Sexy stories! They’re more than just erotic: mine can be filthy, dirty, naughty, dark, taboo, intense, joyful, weird, confusing, delicious and wrong. And each and every one of these words is hot to me, in the right context. But someone asked recently if ‘filthy’ sex might be the wrong way to describe it, and asked: given the negative connotations of the word ‘filthy’, should we abandon that word in favour of ones which come with a little less baggage?
If you look to the right of this page (or the bottom if you’re reading on mobile), you’ll see a list of blog categories that you can use to navigate the posts. There’s a ‘filthy ones‘ category as well as a ‘ranty‘ category, one for ‘the human body‘ and a few others that essentially show the badly-drawn lines that I thought easily categorised my work when I first started blogging. My categories are not very good.
For one thing, splitting posts by the categories ‘boys I’ve had‘ and ‘girls I’ve had‘ was unnecessary and – to be honest – wildly optimistic from a younger GOTN who expected to be shagging around far more than she actually did. On top of that, there are plenty of posts that technically fall into more than one category. Categorising and labelling stuff is hard, and it’s even harder when you’re writing about the human sexual experience, seeing as pretty much all human experience spans more than one category of thing.
Categories are hard. Tags are hard. Words are hard. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to get them right.
Should I abandon the word ‘filthy’?
This post was prompted by a lovely person who supported me on Patreon for a while. As part of Patreon perks, people get the chance to suggest topic for blog posts or ask questions they’d like me to answer (it looks like it’s limited to the top tiers but if I’m honest I’ll do it for any Patreon supporter if you ask a question that I can sink my teeth into!). This person wanted me to tackle the word ‘filthy’, and asked whether I might be damaging the cause of sex-positivity by using negative words to describe the way I fuck: dirty, filthy, and so on.
It’s a really good question. So let’s start by breaking it down.
I love having filthy sex
The primary meaning of ‘filthy’, for me, is the kind of sex that plays a little with taboos. Not loads, just enough that I can feel a bit transgressive for doing something in this particular way. Sex like this gives me not just an intellectual or emotional boost, but a physical kick of arousal. Not managed arousal that takes you gently by the hand, but the kind of arousal that punches you right in the gut.
It is qualitatively different to the word ‘sexy’, which is broader and more neutral: someone or something can be sexy without me having a direct sexual response to them/it. I can appreciate and admire the curve of a lovely bottom, or the sexiness of a particular role-play scenario, without it giving me that kick-in-the-gut lust that I’m chasing in most of my ‘filthy’ encounters.
Sexy: a hot guy smouldering at me across a table in a noisy bar, running a beautiful hand through his hair and biting his lip as if he’s thought of something too horny to shout above the music.
Filthy: that same guy catching me checking out other dudes, making playful tutting noises before telling me: “Come to the toilets, I’m going to punish you with my cock.”
But ‘filthy’ doesn’t have the same positive connotation for everyone, in every scenario. It can only feel horny to me because it has negative connotations. If ‘filth’ had never been used as a pejorative – by judgmental parents, priests, and politicians – then calling something ‘filthy’ wouldn’t turn me on. And it’s not just about being negative either – the word has to also be used negatively in a specifically sexual context: we don’t often get horny over ‘deficient’ or ‘dreadful’ shags, because those words have rarely been used to enforce the idea that sex is taboo. But ‘filthy’? Oh yeah.
See also: dirty, sinful, wicked, naughty, nasty, depraved, vulgar, disgusting, grotesque, obscene, smutty and indecent. Let’s call it the Rule of Filth: wherever a word has been used by one person to condemn sexual desire, you’ll find a different person using that word to add seasoning to their kink. After all, what better way to say ‘fuck your condemnation’ than to wallow in the very filth for which someone’s trying to chastise you?
Ooh, ‘chastise’, there’s another one!
So… yay, right? We’ve reclaimed the word ‘filthy’ and now we all live happily ever after.
Except it’s not really that simple, is it? Because the original meaning of the word hasn’t gone away. While there’s a lot of good that can be done by reclaiming words, and saying ‘you thought this was a bad thing, but it’s actually good for me and I’m proud of it’, there will still be many for whom that negative connotation is the primary thing in their minds when they read it written down. And sometimes those negative connotations can have effects you don’t intend.
‘How a bad girl fell in love’
This is the title of my second book. I didn’t pick it: I didn’t pick the title for either of my books. The working titles were ‘NSFW’ (which became ‘My Not-So-Shameful Sex Secrets’), and ‘Dirty Romantic’ (which became ‘How A Bad Girl Fell In Love’). I didn’t pick the final titles, but I trust my lovely publishers: they know more about this stuff than I do. I get really annoyed by people trying to tell me how to run my own blog when they’ve got no blogging experience of their own, so it’d be a bit rich of me to ignore the experts when it comes to my own books. I could give you a list as long as my arm of incidents where I’ve had to edit, gloss over, or even outright abandon principles that would be central to my own work when I hand it over to other people: it’s partly the nature of selling your work more widely than just on a blog. It allows me to reach audiences that I’d never have touched if I insisted on maintaining total control.
The word ‘bad’ gave me feelings, though. I am not ‘bad’, I’m just a person who likes fucking. I’ve definitely made some questionable moral decisions in my time, but the ‘bad’ in the title doesn’t refer to those times I’ve hurt people by saying something insensitive, or made selfish decisions: it refers to the fact that I have lots of filthy sex. Where ‘filthy’ sits opposed to ‘hot’, in a box marked ‘quite immoral.’ ‘Bad’ can be used exactly as ‘filthy’ is sometimes – to kick-start lust and play with the taboos that make sex exciting (“you’ve been a bad, bad girl”) but let’s not kid ourselves: that’s not what it means in this context. ‘Bad girl’ is there to provide deliberate contrast to the ‘fell in love’ at the end of the title. The ‘bad girl’ is the downfall; the love is redemption.
