“Cock” vs “Down There”

When I ask students what they call a penis and a vagina in everyday words, two responses stand out: “cock” and “down there.”

The difference is telling. Cock: Cocky, proud, boastful, swaggering, self-satisfied. Image of a strutting cock, er, rooster.

But “down there”? Unspeakable. Embarrassing. Shameful.

Male sexuality is something to brag about, while female sexuality is something to hide.

The difference is reflected in Zestra’s difficulty getting ads on TV for a product that arouses women’s sexuality – while songs of “Viva Viagra” fill the airwaves.

The New York Times reports that TV networks, national cable stations, radio stations, and Web sites like Facebook and WebMD have all resisted airing ads for Zestra. Some agreed to broadcast ads in the early morning when most people are asleep. Others wanted disclaimers: “Not for people under 18.” Most felt that no amount of tweaking could make the ad suitable.

Many stations want to remove the words sex and arousal. Yet “An erection lasting more than four hours” is O.K.?

The manufacturer believes the resistance comes from our culture’s discomfort with women’s sexuality.

Meanwhile, normal processes of the vagina are shrouded in secrecy. Ads for one brand of sanitary napkins simply said, “Modess … Because.” Ok, that was the 70s. But even today women are embarrassed when tampons fall from their purses. Ever hear anyone say they had a “visit from Aunt Flow” when their period started?

Because female sexuality is deemed dirtier, more evil and more unspeakable, insulting slang for the vagina packs a bigger punch than slang for a penis.

Call a man a dick, and you’ve called him an idiot. Dictionary definition of dork: a whale’s penis. So a dork is a giant penis – an even bigger idiot.

But a cunt cuts deeper, moving into deeper disgrace.

Whether “down there” or “cunt,” it’s just degrees of shame.

We think that women will enjoy sex as much as men? In this atmosphere? It’s just the tip of the iceberg.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on September 30, 2010, in feminism, gender, men, sex, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 47 Comments.

  1. I agree with you, women are more ashamed of talking about our parts than men are. If we say the word “Vagina” were are looked wrong for saying it, like its something evil. I believe that we can be able to say anything that has to do with our selfs with out any shame. Why are men able to say “dick” or “cock” with out being stared at? We need to all be equal and be able to say any word with out being ashamed of it or embarrassed.

  2. …Ever thought about how some men sometimes scratch/grab their crotch in public (!!). I’ve never in my life seen a woman do the same thing.
    The penis is socially accepted, Vagina…not so much.

  3. I have to agree about the fact that women are more shameful towards there “vagina” then men are towards their penis. You would rarely hear a women joke with another women about their vagina or call some one a vagina because if they do we would consider that a sin. The main reason for this is that we see women as more conservatives being than man, who are more obnoxious, and that’s why when they talk about their penis it isn’t as shameful.

  4. I’ve had it (very pedantically) explained to me that the difference in our culture’s conception of penis vs. vagina is due to the fact that penises are “more public, and a source of hierarchical power.” Circular much?

  5. I would have to say that it depends on the woman. Some women are fine talking about their sexuality then some and some never talk about it cause it makes them feel uncomfortable. Same with the tampons. For guys to be talking about their penis..of course they are going to brag about it and show off and for girls it’s mostly expected that they don’t say anything about their vagina cause it’s not “lady like” to be talking about such a topic.

    • These things always vary from one individual to another. But there are strong cultural patterns. In our society, women get much more negative messages about sex than men do. That’s certainly one reason why women have more difficulty than men in climaxing. In sex-positive cultures, women enjoy sexuality much more.

      • I think it’s just generally harder for women to orgasm. I wouldn’t relate it to society though. For guys, we don’t really require much…we pretty much just insert and yea. Women have to find spots and do extra

      • Looks like something’s missing in the comment. I’ll write more on this later, but society must have something to do with it because women in societies that are sex-positive for women have high rates of orgasm. Here in the West, they don’t.

