Words shape thoughts. For example, what is the defining act of sex? When have you moved from making out and heavy petting to doing the nasty? Most people would say the act of penetration. And who penetrates? A man! And who receives? A woman! What does this imply about the power relationship?
What if the word were not “penetration” but “engulfment”? This would reverse the power dynamics and sex would be something women do to men. Imagine how different our society would be with the alteration of a single word. Women would pick up men in bars. Women would control sex. Women would be in power.
Men can get penetrated too, by other men or women with accessories, but we usually assume that the one doing the penetrating is in charge and the one receiving is passive. Yet there is such a thing as a “bossy bottom,” the one who is in charge of the action, yet physically receptive.
My father once said, “I wonder what lesbians do in bed . . . ” Then he quickly cut me off and said, “But I don’t want to know.” For him, whatever lesbians do was not sex because it did not involve penetration. What if the term for sex were something like “erotic friction”? Then my father would not be confused. Of course, lesbians can penetrate with the help of accessories, and they can use fingers and tongues, but for many of them “penetration” is not the defining act of sex.
Our words are so essential to our thinking that we do not even notice how they influence our thought. So, engulf me, baby, and change the world.
(The concept of engulfment was introduced to me by a graduate teaching associate at the University of Utah when I was finishing my bachelors, Alf Seegert. He wasn’t sure where he had gotten it from. To read more about the influence of narrative language over our perception and behavior, read my book Narrative Madness, available at narrativemadness.com or on Amazon.)