When is a Penis Not a Penis?

Well, the answer to that question is simple for m/m authors and readers. When you are reading about a penis in gay romance. In a standard m/m book, there are penises flying around all over the place.

I know! Who could ask for anything more?

I know! Who could ask for anything more?

Yet the word “penis” is typically never used. We can all understand why. “Penis” is a cold, anatomical term, and in a good m/m book, authors want to produce heat not a chill, and readers expect to be aroused not anesthetized.

I don’t want to read about how John licked the head of Gary’s penis.



However, when John starts licking the head of Gary’s cock, well,


M/m readers (and authors) love a nice hard cock or dick. That’s a given.

So, then what’s wrong with more flowery terms for a good stiff one?

Most m/m readers HATEΒ (I can’t emphasize that word enough) more poetic descriptions of a penis. I know this from personal experience. I have to admit that in my first book, I used more flowery descriptions, but that was because I thought readers would get tired of reading about Justin’s cock or Spencer’s dick. I was wrong.

From some well-written reviews, I learned that if Β readers came across a “throbbing member” or a “steel hard rod,” they cringed. If a “swollen manhood” gets anywhere close to them, they bat it away.

Yes, it's true!

Yes, it’s true!


This holds true for other anatomical body parts such as ass and balls. Plundering a nice tight butt as a pair of balls slap against his ass is a SCORE! But if it’s a “hole” that’s being pummeled as “jewels” smack around, it’s a fail.

Flowery and poetic descriptions of genitalia is a standard in het romance. Why then do most readers of gay fiction not feel the same way?

I think it’s because gay sex (and maybe even the readers who love to read about it) enjoy the primal, animalistic quality of man-on-man sex. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that sex between a man and a woman isn’t primal or can’t be portrayed that way. I just think there is an inherent beast like quality to two men rutting around each other and going at it like two bucking broncos.

Yeah, something like that!

Yeah, something like that!

In those instances, phrases like “throbbing member” just don’t work, but a nice hard dick will always do the trick.

M/m fiction is an escape, a fantasy about how two men fall in love and have some great sex, but within that fantasy, I think readers enjoy the reality of actual verbiage used during sex. Men don’t grab each other’s “raging manhoods,” and their hands don’t travel below the belt to his “lower half.”

Men grab each other’s cocks. It’s that simple, and it’s that simplicity (and frankness) that m/m readers prefer.

Those are just my thoughts on the subject. What do you think?

34 thoughts on “When is a Penis Not a Penis?

  1. I once Beta’d a scene for a then unpublished author. It was brilliant, but he seemed to feel that he couldn’t repeat a description of his characters cocks, so he had the full range of throbbing manhoods, poles, rods cocks and dicks! It was hysterical and took some serious work to make it readable. It was one of the hottest scenes I have ever read, but totally spoiled. I’d rather have a cold penis than a throbbing manpole! or a pulsing meat….

    • Jan, that is too funny! How did the author take the edits? I know when I first had to edit one rather flowery scene prior to publication, I was like damn, “how did all these poles and rods get in here?” Then, I laughed at what I’d just said/thought. So many poles so little time!

      • I was incredibly gentle with him πŸ™‚ I can do tact and when I read it back to him he could see the point. But it was so hard having to criticise what was an amazing scene. Sadly the book never saw the light of day, but I hope it will sometime.

        • I have no doubt you were gentle with him. πŸ˜‰

          And it’s sad when a book we enjoy doesn’t get published. Maybe one day!

  2. IDK… cock and dick can be overworked (pun intended) if those are the only two terms you use. Perhaps we should have a brainstorm with fellow bloggers to come up with a glossary of acceptable terms.

    • That sounds like a great idea, Mel, and I agree that cock and dick can get tiresome. I try to be creative, which sometimes works, but every now and then one term might not resonate well. It’s a balance.

  3. Perfectly said. Made me a little hot just reading this! I completely agree that it is the primal, animalistic side of the sex in M/M fiction that does it for me. I like some “making love” occasionally, when the MCs really discover what they feel for one another. But give me lurid, graphic descriptions any day over hearts and flowers.

    • Haha! I’m glad my words steamed up your computer screen, Tina! Yes, there is something very rugged and primal about sex in the m/m fiction. The sights, sounds, smells can be stimulating and capturing all that is really important. Making love can be a great, heart-felt moment, but rutting around and pounding flesh is pretty darn good too!