  6. The usage of vagina and “down there” varies from women to women because there are some women who don’t find saying either cock/cunt acceptable so they just refer to it as down there. In addition to expressing female sexuality there are more birth control contraceptive ads than viagra ads. You may find more male sexual enhancement more readily advertised on the internet, but you see more female ads as well. Some condoms ads opt for women how its not just for him anymore but also for her. The more mature you are the more you find the words penis/vagina refers to your “down there.” Because when you were younger girls are often flowers/butterfly and boys were wee wees or pinky.

  7. Adults use the terms more freely, in addition to that men like to be boastful and they are not shy from saying either penis or vagina.

  8. Lidia Nikolaenko

    It is interesting, that in Russian language we also don’t have a normal word for vagina. Penis is legally called “a member”. Even medical term for vagina reflects the function of the woman’s organ, specifically, how it can be used by man. It is a one word, but it means “the place to insert”. So, the word makes sense only if you know what to insert, not by itself. The woman’s vagina can’t even have a self meaning in Russian. I think, there is a direct connection between problems in the woman’s sexuality and “embarrassment” to name sexual organs and functions of the woman’s bodies. The society can’t accept woman’s sexuality as normal and proud. I think, this is one of the forms of the woman’s discrimination. I am wondering why pads for women periods are advertised every day on TV, but sexual remedies-not. I think, the purpose of the pad’s advertisement is not to sell pads, because women can easily find the feminine care in the store, and the period is not a big deal for a woman. But consistent presence of these ads on TV shows that it is somebody’s problem. To keep a woman embarrassed in front of her boyfriend, children, or anybody is the purpose. Why not to create and advertise every day on TV special tissues that are handy for men. The advertisement could sound like that:” What if it happened in the elevator, in the airplane, or in the library? Out scented tissues “Always, for men” are specially designed to absorb thick fluids, so you will stay clean and crisp. Always fresh, always free.” Sounds ridiculous? Not more than pad’s advertisements.

  9. Josselin Alvarez

    This is interesting. I remember one time sitting in front of the tv with my parents and a commercial came on for viagra, the words penis and erection were said various times, but it was nothing to cringe about… it seemed. Not long after, a commercial for women’s birth control came on and my dad started talking about how it promotes young girls to have sex. I was really irritated by the reaction. I feel like because even commercials that talk about a woman’s sexual health are kind of awkward and taboo, this is making it even more difficult for girls to feel free to talk about their sexuality and become more private and shy about it.

    On another note, I’ve had my tampon fall out of my purse in class, and though no one saw…. or at least I thought so, I turned every possible shade of red. But I wondered why? I mean all girls get periods and all guys know what periods are… it’s only natural… there really is nothing to be embarrassed about. When my mom told my dad I felt sick because I was menstrual, I found it hard to face my dad. This wouldn’t happen if society didn’t make a women’s sexuality sound like a monster, while a man’s sexuality is praised and treated as if it were a king or something. It’s all BS in my opinion. I think guys are, if not more, promiscuous than girls so yeah, they are sluts too. But we should have a remodeling of sexual words.

  10. I have never realized this until you said it but now I see it. Penises are seen as good things but when you think of a vagina you automatically think ew. You hear people say the word dick all over but you rarely hear somebody say vagina. Also just comparing words for private parts of men vs women you can see how condescending the names for vaginas are. For example, names for vaginas include beaver, banana basket, black hole, cock pit, cum dumpster, fish taco, grand canyon, fur burger, mud flaps, pink eye, sausage eater, poon, stench trench, etc. Words for penises include anaconda, big fella, chew toy, clit commander, happy pole, hooded warrior, light saber, man’s best friend, package, python of pleasure, pussy tamer, throbbing manhood, etc. The names for a vagina are mostly derogatory towards women but the names for a penis are not only positive towards men but also negative towards women such as cunt crammer.

