TW// Smash or pass? The culture of violence in sex

Isabelle Hajek, Staff Writer

Smash or pass? Those are seemingly the only two options in the current culture of hook-ups and little-to-no commitment relationships. The way in which people refer to sexual acts is commonly violent in nature. Think back to the last time you and a friend discussed a sexual topic: you most likely did not refer to sexual acts as “making love.” Instead, the words f**k, screw and bang may come to mind.

This link between violence and sex in language is not a modern phenomenon. In classic literature, double-entendres are ripe with this imagery. William Shakespeare is prolific for its use. He commonly used the term “sword” to mean both the weapon and a penis, an ode to the item’s phallic shape, and the action of stabbing to mean the actual harmful strike and as a euphemism for sex.

Modernly, terms are used freely and interchangeably to mean sexual acts and threats. The common retort to an unpleasant interaction of “f**k this” or “f**k you” takes the sexual term and connotes it to anger and aggression. When it is once again used in the context of sex, that connotation is still present. This is also apparent with the terms “suck it” or “screw you”.

The reason sex and violence are linked in our language can be traced back to how sex and relationships have been understood historically. At the conception of the U.S., marriage was defined to be between a man and a woman. These unions signified the transfer of power over a woman from her father to her husband; women were infantilized to the status of a dependent, like children are today, unable to own land or participate in the legal system.

Up until the late 1800s, a husband had the right to physically “chastise” his wife in the privacy of the home. The acceptance of physical abuse in the home was gradually limited and prohibited until the first comprehensive federal legislation against domestic abuse was passed in 1994. Rape was considered a property crime against the father or husband of the victimized woman until approximately the 1970s and the word “rape” itself originated in meaning to be property taken by force.

In essence, women did not achieve full sexual and physical autonomy and protection until 1994. Prior to this, sex and relationships were defined by an ever-present threat of violence; this may be where the link between violent imagery and sex originates. In understanding sex and relationships as a form of control maintained by violence, many terms used to describe sexual acts make sense.

Contemporarily, the link between sex and violent language transcends the traditional male-female union. Language is a reflection of the culture that uses it. The U.S. has adopted a language of violence when speaking about sex that is reflective of the sexual violence present in the nation. Some sources attribute the use of such language to the perpetuation of rape culture in our country, as it normalizes the presence of violence and force in sexual acts.

In the U.S., one in five women and one in 38 men have experienced attempted or completed rape; one in four female children and one in 13 male children experience sexual abuse in childhood. If these figures were applied to an infection rate, they would qualify as an epidemic or public health crisis.

Because language is the central tool by which people communicate, by normalizing the link between sex and violence colloquially, the English language promotes sexual violence. So the next time you are asked the question, “You hit/tap that?” think twice about your answer.