  4. Hey Jacob,
    I agree – nothing says it like cock, balls and ass. Flowery descriptions for the sake of diversity? No thank you! There are exceptions for me, depending on the sub-genre, time period, and POV the story is written in. For instance, if the story is in first person, and that character would genuinely be likely to say “member” (let’s say it’s the late nineteenth century and he’s inexperienced and shy…) then I appreciate that as authenticity. And yep, describing love making vs. “rutting” involves more than anatomical descriptives!

  5. Guess I never really thought of it that way but, now that I think about it, I tend to “skip” over flowery parts in a book. If I wanted to read an around the bush (no pun intended) description of male body parts and what men do with other men, I would try to find books maybe my mother or grandmother would read (not that they would read m/m books ^_^), old and boring.

    When I read “hard as steel rod”, I don’t think of a hard dick, I think of my hard as steel middle finger poking some shithead in the eye cause they pissed me off….not that I have ever done that : -b


    • JoAnn, I’m laughing so hard right now! I can totally see you poking out some guy’s eye for being a jerk! But what I find interesting is the different associations we have with flowery descriptions. I think that’s what’s so iffy about flowery descriptions. By trying to be poetic, authors might inadvertently pull their reader out of the story by associating something they never meant to connect to for different readers.

  6. How many do you need? πŸ™‚
    100% all-beef thermometer – ABD – Alabama black snake – anaconda – anal impaler – baby arm – baby maker – bald-headed yogurt slinger – baloney pony – BBC – BBD – big Dick and the twins – big Italian salami – bird – bobby dangler – bologna pony – bone – boner – bratwurst – broner – bud – cack – chap – choad – chode – chopper – chub – chubbie – chup – chut – cock – cock rocket – cornholer – cut – dangler – dick – dick smalls – ding – ding-a-ling – ding dong – dingis – dinker – dinky – dipstick – disco stick – doder – doinker – domepiece – dong – dork – D, the – D train – e-peen – general, two colonels – get it up – giggle stick – gut wrench – hard-on – head – helmet – hockey cocky – hog – hooded – hotdog – hung – jimmy – johnson – John Thomas – joystick – kielbasa – knob – lady boner – love muscle – love shaft – love stick – main vein – manhood – man muscle – master of ceremonies – meat popsicle – meat thermometer – member – middle leg – monster – Mr. Happy – Mr. Winky – ol’ one-eye – one-eyed monster – one-eyed snake – one-eyed trouser snake –Organ – packer – patz – pecker – peen – pee pee – peeper – peeter – Peter – Ph.D – phallus-pickle – piece – pink tractor beam – pizzle- plonker – pocket rocket – polaroid – pole – pop a chub – pork sword – prick – pud – purple-headed soldier – purple headed solider man – purple-headed warrior – putz – rod – Russell the love muscle – salami – sausage – schlong – schlort – schmeckel – schwartz – sconge – shaft – shlittle – shlong – shrinkage – skin flute – steamin’ semen roadway – stiffie – stiffy –tadger – tallywacker – tallywhacker – tally whacker – tent pole – thing – third leg – throbber –todger – tonsil tickler – tool – tripod – trouser meat – trouser snake – tube steak – twig – wang – wanker – wankie – wee – weenie – wee wee – weiner – whang – whiskey dick – who who dilly – wiener – willie – willy –-wilson -winkle- winky – wood – yogurt slinger – yoo-hoo one-eyed trouser snake, tally-whacker, heat-seeking love missile, beef bayonet, wedding tackle, pork sword, little soldier, baloney poney, my little pony, my other head, power drill, magic wand, jack hammer, frankfurter, Captain Winkie, summer sausage, jack-in-the-box, bread in the basket, long john silver,GodZilla, Super secret agent hosepipe.

    • Jan, that was quite the exhaustive list! LOL! My favorite was yogurt slinger! I’m still laughing! πŸ˜€

  7. “Men grab each other’s cocks. It’s that simple, and it’s that simplicity (and frankness) that m/m readers prefer.”

    You know I was having a tangentially related conversation with my wife the other day about whether or not there is a male equivalent of lingerie.

    This is because I work as a line cook weekends and so hang around with a lot of straight dudes so the subject of lingerie came up. Universally, the dudes were not against lingerie, but also didn’t prefer it over, say, total nudity–largely because with total nudity, one didn’t have to worry about ripping some lady’s expensive lingerie.

    But if dudes aren’t really that into lingerie, I asked, why are there whole stores devoted to it?

    Chicks are into lingerie, one guy said. He said he didn’t know why, but as long as they eventually take it off, he didn’t care.

