Let’s Talk About Sex!

Q2. Locker room banter

Reading the top three entries for ‘locker room talk’ in UrbanDictionary, it appears that the writers have glossed over the subtle, underlying interpersonal functions it serves, as well as its severity. However, one thing that remains true in these entries is their indication that ‘locker room banter’ consists of language that is ‘crude’, ‘offensive’, and ‘sexist’.

A surprising element of the second entry is its claim that ‘locker room talk’ is carried out between ‘similarly gendered peers’. This seems to insinuate that women and other non-binary folks speak ‘locker room banter’ too. Yet, this doesn’t seem to be the case. As discussed in the previous seminar, women and men tend to talk about sex (and anything related to it) in vastly dissimilar ways. While men’s ‘locker room banter’ consists of bragging or gossiping, women’s talk centres around relaying experiences or information. This discrepancy could be due to the historical baggage that accompanies women’s relationship with sex, whereby society has consistently policed women’s sex lives by condemning those who embrace their erotic desires. Heterosexual cis men, on the other hand, are permitted to pursue sex as a legitimate interest without any social consequences. A popular piece of evidence supporting this notion is the fact that insults such as “slut”, “whore”, or “slag” have no masculine equivalents. Even for terms such as “manwhore” or “manslut”, they ultimately imply that women are the norm. While men are able to position themselves as alpha males by bragging about their sexual exploits, women stand to gain nothing from doing so. In fact, women may even be criticized and labelled a “slut”.

Another point that is particularly contentious lies in the first entry: the idea that ‘locker room banter’ is not to be taken seriously. This statement reinforces the heteronormative patriarchy by once again pigeonholing women into a status subordinate to men’s. As feminist Catharine MacKinnon once succinctly and powerfully wrote, ‘man fucks woman. Subject, verb, object’. Waving this misogyny off as something that can be permissible in society strengthens the notion that women are objects to which men can do as they please. ‘Locker room banter’ highlights a gender imbalance that bestows men with the superior position, and the degradation of women is simply another means of underlining women’s inferior status in the heteronormative praxis (Cameron & Kulick, 2003).

The most significant aspect of ‘locker room banter’ that these entries fail to encapsulate is its interpersonal functions. While it is indeed a tool for ‘male comedy’, it does not exist solely for that purpose. ‘Locker room talk’ serves a crucial homosocial function, by granting men a means to enhance their solidarity and relationship without slipping into the fear of being deemed “homosexual”. In essence, it facilitates the opportunity for men to relate to another in an informal, non-hierarchical manner while safely securing their heterosexuality (and by extension, masculinity). Although ‘locker room banter’ comprises the vulgar objectification of women, its degradation and sexualization of women actually isn’t the main point. What primarily resembles “heterosexual” talk is, in reality, homosocial talk (Cameron & Kulick, 2003). It’s also a method of constructing gender identities, as speakers indirectly index their masculinity through their heterosexual desire.


Q3. Sex-positivity

I first encountered the concept of sex-positivity when I stumbled across a Youtube video by sexologist Shannon Boodram. I was in awe and admiration of her work – that she was openly educating thousands of Internet dwellers about sex, while placing herself at the risk of being bombarded with sexual and vulgar remarks. Watching a woman speak so freely about sex was particularly refreshing for me, given that Singaporeans are generally conservative and tend to shy away from the topic. I began binge-watching her videos, along with those by other sexologists (e.g. Dr Lindsey Doe of Sexplanations) and advocates for sex-positivity (e.g. Hannah Witton).

After consuming sex-positive content for two years, I’ve gathered that the term, while loaded, is pretty self-explanatory. Sex-positivity seeks to discard the taboo placed on sex (especially for women and the LGBTQ+ community), by displacing that with a positive and open attitude towards the topic. It’s the acknowledgement that our ‘sexual preferences are a matter of personal choice’ (Barry, 2014), that they are idiosyncratic, and that no one should be condemned or discriminated against because of them. Individuals are encouraged to have safe (or according to Dr Lindsey Doe, ‘There is no safe way to have sex, only safer ways’), consensual sex. It emphasizes remaining open-minded and accepting in our discussions, engagements, and experiments with sex. Regardless of whether individuals are asexual or wish to have sex with sixteen different people a day, their decisions are respected, and we recognize that these decisions hold no implication on their (moral) character.

