Toronto, Montréal, Ottawa.
Back when I was still at university in England and traveling to Canada regularly, my partner and I decided to name our body parts for a laugh.
While I’m not 100% sure what he called his penis (Johnson, I believe) and suspect his testicles were never included in the naming process, I went full Ontario on my boobs and vagina. Why Ontario won out to Québec, I don’t know nor can I recall whether Montréal was the part of my anatomy Johnson could visit.
Or simply one of my two chest landmarks.
Ever since becoming sexually active, I’ve wondered why men name their penis while we women seldom bestow pet names upon our nether regions. This gender-specific particularity has always baffled me as well as endeared me to those who choose it.
To me, a named penis means its owner has a playful disposition and the capacity not to take himself too seriously.
It also conveys just a hint of vulnerability as it invites sexual partners to share in a private joke. It can even be the starting point of a four-handed narrative told in a language that only has two speakers.
A named penis is a family member, an expandable part of the male self with its own mind, its own needs, its own agency.
And the comedic potential associated with having a renegade organ in one’s pants can help defuse potentially difficult situations. Separating the penis owner from the penis can make it easier to approach sex in an open-minded, caring, and supportive way.
From original sexual preferences to the occasional lack of sexual oomph or even full-blown dysfunction, communication becomes a lot easier when Johnson is a third party.
Critical distance is always helpful.
Mutual curiosity is the foundation of any fulfilling sexual relationship.
Sex is non-verbal communication between two consenting humans, it’s not just about inserting body part A into body part B.
However, sex remains a loaded topic few of us are capable of discussing without embarrassment. Even self-styled erotica can fall short by using euphemisms so ridiculous the only payoff is frustration rather than climax.
There’s no cerebral or physical stimulation when reading about her “opening”. The only thing this kind of language conjures up is howls of laughter about how editorial shortcomings can kill the mood and turn sex into a farce in print.
But failure of imagination isn’t a problem penis namers have and this may be why it invariably inspires playfulness in me, not judgment.
Some women are quick to dismiss a named penis and its owner as immature; others, meanwhile, treasure a partner who has the irresistible ability to laugh at himself.
Because a partner so estranged from their own sexuality they refuse to talk about it precludes the possibility of a fulfilling sex life. In extreme cases, it can be a one-way ticket to a dead bedroom you may end up locked into for years on end.
Regardless of what gender you identify with, this particular kind of heartbreak is shrouded in such mortifying shame it’s almost impossible to unpack.
No one likes to entertain the thought their partner is no longer attracted to them, or that they may have unwittingly entered into the wrong kind of relationship.
And yet, this is the unspeakable reality of many marriages, including mine.
I can’t even invoke the power of Johnson, alas.
Is being uptight about sex an American thing?
I have to ask because the reluctance to refer to body parts by their given names is bizarre to me, as is widespread ignorance about human anatomy. For background, I’m European and come from a culture where bluntness is the norm and we all have no-nonsense biology classes until we graduate high school.
But in the US, it’s not unusual to read copy about sex written in language parents use with toddlers. For readers, it’s neither an informative nor an educational experience as it fails to destigmatize sexuality.
Instead, it reinforces the message sex is shameful rather than a basic physiological human need we all share. And something that has the potential to strengthen a cerebral and affective connection when two partners are completely open about it.
Plainly put, sex is a key building block in many intimate relationships. While its absence needn’t spell out the end of a committed romantic relationship, it may well hasten it if dialogue isn’t an option.
I still don’t know why some men have a Johnson and others do not, or why some women react unkindly to it.
In the spirit of equality, should I name my quim Joaquim, or my vagina Regina, or my “v” Victor?
I can’t even decide whether it’s a he or a she or an it (it varies between European languages, feminine in German — die Vagina — and Portuguese — a vagina — but masculine in French — le vagin).
As a result, I may have to settle on a unisex name like Lake or Sage.
Maybe one day this’ll make for interesting conversations with someone who likes to talk about such things.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.