Did I get your attention? 


As a writer whose fiction sometimes includes (gasp!) sex, I have a problem with the male genitalia. It’s not that I don’t like the penis – I’m a big fan. It’s because there is just no good way to say its name. Every word, whether scientific or euphemistic, either changes the mood, or kills it altogether. So I tend to write around the problem, by describing the act without naming all the players. 

Let’s say I’m writing a basic sex scene between two characters that readers adore. You’ve been rooting for them to get together and do it already, and it’s finally happening! Genre dictates that I write a fine line here. I can’t be shockingly graphic, but being coy is not a satisfying option either. What I really want to do is give the characters, and the reader, a perfect, sensual experience. It’s all going smoothly until Mr. Happy raises his head, and suddenly, I’m in a literary quandary.


Now you’re probably wondering, “Why not be direct and call it what it is?” Well, just try inserting the word penis into a romantic scene. I guarantee you’ll either picture a scientist in a white lab coat taking notes on a clipboard, or an awkward school nurse describing intercourse (another unsexy word) to a group of 5th graders. Mood killed, and stomped on. 


Dick is not an option, owing to its overuse as an insult. As in, don’t be one. Ditto for prick, pecker, and tool. And, unless this is a threeway, let’s not bring in Peter, Jock, Willy, Roger, Johnson, or Little (insert character’s name.) 


Thing is far too ambiguous. The same goes for organ and unit. Cock might have some promise, if it didn’t immediately devolve the scene into dirty talk, which isn’t appropriate for all characters. Readers might make the assumption that the one in question is quite large and vaguely threatening. Thanks, Penthouse Forum.


Also not making the cut are names that make people laugh, such as tallywhacker, pork sword, or one-eyed trouser snake. (Really?) It goes without saying that little kids’ euphemisms (wiener, ding-dong, or any word ending in -y or -ie) are terrible options. Nor should anyone use boner or junk after high school. And forget about names that make people groan and roll their eyes, like love muscle or joystick. Let’s not be ridiculous.


Shaft and rod can only appear in erotic fiction. (Or automotive magazines, but that’s a different story.) Member only works if the novel’s cover shows a swooning female and a studly male, with both of their bodices ripped open. In this case, member must be preceded by the word throbbing. Manhood is pretentious and smacks of Victorian sensibility. Did anyone ever really say this? Of course, you’d have to reach even farther back to find a phallus in use. 


It shouldn’t be so hard to capture such a simple, functional body part on the page. I propose that we need a new word. Let’s put all our creative power into coming up with one. If you think you have a candidate, give it a test run. Ask your friends’ opinions. Use it in sentences. Try it in the bedroom. Once we have the right word, it’ll go viral in no time. When it makes Merriam-Webster, we’ll be home free. Meanwhile, I’ll keep trying to catch the elusive beast. After all, when there’s a python in the room, you can’t ignore it forever.


Ellen Powell lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with her family. Writing fiction keeps her from indulging an unhealthy TV habit. She works in environmental education by day and is polishing up her first novel by night.