Sex-positivity is exciting, because it adds another dimension to contemporary identity politics. The fight for sexuality (sexual desire) no longer has to be subsumed under other movements such as feminism. Sex-positivity diversifies and enhances our understanding of sexuality by reminding society that it’s not solely limited to sexual orientation, but instead encompasses erotic desire as well. Notions of who/what we desire (or do not desire) and how we are socialized to desire or regard certain sexual behaviours as un/acceptable can come under scrutiny. Sex-positivity could create a movement that directs attention to the ‘social and legal production of a hierarchical system of sexual value in which monogamous married reproducing heterosexuals are at the top of the hierarchy, and promiscuous homosexuals, transvestites and others cluster around the bottom’ (Cameron & Kulick, 2003). By creating an autonomous movement dedicated specifically to sex, activists are able to champion a positive outlook on sex without it being misconstrued as or reduced to gender. Political movements such as feminism, which theorize gender, cannot provide an adequate account of sexuality because sex and gender are different social relations. While they are interdependent, they are not synonymous with one another. Furthermore, a sex-positive movement can enrich queer theory and feminism, and vice versa.



Barry, E. (2014, April 08). I’m Sex-Positive, and Most People in Chicago Have No Idea What That Means. Retrieved April 10, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-barry/sex-positive-most-people-in-chicago_b_4733910.html

Cameron, D., & Kulick, D. (2003). Language and Sexuality. Cambridge University Press.

Feature image retrieved from here.

‘A Hunger of the Body’

In his article Eat Your Words, linguist Mark Morton (2004) deftly remarked that ‘the language of food and the language of sex often tangle and interpenetrate, like the tongues of kissing cousins’. The use of food as a metaphor for sex in Western media is overdone and predictable, with popular sexual slang such as ‘creampie’ or ‘popping her cherry’ reinforcing this pairing. However, such sexual discourse is present in a myriad of languages too – from Nootka that is spoken in the west coast of Vancouver Island, to Guna that originates from Panama and Colombia. In fact, rural women from North India frequently describe a desire for sex as ‘sharer ki bhook’, meaning ‘a hunger of the body’ (Sharma, 2013). Across all cultures, what remains similar is that the ‘food’ refers to sexual acts or partners, ‘hunger’ or ‘thirst’ represents sexual desire, and ‘eating’ alludes to sexual acts. This essay seeks to examine food-as-sex metaphors, by first analyzing the ways in which they are employed, followed by the reasons for their use.

Although the linguistic pairing of food and sex is prevalent across the globe, different languages and cultures employ an array of metaphors to various ends. A disparity between the food-as-sex metaphors of languages arises due to their varying degrees of linguistic instantiation, elaboration, and entailments. This results in said metaphors possessing levels of productivity unique to each individual language (Emanatian, 2009). For example, the phrases ‘to eat to the fullest extent’ from Mehinaku and ‘to eat her out’ from English illustrate the disparity. While the same element in the schema of food, eating, is applied, both depict different acts. The former is a term for having sexual intercourse (Gregor, 1985), whereas the latter specifically refers to giving a woman oral sex. Additionally, the food-sex pairing can be intertwined with hunting metaphors too. Hunting as a metaphor for sex includes elements such as searching for food, or the physical prowess of the hunter in securing their food (Kyratzis, 2007). This association surfaces in a diverse range of languages, such as Hua (a Papuan language) (Haiman, 1980), Ojibwa (an Algonkian language), and Kikuyu (a Banta language) (Nelson, 1987). Evidently, identical or similar elements of the food or hunting schemas may be chosen in different languages. Yet the precise composition of these schemas, such as how its entities are related via acts or attributed varying levels of salience, are specific to individual languages (Emanatian, 2009).