  11. Sarai Villarreal

    In a previous gender communication class the professor asked, “how many males have had a women expose their vagina to them?” (specifically a woman who was not under the influence of anything), one male raised his hand. When the same question was asked to the female students, “how many females have had a male expose their penis to them?” (again without being under the influence of anything), and at least 15 girls raised their hands. I agree that women are more ashamed and shy about their sexuality and anything having to do with their “lady parts”. I believe there are multiple reasons for this. One, we live in a patriarchal society. Men are raised with the notion that they are the top dog, and that women are below them. They hold the money, the power, etc Therefore, women are also raised with the notion that they are not only below men, but also must be lady-like and perfect in order to appeal to high power men. Second, physically a male’s penis hand out on the exterior, and a female’s vagina is interior. The penis is exposed easily and the vagina is not. Women are deemed dirty for their monthly periods, and it creates this shamefulness. Women need to create a support system in order to educate each other and empower each other to not be ashamed of who we are, and not be ashamed of our sexuality.

  12. I agree, but I think women and men are both ashamed of talking about women parts, unless a man is with another man. When guys are out or with their friend they talk about having sex and vagina or “pussy,” which I cannot stand that word, but they encourage it. Yet when they are in public or around women they try not to use offensive language. If someone were to say you’re a “dick” that is calling them an ass hole, yet it they were to call someone a “pussy” guys take it offensive and that just is not ok… so what is the difference between a penis and a vagina? They are both parts of a human body, but does it tie back to society? Does it have anything to do with women if they dress to flashy they are sluts or if they have sex they are sluts, anything personal about women make them sluts? I personally do not like hearing any sort of language of that sort, but it is in society so it won’t go away. But it is still wrong.

  13. As a female, I can relate to the feeling of shame that arises when talking about ’‘down there’’ with people of another sex. When I am in the company of people I know well, It’s not so embaressing to talk about because there is no judgement being passed. But guys, don’t in general seem to care so much about discussing those things in private. They can do it anywhere, simply because of the fact that they are guys and that’s more expected of them. Females are taught more that their private parts are exactly that, private. They shouldn’t be talked about and its sort of taboo in a way. I see a connection between Adam and Eve and the story there. Eve is kind of always the bad guy and blamed for being the one who dragged Adam with her in sinning. It’s like talking about womens vagina is worse than a guy talking about his penis. It’s weird because it is acceptable for women to be sexaulized to the limit in the media but it’s not okay for them to talk about it openly the way that guys do.

  14. I think it is very amusing the double standard in our world. I think this has a lot to do with the male dominance or patriarchy in our country. It really does bring pride to men or anyone when they say phallic words. I have seen some women try to take back some pride by saying words like vagina or pussy but many just see this as rude or dirty. Many have said that women are ashamed of their vagina and that women have penis envy.

  15. Everyone knows that miraculously guys ended up with all the good nicknames such as “players” and even “cocks”. Guys private parts get the name cock, much like the term cocky because men have something to show off and be proud of. Mens nicknames tend to always have some of positive connotation. However, women’s private parts get a negative connotation with the phrase “down there” making it sound as if it is forbidden or a place that is not to be mentioned. Therefore, leading girls to feeling either ashamed or embarrassed about what is natural for their bodies.

  16. Penis and Vagina. Men are taught to be proud of being a man and you should never be ashamed of being a man and do anything to keep you manhood. Women are taught to be conservative, not to be boastful about your sexuality, women need more privacy. I don’t believe that it is fair nor is it right. Women are way more sexy than men, more fun to play with, more buttons to push, and I think that men know this but they don’t want to admit this so they oppress the woman by making her believe she is less than him, that what she has isn’t as good as what he has and to hide and be ashamed of what she was born with. I don’t think women should be ashamed or embarrassed by what they were born with I think we should embrace it , and take note that we shouldn’t be ashamed of our vaginas because we are the givers of life something men will never be!

  17. I definitely agree that we, as women, have been socially taught that any mention of our genitals is at any time uncalled for, unless it’s with a our gynocologist. This brings up another issue women face; if a women sees a male, instead of female, gynocologist, we are more prone to feel uncomfortable when answering routine questions about our sexuality.
    While men are taught to “name” their penis for the solid purpose of flaunting it, women are told to never speak of their genitals because it’s shameful and not accepted in society.
    So I wonder… What if the social norms were flipped? Would it be acceptable for women to walk around with their hands down their pants? Grab their “crotch” when they see an attractive man? Or simply, sit wide-legged as a sign of confidence?
    Sadly, I doubt it.

