Can I have you as dessert?

Let’s face it – even though the society’s attitude towards sex is becoming more liberal, talking openly about sex is still somewhat taboo. You can’t shout out loud “I lost my virginity last night!” without earning a few side glances. However, this does not discourage us from talking about the taboo, but rather use euphemisms to approach the topic instead. For example, metaphors such as “pop the cherry” can be used to describe one losing her virginity instead. This essay would thus touch on conceptual metaphors and how it uses food to talk about the act of sex and genitals.

So how exactly does food come into play when talking about sex? Let’s not investigate the kinky side of people who use food during sexual intercourse, but at the concept of food and sex instead. These two seemingly unrelated topics can be joined through language – conceptual metaphors in particular. According to Lakoff and Johnson (1980), metaphors are devices that helps us structure our conceptual system. It provides a method to make sense of our experience and provide an understanding to the world. Conceptual metaphors are thus defined as “a cross-domain mapping in the conceptual system” (Lakoff, 1993, p. 203).  These concepts are mapped from a source domain (the physical reality) to a target domain (a concept area). Taking the phrase “making a meat sandwich” as an example, the source domain is the sandwich while the target domain is sex, specifically between three people.

Sex is eating

Let us first turn to the conceptual metaphors that illustrate sex is eating. Generally, men are posed as the eater and the women as the food. However, different cultures vary in their interpretation and performance of these metaphors. This might be due to the fact that “the most fundamental values in a culture will be coherent with the metaphorical structure of the most fundamental concepts in the culture” (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980, p. 22). That is to say, the metaphorical system is consistent with the deeply entrenched cultural values of the society or community in question (Tsang, 2009).

Hong Kong, for example, has the act of eating as a very dominant source domain. Sex is systematically conceptualised in terms of eating.

即使(她們)知道老公出外偷食都不會哼一 句

Even if they know their husbands have secretly eaten something from outside, they will not say a word.

(Tsang, 2009)

In the sentence above, the act of having an affair with someone (and having extramarital sex) is portrayed as a manner of eating something. Other example sentences gathered by Tsang (2009) were also similar in this aspect – the manner, or method of sex is seen as the same as the manner of eating. The large occurrence of eating metaphors might be because eating is regarded as an essential in life. Hongkongers would thus associate anything that is important as eating/food, and would treasure it equally (Tsang, 2009). Furthermore, the Confucius teaching of “食色性也” states that sex and food are innates of a person (Tsang, 2009). Sex is thus regarded as important as eating and is necessary for human life.

On the other hand, the American culture seem to view sex as more pleasurable. Their sex is eating metaphors are based mainly on delectable foods like desserts or snacks (Fernández, 2008).

I could eat her for dessert!

In this sentence, we see that the woman has been reduced to the status of an object and has become something to eat after dinner. This hints that women are desserts.

In the case of Chagga, experience and knowledge about sex is associated with the knowledge and experience of food and eating (Emanatian, 1995). The metaphors frame sex as an edible and consumable item, and it’s “flavours” are also mapped onto the metaphors.

(Emanatian, 1995)

In this sentence, if the sexual interaction is good enough, the man feels that he will live forever from the nourishment.

Through these examples, we see that different entities correspond in the source and target domains. Different cultures might frame the sex is eating metaphors differently, and these in turn have different entailments. For instance, English only uses the source domain of eating to a certain extent. This is unlike Changga, which expands on the basic correspondences with more entailments and uses more elements of an eating schema.

Genital are food?

Food is also used to talk about genitals and body parts. Nuts and bananas refer to penises, while papayas and oysters are used to refer to vaginas. In Cantonese, small breasts are referred to as “砵仔糕” (tapioca pudding), while “木瓜” (papaya) represents big breasts (Tsang, 2009).

Interestingly, several words that were originally used as metaphors for genitals have been lexicalised. One such word is cock. Originally, cock referred to an adult male chicken. However, in the early seventeenth century, it was used to refer to penises and thus picked up a sexual connotation (Murphy, 2001). The word has now reached the stage of lexicalisation whereby when used in a sexual context, the metaphorical term cock immediately gives rise to the concept of the male genital, and not a male chicken (Fernandez, 2008).

The growth of emoji in recent years has also contributed to the use of food to refer to genitals, especially when it started to be used for sexting – the sending of sexually explicit messages or images through text messaging (“sexting”, 2018). Instead of using words and sentences to send a sexually suggestive message, suddenly a combination of several cleverly chosen emojis is sufficient. Bananas (?) can represent penises, and peaches (?) can be used to represent breasts or buttocks. It is also interesting to note that just like language, these emojis are frequently changing and might “go out of style” with time. For instance, the eggplant (?) is now used as a visual metaphor for the penis more often than the banana as it connotates a healthy package – something that the banana did not hint well (Evans, 2017). With that said, like other metaphors for sex, these emojis only represents genitals when used in the sexual context. The secondary and more erotic meaning only comes into play when the conversation is flirtatious, or if the two parties (or even more!) are romantically involved (Evans, 2017). In other contexts, the food emojis will remain as food.

No matter whether we like or not, sex is something that is all around us and is an essential part of our lives. The issue is probably whether sex can be discussed openly, or does it have to continue lurking behind seemingly innocent concepts such as food. In the meantime, what we can agree on is that conceptual metaphors can be used as mitigation or a veil for sex. Be it for the act of sexual intercourse or for the labelling of genitals, metaphors can serve as a somewhat makeshift censor for those who disapprove. This also broadens the different ways to talk about the taboo subject, and provides a unique, refreshing and creative view to sex.


Emanatian, M. (1995). Metaphor and the Expression of Emotion: The Value of Cross-Cultural Perspectives. Metaphor & Symbolic Activity, 10(3), 163.

Evans, V. (2017). The Emoji Code: The Linguistics Behind Smiley Faces and Scaredy Cats. Picador USA.

Fernández, E. C. (2008). Sex-related euphemism and dysphemism: An analysis in terms of conceptual metaphor theory. Atlantis, 95-110.

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, G. (1993). “The contemporary theory of metaphor”. In A. Ortony (ed.). Metaphor Thought, 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.202-251.

Murphy, P. F. (2001). Studs, tools, and the family jewels: Metaphors men live by. Univ of Wisconsin Press.

“sexting.” (2018). Retrieved 31 March 2018.

Skiba, D.J. (2016). Face with Tears of Joy Is Word of the Year: Are Emoji a Sign of Things to Come in Health Care?. Nursing education perspectives,37(1): 56-57.

Tsang, S. C. Y. (2009). Metaphor, culture and conceptual systems: A case study of sex metaphors in a Hong Kong Chinese newspaper. LCOM Papers, 2, 1-16.


One Reply to “Can I have you as dessert?”

  1. This was a really interesting post! Fundamentally, I would argue that language and sex are two of the most innate and primal elements of a human existence and it is curious to see how one is used to veil the other via the metaphorical space that is food. The post clearly highlights that the intersection between these elements is not purely in the layer of discourse, but really conflates the various attitudes that come with food, sex and language in the particular speech community. It might be worth exploring how a specific sexual metaphor is received and interpreted differently across different cultures and if we can map it to larger sociohistorical factors from that community. The post also looks at the realm of textspeak and the implications it has had on using food to talk about sex, something that is definitely worth further sociolinguistic inquiry.

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