Another distinct characteristic of metaphors linking food and sex is that they fall along gendered lines, with women regularly being sexual ‘food’ for men. Men exert their sexual agency by doing the ‘eating’, whereas women remain passive objects of sexual activity to be ‘eaten’. Such a relationship was discovered in Gail Labovitz’s (2008) comprehensive study of rabbinic literature too, where women were associated with a small assortment of edible items, including bread, wine, fish, and meat. Interestingly, her research not only revealed that women were food to be eaten, but also vessels that men ate from. Women were regarded as ‘cups’, ‘bottles’ or ‘vessels’ out of which men could consume from, such as in the sentence ‘A man should not drink from one cup and have his eyes on another cup.’ (Labovitz, 2008) Men are endowed with the power to freely reach into the submissive vessels that are women, and eat or drink as they please. Women, on the other hand, possess no similar agency over men. Women simply satisfy men’s desires and serve as sexual sustenance. Women are trapped in bodies deemed far more penetrable and vulnerable than men’s in Western cultures as well, and it is this divide that plays a part in laying the foundations of our patriarchy (Counihan, 1999).

After exploring two facets of the ways in which food-as-sex metaphors are used, the next question to delve into is: why has this connection formed? One possible explanation is that both food and sex are means of survival. Food sustains life, and sex (or more precisely, reproduction) ensures the perpetuation of mankind. Author Miriam Hospodar (2004) phrases this notion in a vivid, succinct manner: ‘food and sex are bedrock to the survival of the species and have been rocking in bed together for as long as they kept all creatures great and small alive.’ At the base of his Hierarchy of Needs, Abraham Maslow identified food and sex as physiological needs mandatory for the basic survival of humans. If these needs are unmet, the human being is unable to move up the pyramid, or even function correctly. The fundamental idea then is that food and sex are intrinsic to humans’ existence, and this relationship is what gives rise to metaphors associating food with sex. However, this link is tenuous – food cannot be embedded in languages as a metaphor for sex simply because they are both basic human needs. If that were true, our other physiological needs would function as productive metaphors for sex, but that is hardly the case.

Hence, another reason dependent on the psychological and social functions of food and sex has been posited. Having healthy sex or eating with others are both stress-relieving sources of pleasure. On a psychological level, an orgasm leads to a general feeling of relaxation due to the body’s release of the hormone prolactin. Furthermore, a study revealed that regular sex lowers stress-related blood pressure (Brody, 2006). In a similar vein, sharing meals with others provides opportunities for communication and the expression of emotions, thereby reducing anxieties. On a social level, both activities connect people. Sex opens the door to greater physical and emotional intimacy, creating a sense of belonging for both parties. Likewise, the idea that sharing meals together strengthens social bonds has been evinced by a study concluding that children who eat dinner with their parents five or more days a week report having a better relationship with their parents (The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 2012). Therefore, it is the similar psychological and social functions of eating and sex that contribute in part to our linguistic pairing of the two.

The resemblance between our scripts for eating and sex could also account for why the former is very readily projected onto the latter, and this notion is elaborated by Michele Emanatian’s journal article Everyday Metaphors of Lust and Sex in Chagga (2009). A script refers to a conception of the sequence of actions that typically occur during a particular experience. The script for eating thus entails (in chronological order) feeling hungry, searching for food, acquiring it, consuming it, and then feeling satiated from the nourishment. In comparison, the script for having healthy sex encompasses craving sex, looking for a sexual partner, coming to an agreement to have sex together, having sex, followed by feeling content from the experience. It is clear that both scripts are relatively similar, so much so that the script for eating ‘forms a natural source domain for the metaphorical expression of sexual feelings’ (Emanatian, 2009). The script for basic eating experiences is hence projected onto the domain of sex. Potential sex partners are cast as eater and food, while flavour (usually sweetness) is occasionally mapped onto the positive sexual attributes of the partner. Establishing this relation between eating and having sex then begs the question: why is eating more frequently used as metaphor for having sex, and not vice versa? This is because metaphorical targets tend to be comprehended via more general metaphors that are easier to grasp. In this case, the target domain of sex is understood through the source domain of food and eating because the experience of the latter is more clear-cut, common and organized. Eating is more basic experientially – it is more essential to survival, done more regularly, a more public act, and it occurs throughout our entire lives. It is so elementary that it is part of one of the four special case conceptual metaphors, namely, ‘Thinking Is Eating; Ideas Are Food; Communication Is Feeding; Understanding is Digesting’ (Lakoff, 2014). In contrast, sex is more enigmatic because it is more private, regarded as a taboo topic in certain cultures, and experienced or learned at no specific age. Eating and having sex are thus linked linguistically because of the similarities their scripts share, with eating being the source domain because it is a more straightforward, concrete experience.