  18. I remember taking a sex education class in middle school. One of the first activities we did was come up with all the names we have for penis and all the names we have for vagina. At the end of the activity it was very noticeable that the list of names for penis was longer than the list of names for vagina. This is probably because in society it is seen as inappropriate to talk about a woman’s vagina or refer to it in any way. Women are taught to keep anything concerning their sex life private because it is not okay for women to be sexual unless they are being objectified. Men can and do openly speak about their sex life among friends. Women do the same, but it is almost always behind closed doors and never in public.

  19. In general I completely agree that we have dulled down the use of the words dick, cock, and dong. Though I think there is a reason that society is reluctant to accept the female versions in everyday vocabulary. The U.S. is driving towards becoming more and more egalitarian, however it is still a patriarchy at the moment, and men do not enjoy or even want to think about a woman’s period or anything surrounding it. It has become a subject or pop culture, television has adopted it as a funny thing for women to do when they need to get out of something. Men do not want to know, so it isn’t discussed. This is definitely not fair to make women use terms that denote shame, but at the moment it is the social norm and terms like cunt are merely taboo. Though 50 years ago talking about a male’s junk would be taboo and outrageous to the public, so who knows we could be saying cunt everyday in the future. Its just a matter of dulling the offense taken by the word over a period of time.

    • Interesting. Plus, in our patriarchal society, it’s more ok for men to have sex than women. We’re more open about men having sex. Women who do are often seen as sluts, ho’s…

  20. First, people feel more comfortable on saying the word cock than the word cunt, but I totally disagree on how people use and compare those words. At my point of view, I think those two words are actually at the same “level”, so they should stand the equal meaning. For example, people make fun on a guy by saying him is such a dick, and usually that guy won’t take it offensively, but it will become serious when you say a girl who is a cunt. It brought us back to the point on the meaning on “down there” and “cunt”, it is not a shame to be a girl, then why should people use those disrespectful words like “down there” or “cunt” to hide the real meaning of it? I couldn’t accept the fact that people think that “penis” > “vagina”, which is totally nonsense. I have no comment on how people think women enjoy sex as much as men because sex is personal, and everyone should have their own feeling and definition on it. I feel like women enjoy making love more than men, and men usually can’t tell the different between make love and sex, and that should be a shame.

  21. When it comes to talking about genitalia society formed around things that were seen as more masculine. Everything that has to do with men is easier to talk about in my opinion, whether that is in regards to sex, biology, roles, or stereotypes. Things like a penis are more easily spoken about in our society. I am not sure if I would go to say that women feel “shame” when talking about the vagina or their period, but it is a topic that seems to be like “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The fact that as a society we are unequal in our talking of male or female genitals shows that we have not truly reached equal treatment.

    • Research has shown that women are more likely than men to feel the emotion of shame. And it has a lot to do with sex. It’s one of the reasons women have a harder time with orgasm. Menstruation can also feel shaming. People used to call it “the curse.”

  22. Women feel more shamed to talk about their body parts and they try to avoid using obvious words. Unlike women, men are very different. They don’t feel ashamed at all, and they are very proud to talk about their body parts. Men can even make jokes about sex or body parts, but we rarely hear women talk about it like men. One reason that causes this situation is the society because when men are talking or joking about these things, people don’t care much. But if women do similar things like men, they will be despised by other people. This is unfair to women, but they have to accept it under the societal pressure and people’s traditional views.

    • Well, they don’t have to accept it. But they tend to.

      Of course, the only way things change is to go against the flow. Some people are courageous enough to do that. And things can and do change.

