Safe Words and Locker Room Talk


Sadomasochism, as defined by Cambridge Dictionary, is where people get pleasure from sadism and masochism – an activity that involves humiliation and pain, as described in Kulick’s Language and Sexuality. In his book, he discussed about how it is common practice for the sadomasochistic participants to decide on a ‘safe word’ in advance because normal words of resistance may be perceived as a sign to continue. The usual ‘no’ will only push the sadist even further.

Alex Lickerman wrote about this on Psychology Today, and he said that when deciding on safe words, ‘the more nonsensical the better’. The word (or in this case, emoji) chosen cannot be one that will cause the other participant to take it as a sign of enjoyment.

In class, we also discussed about how there is a ‘traffic light’ gradient to the meanings behind words used in sadomasochistic activities. Green words mean for the partner to continue, yellow words are to tell the partner to slow down, and red words mean for the partner to stop. In other words, the red words are the safe words.

In this case of Julie and Mike’s sadomasochistic sexting, ??✋???⛓?❕???? ??? are all possible green words (or emojis), expressing their emotions, or what they desire for the other party to do to them in sadomasochistic play. ✋ is equivalent to the verbal ‘stop’, which in sadomasochistic sexual activity often means for the partner to continue. ? and the cucumber emojis are often used to represent the male’s penis in texting, and the ? emoji might even suggest to perform the sexual activity while on drugs.

In this case, the emoji that is most likely their ‘safe emoji’ is ?.

This emoji is the most, in a sense, absurd one, and takes things completely out of context in sadomasochistic sexting. It gives no avenue for the other party to misunderstand it as wanting them to continue like the face and hand emojis, or even the chain, key and poop emojis which may suggest sadomasochistic activities. It does not show any signs of enjoyment or suffering (both of which are perceived as enjoyment in sadomasochistic activities), nor does it draw references to any possible sexual organs or bodily fluids like ??. Therefore ? is the most possible and a good safe emoji for Julie and Mike to tell the other person to stop.



Locker Room Talk as defined by Urban Dictionary:

The first definition defined it as a casual sexual comments made in passing by males, meant as a joke and not to be taken seriously.

The second definition defined it as sexual conversations between small groups of people of the same gender who are like-minded.

The third definition defined it as racist, sexist, and crude conversations between men.

I disagree with the definitions. While the definitions are all partially true, there is more to locker room talk than what Urban Dictionary has defined.

Firstly, the first and third definitions claim that ‘locker room talk’ is performed only by males, and this is not true because females do engage in locker room talk as well. The second definition would be more accurate in this sense, where locker room talk is done mostly among groups of people of the same gender, which means that men have their locker room talk with other men and women have their locker room talk among other women as well.

The Urban Dictionary also defined locker room talk as racist, sexual and crude comments used to bring other people down, and are comments said in passing meant as jokes. However, there is more purpose to locker room talk than what has been defined.

Though it is true that a lot of racist, sexist and crude remarks are passed in locker room talk, its purpose is not solely to bring other people down. It is often about building camaraderie, forging closer relationships with the people they are talking to by having a ‘common enemy’. These conversations are basically ‘gossips’ , and they facilitate homosocial bonding among the groups of men and women as they form an ‘in-group’ by excluding others.

It is also true that a lot of sexual comments are passed in locker room talk, and most of the times they are brought across as jokes. However, these ‘jokes’ have more purpose than solely just to bring about comedy. Very often, men talk about their sexual escapades to boast and brag about themselves. The talk seems to be bringing down the women that they had ‘nailed’, but its purpose is really to brag about their own sexual capabilities. While they appear to be talking about the women, they really are talking about themselves and reaffirming their masculinity.

While men’s talk about sexual experiences in locker room talk focuses mostly on themselves, women, on the other hand, focus their talk on sexual experiences mostly on the men, and about how good they were, as seen in these conversation examples provided on As this article on Cosmopolitan has said, women’s talk on sex often serves other functions as well – to reaffirm other women to love their own bodies, or to give other women courage to talk about any bad sexual experiences like rape.

The definitions of Locker Room Talk by Urban Dictionary are really just the tip of the iceberg, and there are a lot more underlying purposes and functions of locker room talk that what meets the eye. Perhaps locker room talk is really not as bad and shallow an activity as we think it to be.

No! I Don’t Wanna Sound ‘Gay’!

Is there a particular way that gays speak? According to the documentary, yes there is. ‘Do I Sound Gay?’ examines David Thorpe in his quest to sound ‘less gay’, addressing the stereotypical features of gay speech. The documentary also raises the question of where this ‘gay voice’ come from. Was it in their nature since birth, or something birthed out of influence from their environment? The documentary focuses on how one’s speech features causes people to see them as ‘gay’, however, critiques have pointed out that people look not only at the way one speaks to judge if they are in fact, ‘gay’. And most importantly, is the ‘gay voice’ something that needs to be ‘cured’?