The use of the schema of food and its related elements or scripts as a metaphor for sex will remain ubiquitous across languages and cultures. For that reason, this essay sought to understand how these metaphors are employed by examining their productivity across cultures and the highly gendered fashion they are deployed in. The question of why these metaphors exist was then tackled, by proposing three possible answers: food and sex are a means of survival, share similar psychological and social functions, and have scripts that bear a resemblance to each other. In the future, research could utilize this family of metaphors to decipher various cultures’ attitudes towards sex and gender (Shore, 1996).



Brody, S. (2006). Blood pressure reactivity to stress is better for people who recently had penile–vaginal intercourse than for people who had other or no sexual activity. Biological Psychology, 71(2), 214-222.

Counihan, C. M. (1999). The Anthropology of Food and Body: Gender, Meaning and Power. Routledge.

Emanatian, M. (2009). Everyday Metaphors of Lust and Sex in Chagga. Ethos, 24(2), 195-236.

Gregor, T. (1985). Anxious Pleasures: The Sexual Lives of an Amazonian People. The University of Chicago Press.

Haiman, J. (1980). Hua: A Papuan Language of the Eastern Highlands of New Guinea. John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Hospodar, M. (2004). Aphrodisiac Foods: Bringing Heaven to Earth. Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies, 4(4), 82-93.

Kyratzis, S. (2007). The Semantics of Desire: Exploring Desire, Love and Sexuality through Metaphor. In Language, Sexualities and Desires (pp. 96-117). Palgrave Macmillan.

Labovitz, G. (2008). Is Rav’s Wife “a Dish”? Food and Eating Metaphors in Rabbinic Discourse of Sexuality and Gender Relations. In Studies in Jewish Civilization: Love—Ideal and Real—in the Jewish Tradition (Vol. 18, pp. 147-170). Creighton University Press.

Lakoff, G. (2014). Mapping the brain’s metaphor circuitry: Metaphorical thought in everyday reason. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8.

Morton, M. (2004). Eat Your Words. Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies, 4(1), 8-9.

Nelson, N. (1987). ‘Selling her kiosk’: Kikuyu notions of sexuality and sex for sale in Mathare Valley, Kenya. In The Cultural Construction of Sexuality (pp. 217-239). New York: Tavistock Publications.

Sharma, J. (2013). Challenging the Pleasure versus Danger Binary: Reflections on Sexuality Workshops with Rural Women’s Rights Activists in North India. In Women, Sexuality and the Political Power of Pleasure. Zed Books.

Shesgreen, S. (2003, March 07). Wet Dogs and Gushing Oranges: Winespeak for a New Millennium. Retrieved March 21, 2018, from https://www.chronicle.com/article/Wet-DogsGushing-Oranges-/20985?viewMobile=1#!/subscriptions/offers/?PK=M1224&cid=MH2WPW1

Shore, B. (1996). Culture in Mind: Cognition, Culture, and the Problem of Meaning. Oxford University Press.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. (2012, September). The Importance of Family Dinners VIII. Retrieved March 24, 2018, from https://www.centeronaddiction.org/addiction-research/reports/importance-of-family-dinners-2012

Featured image retrieved from The Pickled Spruit.

Is It Okay to Hit on Me?