  23. I think the reason for resistance towards the promotion of female sexuality comes from the core of our societies values.. From the beginning of our lives, it has been drilled into our heads that it’s manly and prideful to have a large penis. I think many guys feel that if they actually don’t talk about their penis and be prideful of it, then it could be taken a sign of having a small cock. Which is the last thing guys want people thinking about them. The status quo for women has been that sex is better for them and their partner if they don’t have sex a lot, and preferably be a virgin. So talking about anything sexual could be misconstrued as he woman being experienced in sex, and less attractive by the status quo. It comes from our psychology being influenced by the media, our family, music, and tradition. This is a huge problem and should be stopped.

  24. I think you’re ignoring one of the more popular euphemisms for vagina: pussy. As a man, I’ve always thought of that as a term of endearment, cute, cuddly. And yet some women despise the term.

    It’s not terminology alone that is broken; it’s the fact that we seem to need euphemisms for body parts at all. I don’t call my hand a “grabber” because I’m too ashamed to call it a hand, or my foot a “stepper”. So why do we need to invent terms for sexual organs?

  25. This one is practically a no-brainer, and yet Westerners cannot begin
    to see the mess they’ve created with their supposedly ‘advanced’ society.

    The U.S. in particular has developed a truly sick, twisted methodology
    of “protecting” children from the knowledge they should rightfully have
    about their own bodies AND a mature view of sexuality. One parent holds
    both hands over the kid’s ears, while the other parent holds both hands
    over the kid’s EYES!

    NewsFlash..! You cannot ‘protect’ anyone by keeping them IGNORANT.

    Contrived ignorance, and our Taboo Culture of labeling (censoring) every
    tiny slice of verbiage as being “good” or “bad” ONLY succeeds in creating
    a sort of Underground cachet surrounding ordinary knowledge. This, in
    turn, only prods children to seek out whatever these ‘dirty little secrets’
    are…and, of course, the ultimate answer simply HAS to be SENSATIONAL,
    right..? If it WASN’T spectacular, why hide it in the first place?

    The OP and several respondents have referred to the beneficial effects
    of “other cultures”, while simultaneously failing to see the forest
    for the trees! Those “other cultures” do NOT treat children as sexless
    eunuchs who are devoid of genitals and thus devoid of any “need-to-know”
    ANYTHING about the world they will be living in 10 years hence.

    In many other parts of this world, nude beaches are commonplace, as is
    art (sculptures, paintings) depicting both nude humans AND couples
    in the midst of romantic interludes. Beyond being a reflection of real
    life, they also serve as a small and gradual introduction to the sexual
    roles these children will soon be playing themselves.

    Fully ‘modern’ parents could do themselves a HUGE favor by throwing any
    “Internet Filtering Software” in the trash, and then encouraging the
    kids to discuss what they find through their own curiosity.

    And…What’s wrong with the word ‘Pussy’..? I agree that many of the
    terms that have been contrived to refer to female anatomy ARE derogatory,
    but I never felt that Pussy was in any way insulting. I really would
    NOT welcome a world in which we all have pre-sterilised and purely
    clinical discussions about penises and vaginas.

    I have to close with one simple observation that I do not have any answer
    for…and it haunts me. Ask any 13 or 14 year old girl how she feels
    about her own body, and the nearly universal answer comes back : “Vaginas
    are Gross!”

    I’ve no idea where or how youngsters ‘learn’ this sort of demeaning and
    self-defeating view of themselves, but it REALLY needs to be stopped!

  26. I believe the slang names for genitals show what it means to be a woman and a man today. Slang names for genitals continue to maintain the inequality between men and women.
    It is obvious that the theme among the slang names for the female genitals is that they are negative. Slang names such as construction site, gates of judgement, twat, cunt, pussy, dark hole, forbidden fruit, and troublemaker show this. They are hateful, immoral, and mysterious in a bad way. The theme among the slang names for the male genitals is that they are powerful. Slang names such as magic stick, silver dong, pipe, and one-eyed snake support this. They are magical, strong, and scary. This may be because the United States is a patriarchal society. Because men control the society, there are many slang names for female genitals that are used to degrade women while there are many slang names for male genitals that give power to men.

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