David Thorpe in ‘Do I Sound Gay?’ visits a speech therapist, seemingly disturbed by his own speech habits and wanting to change the ‘gay’ features in his speech. Some stereotypical features of gay speech addressed in the video includes hyperarticulated consonants like ‘p’s, ‘t’s, ‘k’s and ‘s’s, uptalk, stressed vowels as well as creaky voice (Rendall, Vasey & McKenzie, 2007). However, who determined that these features are ‘gay’? Could it be because these are features of female speech? However so, as seen in the documentary, there are gays who do not speak in that manner, and at the same time, there are straight men who possess those ‘gay’ features in their speech. Therefore, these speech features do not directly indicate if someone is gay. According to a research by Delvaux and Soquet in 2007, one’s manner of speech can be influenced by their environment, and it is often through subconscious imitation that they obtain certain features in their speech. A straight male raised in a female-dominated environment could possess these ‘gay’ speech features even though they are heterosexual. Therefore, the manner of speech is not an accurate representation of one’s sexuality, unlike how it has been presented in the documentary.

In the film, David’s best friend mentioned that he did not use to speak with the ‘gay features’ in the past, and that he used to sound like a ‘normal’ straight male. It was only when David started to identify as being homosexual that he developed these ‘gay’ features in his speech, to which his best friend thought that he was trying to perform the role of a homosexual. However, is the manner of one’s speech really merely a conscious performance of identity? In fact, in the film, David Thorpe said that he did not even notice his own change in speech, and insisted that it was not a conscious decision that he made to intentionally sound like a stereotypical gay. Just like in Cameron and Kulick’s Language and Sexuality, David’s manner of speech could be due to unconscious psychological reasons, which would explain why the subject himself does not even notice that his manner of speech is marked. It is possible that he subconsciously changed the way he spoke to let others be aware that he is gay, or perhaps to fit into the in-group of the gay community.

In the opening scenes of the documentary, we see David Thorpe going on the streets, asking random passers-by if he ‘sounds’ gay, to which most people answered that yes, he does sound gay. While the question itself is asking about his speech mannerisms, it is inevitable that the responses of the passers-by are affected by the other telltale signs that they see. For example, other aspects such as David’s mannerisms, behavior and fashion could also giveaway signs of his sexuality, affecting the perceptions that these passers-by could have of whether or not he is gay, or rather, if he ‘sounds’ gay (Clarke & Turner, 2007). While these other features are usually also stereotypical and cannot be a hundred percent accurate, a combination of these various aspects that we can perceive helps one to determine and form a judgement of whether or not someone is gay. However, the documentary ‘Do I Sound Gay’ fails to take these other aspects into account. A critical film review by The New York Times wrote that the film was not able to address why there is a stereotype for gay men because it focused only on voices and ‘ignores overall behavior’. The film therefore touches only on a very small aspect of the perception of ‘gay-ness’, and does not present how things really are in the real world, where there are many other factors that people take into account to tell if someone is gay.

Throughout the documentary, we see David Thorpe in his attempt to get rid of the gay features in his voice. However, is this ‘gay voice’ really something that needs to be ‘cured’? A critical review of the film by Conner argues that this ‘queer voice’ is not something that is required to be changed, and he feels pity for David in the film who ‘deeply resent(s) a part of himself’. Why is David’s manner of speech ‘wrong’? Why does he have to work so hard to change the way he speaks as if it were something to be ashamed of? As linguists, we know that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of speaking – they are merely different. The way that the film presents this issue was as if having the ‘gay features’ in your speech was bad and required treatment to change, to which many critical reviews of the documentary had argued otherwise. However so, we can understand David Thorpe’s concerns and his reasons as to why he wanted to get rid of these features in his speech. After being dumped by his ex-boyfriend for sounding ‘too gay’, he would of course perceive these speech features as bad and he would want to sound more masculine to prevent any such negative judgements of him in the future.

This documentary presents a very subjective point of view towards the features in the speech of gays. While it speaks the heart of many, others have disagreed with the points of view presented in the film. A bold film that touches on the stereotypical features of gay speech, ‘Do I Sound Gay?’ is a documentary that sparked many debates and criticisms, and pushed its viewers to think about this issue in their own cultures and societies.


Cameron, D., Kulick, D. (2007). Language and Sexuality. Retrieved from

Clarke, V., & Turner, K. (2007). Clothes Maketh the Queer? Dress, Appearance and the construction of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Identities. Retrieved from

Conner, D. M. (2015, November 19). Queer Voices: Do I Sound Gay? Does It Matter? Retrieved from

Delvaux, V., & Soquet, A. (2007). The influence of ambient speech on adult speech productions through unintentional imitation. Phonetica, 64(2-3), 145-173.

Holden, S. (2015, July 9). Review: ‘Do I Sound Gay?’ Examines a Manner of Speaking. Retrieved from

Rendall, D., Vasey, P. L., McKenzie, J. (2007). The Queen’s English: An Alternative, Biosocial Hypothesis for the Distinctive Features of “Gay Speech”. Retrieved from