With a simple but controversial question, Dr Lindsey Doe (clinical sexologist and host of sex education Youtube channel Sexplanations) touches on the need for sex-positive environments, sexual harassment, acceptable expressions of desire, and the hypersexualization of women on the Internet. She addresses the issue with incredible nuance, highlighting context and intent as two determiners of when a romantic proposition regresses into sexual harassment. A possible list of criteria is also suggested, to help viewers decide when it’s appropriate to hit on someone:

However, a significant problem with Dr Doe’s framework is that the first question to be asked is already a contentious one. In fact, it was central to the debate regarding the sexual misconduct allegations against Aziz Ansari. Despite society’s push to be more sexually progressive, it is important to recognize that sexual desire cannot be expressed without reference to previously established norms (Cameron & Kulick, 2003), and that some people still feel compelled to adhere to them. This creates murky grounds for everyone: when does one know that the nonverbal communication of their partner is a sign of rejection, and not playing hard to get? Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet to this thorny issue, but frameworks and open conversations like this help lay the groundwork as we adjust our cultural scripts concerning romance and sex.

In this specific case, the reformation of our social scripts entails understanding how and why men sexually harass women online. (Yes, straight cis men aren’t the only ones sexually harassing others online, but they are the topic of discussion in this post)

The concept of the ‘social semiotic of desire’ (Cameron & Kulick, 2003) is central to the question of ‘How?’ It builds on Jacques Derrida’s work on performatives, and refers to resources or practices that simultaneously restrict and permit the decisions people make when expressing desire. These codes are iterable, as they’re continuously repeated and spread in social life and the media. Thus what’s worrying is that these men aren’t simply expressing their sexual interest – they’re following a social script that has been condoned and overlooked by society. Men’s erotic desire is conveyed through the semiotic practice of leaving overtly sexual comments on women’s social media profiles, and this act can be easily replicated. Given that this behaviour is rarely met with repercussions, men perceive their actions as socially acceptable, and their sexual comments are recirculated. This isn’t a rarity. 21% of women ages 18 to 29 report having been sexually harassed online, more than twice the number of men (Duggan, 2017). Just watch all these videos of women reading the unwanted sexual comments they receive on social media.

Looking beyond the possibility that men are just incredibly horny, we should consider the roles of the Internet, prohibition, and social expectations in explaining the ‘Why?’ First, it’s undeniable that the advent of the Internet has altered the social semiotic of desire by providing the comfort of anonymity. Users are emboldened because they can choose from a wide range of semiotic practices that both express their crude thoughts and remove their accountability for their actions. Second, prohibition fuels the flames of sexual desire (Kohon, 1999) and makes the thought of the forbidden fruit even sweeter. Because openly expressing lewd thoughts to women is deemed as a social taboo that transgresses social norms (in real life), men feel a stronger urge to do so by leaving sexual comments. Third, sexual desire is mediated through conventional notions of heterosexuality (Richardson, 2000) and are developed asymmetrically in communication (Kiesling, 2011). It is hence possible that men are leaving vulgar comments as a means of enacting their heterosexual identity, which is closely tied to the stereotype that they are aggressive and relentless pursuers of women. Furthermore, the Internet is a perfect place to construct said asymmetrical expression of sexual desire, which entails men being in the active and women in the passive role. Men have the ability to leave as many vulgar comments as they please, whereas women have no choice but to ignore or deal with them.

Although we can’t (and shouldn’t) police the Internet, we can take steps towards recognizing toxic masculinity and heteronormativity. We can subvert the patriarchy by raising awareness. We can start by stopping the objectification of women on the Internet, and showing them some respect.


Cameron, D., & Kulick, D. (2003). Language and Sexuality. Cambridge University Press.

Kiesling, S. (2011). “The Interactional Construction of Gender as Desire.” Gender and Language 5(2): 213– 239.

Kohon, G. (1999). No Lost Certainties To Be Recovered: Sexuality, Creativity, Knowledge. Karnac Books.

Richardson, D. (2000). Rethinking Sexuality. SAGE Publications Ltd.

Featured image retrieved from Mashable