    I asked if they thought that lingerie conferred a certain power on the lady, who by wearing it and teasing a dude with partial nudity is basically stating, “You’re gonna get laid, but only I know when,” sort of like training a dog to sit and wait for his dinner?

    They said yeah, it’s kind of exactly like that.

    So I think that the flowery euphemisms of retro romance might kind of be the verbal equivalent of lingerie, for a certain segment of readers to feel that female characters are beliveable. But if those characters are men, they’d rather just skip the good-dog segment of the evening and just get right down to the dinner bowl. So yeah, cock-grabbing.

    Did that make sense? (lol)

    • Nicole, it made perfect sense to me, and I think you may be on to something. While I don’t want to generalize, I think that a romance between a man and a woman is more about seduction like the lingerie you speak of. Wearing black lace panties and a peek-a-boo bra is a tease, and the woman is in complete control. Which I straight men no doubt love to an extent. They hope to get some, but they are at the mercy of their ladies to tell them when it’s time. For two men, it’s a bit different. I’m certainly not saying there can’t be teasing or seduction between two men, but let’s face it, men are men. They want sex, and usually there doesn’t have to be a lot of teasing between two men who are willing to give it up.

  8. It is true… cock and dick are somehow just more sexy than penis. It’s hotter and more intense.

    I will say it now I have an upcoming book that Alex (an abused character whose literally afraid to orgasm) can only think in terms of penis and in his wilder times it’s a shaft… and I know I’m going to be eaten alive for it >>>> unless the readers realize that’s its a conscious decision.

    Sometimes, writers don’t like using certain words we know readers hate (we actually hate them too) but our characters refuse to use the acceptable ones (>>> ones we’d rather)…

    So send a prayer to the God of Cock & Dick for me because I’ll be sacrificed on the altar of penis… very soon.

    Hugs, Z.

    • I completely understand. Characters take on a life of their own and if your character doesn’t like the words cock or dick, then he shouldn’t use them. I’m sure most readers will see that. I, however, shall still pray for you. <3

  9. Hi Jacob,

    Interesting article. I agree with you about using the word ‘penis’. It has it’s place in some prose, rarely though in hot M/M scenes. But, what’s the matter with ‘hole’?

    Three years ago a well known female author told me there is nothing more descriptively meaningful than ‘cock and hole’. She said this after reading an early story I’d written. Like you, I’d used a number of purple words, thinking that path desirable in an attempt to minimise the repetitious use of cock, dick, ass and butt. On her advice, I changed all references and must admit, despite the frequent repetition, the simple black and whiteness of the two words (plus dick) simplified the directness and meaning of the narrative.

    I’ve never had, nor seen a complaint elsewhere about the use of ‘hole’ so I’m rather intrigued why you claim it a fail.

    I’d also be curious to hear what your female readers think.

    Thanks, Jacob.



    • Justin,

      Thanks for reading my blog. I have no problem with the word “hole,” but some reviewers have. I admit to still using it, but I only do so sparingly, if the instance really requires the word. I think some female readers don’t have a problem with it, but I have heard that there are some who do. I think authors just need to use their best judgment on when to use such words. πŸ™‚

      • Thanks Jacob.

        Well, it’s obviously a personal choice whether the reader likes or dislikes the word, just as it is the writer’s choice to use it, where appropriate, or not.

        One can’t please everybody all the time, no matter how one tries. I still hope some female readers will voice their opinions.



    • As a female reader and writer I have no problem with the word hole. It’s widely used in slash fanfiction which is where I started out reading and writing m/m romance. Most of that is written and read by women, and I’ve never had a reviewer comment negatively on it. I was surprised to find it mentioned here as a unpopular word too, so glad you brought it up.

      I’ve used it several times in my soon-to-be-published books so I’ll be interested to see if I get any stick for it!

      I like to call a spade a spade, a cock a cock and a hole a hole πŸ˜‰

      This was a great blog post, it made me laugh a lot. So true about throbbing members and rock hard poles, I find them most off-putting as a reader. As a brit, I like to throw in the odd prick for a bit of variety, but cocks and dicks are my staples πŸ˜€

  10. Great post! My bf made me rewrite one scene three times because I kept slipping in synonyms. Really hard to buck the usual rule against repetition. One thing, I disagree with you about “hole”. It’s a good honest call-it-what-it-is word, IMHO, as well as being short and monosyllabic. Also love your photo blog on tumblr – great high quality stuff.

    • I like hole too, Lance. Some of the reviewers haven’t. I still use it sometimes, I admit. Why? Well, sometimes a good hole is what is needed at the time. And thanks! I’m glad you like the tumblr. I have great fun with it!

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