To have or not to have… sex?

© MS Photography

Culture hides in the language. And sex culture is no different.

So why is America so weird about it? The first rule my mid-western spouse told me when I came to visit her here: don’t talk about sex, politics or religion— something pretty much every HR department and ounce of socially driven common sense has repeated to me ever since. At first I thought American prudishness came mostly from its deep judaeo-christian roots, and as we all know, religion doesn’t really like the idea of sex for pleasure. But it’s not like France doesn’t have deep religious roots either. And yet, in French culture, from songs to books to movies, from conversations with friends (of both genders) to jokes with colleagues (of both genders) at the coffee machine, we talk about sex in a much more casual, sensual, organic way.

Saying “to have sex” positions the sexual act as consumption, not as creation.

I’m not a therapist, I’m not a scientist or a doctor in any of the fields that study this. But I’m a writer, who for the past decade has been navigating the subtlety of two languages, going back and forth every day in my head and with my kids. And one thing has become absolutely crystal clear to me: there’s a tremendous amount of culture hiding in the language. And sex culture is no different. One day as I was thinking about sex (yes, I do think about sex sometimes) I realized something — the most common expression to talk about sexual intercourse in the English language (the one that won’t get bleeped on national TV) is to have sex, so it’s something the couple has. In French, the closest equivalent would be coucher ensemble (lay together) therefore something a couple does. No matter which of the hundreds of turns of phrase you can use to refer to sex, in French it is almost always an action and the verb “have” is never part of the equation. There is no “Ils ont eu du sexe” — just writing it makes me laugh. There is one exception, you can say “avoir un rapport sexuel” but that’s the equivalent of saying “ to have sexual intercourse — that’s not how it’s talked about in the real world. Nobody will ask their friend if they had “un rapport sexuel” with their partner yet.



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