally teeming with ugliness. Have you ever seen a pretty “beast”? Of course not. I enjoyed Sexy Beast but I’d still rather not be called that. The commonly credited origin of this one is no less highbrow than the Bard himself, used by Iago to describe what he saw Othello and Desdemona doing, although there’s evidence that the phrase was first used in an earlier French publication.

Alternative: Giving her a green gown

I don’t know if I adore this old-timey euphemism more for reminding me of shopping or for bringing to mind the gorgeous dress Keira Knightley wore all throughout the 2007 film Atonement. As — er — laid out in “Captain Francis Grose's 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue,” to give a girl a “green gown” refers to having a proper horizontal tumble on a field or countryside, resulting in stained garments. Grass stains have never seemed more desirable.

Now doesn’t that just blow your skirt up?