It’s not what I’m trying to say in the book.
But, as my publishers quite rightly pointed out: if it was easy to sell a book with the direct message of the book, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to write this book. Sometimes you have to play into people’s assumptions in order to get airtime in their thoughts, which then allows you to challenge those assumptions themselves. Or, more succinctly: if you’re challenging something dodgy, sometimes you have to state it to slate it. Like tweaking your confessional stories to make them a little more clickworthy, in order to get a wider audience for the important messages that are buried inside the smut. Or when I wrote about ‘female masturbation‘ by repeatedly using the term ‘female masturbation’ so it’d show up in search. If you’re already talking about ‘clitoral masturbation’ you don’t need to hear what I’m saying, so me using the same term means I’d only ever be preaching to the choir.
So ‘bad girl’ stayed in the book title, in the hope that some people would read the book and realise that sex is no more inherently ‘bad’ than love is inherently redemptive. It’s up to you to decide whether these trade-offs are worthwhile, of course, but the point I’m making is that context is key. And wrapped up in context there’s intent and effect. What do you want your words to achieve, and how well do they do that?
Let’s explore that context a little more in order to answer my Patreon’s question.
‘Filthy’ in context
The person who asked about this kindly elaborated a little in their email.
In a way, you are reinforcing the stereotype that erotic, poetic, sexual, IMAGINATIVE writing (which your blogs and audio recordings certainly are) is filthy.
Just as we would like the word sexy to encompass a wider selection of colour and form, so I believe we ought to try to make your art form more widely accepted. Therefore you need (I believe) to stop referring to your hottest pieces as your filthiest.
I want to lay aside the very kind compliment that my writings are erotic and imaginative, but I’m including it here because I think it’s important. When you click on the category ‘filthy ones’, or visit my site via a tweet that says ‘hold on to your hats, gang, this one’s fucking FILTH’ you expect a certain style of writing. Certain types of sex stories. That word ‘filth’ has meaning to you, and I suspect that for most of you it has a different connotation to the word ‘erotic’ or ‘sexual.’
A more important piece of context to note is that when you read these stories, often I want you to do something. I’m not writing in the hope that you’ll sit, detached, and ponder the poetic meaning of an erotic story: I am writing because I’d like you to get that kick in the gut of lust that I get when I read something truly filthy. I’m trying to conjure an atmosphere that isn’t just ‘sexy’, in a broad, abstract sense: I am writing to induce you to have a wank. It’s important to be up front about that, because my colleagues over in video or photo porn get it in the neck for providing wank material, whereas the fact that mine is comprised of words often leads people to (mistakenly) put me in a different, more respect-worthy class. My work is no more or less worthy of respect than that of visual pornographers: we are all doing broadly the same thing (i.e. making stuff you can wank to) we just do so in different ways.
Above all, it’s not just that I think ‘filth’ is a more wank-worthy description than sexual, I hope there’s something else that shines out of my filthy stories too: joy. This is the main point I wanted to make in response to my Patreon’s question, but if I’d put it at the beginning it would have seemed cheap and reactive – the equivalent of saying ‘but I LIKE cocaine!’ when someone points out that your gak habit is unethical. Now I’ve given you the background, hopefully you can see why the joy plays a more significant role than just giving me – and others – pleasure.
I try to write with joy not just because that’s the way I feel when I do this stuff, but because there are others who will feel that same joy, and who I want to invite along with me. I write with that gut-punch of lust, with not just emotional or intellectual but physical pleasure. Literally: I frequently have to disappear from my desk partway through a draft to go and have a wank of my own, and I try to bring this feeling of intense and heartfelt joy to most of what I write. Go read the post about watching my partner have a wank in the shower: it’s filthy, for sure, and categorised as such. It is also absolutely drenched in cunt-juice-scented delight. It’s why context is so important when exploring the words we use to describe a thing, and why it’s important to remember, when we’re playing with taboos, to make clear to the reader that these words can do so much more than simply summon shame. I fully understand why ‘filthy’ has negative connotations when it’s uttered by a politician or a priest, but when it’s uttered as the breathless, eager intro to something that’s brimming with pleasure and joy, the old definitions either start to erode slowly or are rendered bizarre and meaningless. At the very least it’s hard to shout ‘sin’ at someone who’s too busy wanking to hear you.
Are we back at ‘reclaiming’ then? Maybe, but I’m not sure that describes exactly how I feel about what’s happening here. Reclaiming is about taking back words that oppressors have used to oppress: turning the negative into a positive. In this case, ‘filthy’ has never been the sole property of those who’d use it to condemn – the first time it was used as a negative imbued it with a frisson of taboo, which kinky fuckers like me just could not resist stealing. This is not a recent or a conscious thing: we’ve done it for centuries.
I’m not reclaiming ‘filthy’ because I think it’s important: I’m just using it because I think it’s sexy. And in doing so I’m soaking it in all the joy I feel when I do things that give me so much pleasure. Tut and frown at me if you like, and call me a naughty girl, but I’ll probably get off on that too.
In trying to disparage the things I do, the zealots have handed me a gift. And what filthy girl in her right mind would ever think twice about using it?