crazy little thing called the love that dare not speak its name
October 26, 2009 7:16 AM   Subscribe

I need some academically credible synonyms for same-sex erotic activity that are less ambiguous than "gay sex" and less clinical-sounding than "homosexual contact."

I'm helping to revise a 30-year-old book about human sexuality for re-publication, and the state of homo-politico-linguistics has changed considerably. The author refers to "gays" as a demographic group, but sometimes he's talking about only exclusively homosexual-identifying men, and sometimes about anyone of any gender that's ever slipped a bit towards the right of the Kinsey scale. He uses "gay sex" in a similarly inconsistent way.

The problem with "Queer" and its derivatives is that it's still a loaded term, and while pretty much everyone under thirty sees it as a positive description, older people (including the author) see it as a slur.

Just to be clear, I'm not looking for names of specific acts, but a generalized term for everything along the spectrum from kissing to fisting, just as long as you keep it gay, keep it gay, keep it gay.
posted by Jon_Evil to Science & Nature (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

around here in my academic parts (so to speak), we use "same sex sex". The doubling of sex (with two different meanings) is part of the fun.
posted by Pineapplicious at 7:19 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Maybe combine the two phrases you listed: "homosexual sex."
posted by *s at 7:21 AM on October 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: the problem with the double-sex is that it doesn't really flow well, and this is a book intended for undergrads and educated laymen, and we use the term a whole lot.
posted by Jon_Evil at 7:25 AM on October 26, 2009

A lot of sources seem to use men who have sex with men, abbreviated MSM. Is that too obscure?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:29 AM on October 26, 2009

But at the same time if OP is looking for a word that covers "everything along the spectrum from kissing to fishing" any phrase involving the word "sex" would not work in my opinion. I can't off the top of my head think of anything much better than homosexual contact, or maybe touching. Though even then, if you're trying to cover people who have "slipped a bit towards the right of the Kinsey scale" then that phrase won't cut it because homosexual is not a good identifier for, say, a bisexual. It's a shame you can't use queer, because that would be my top choice by a long run.
posted by kthxbi at 7:31 AM on October 26, 2009

Best answer: a generalized term for everything along the spectrum from kissing to fisting

Why not just call it "sex"? In the sections about homosexuality, wouldn't the context be clear?

It might also help if you give us a couple of example paragraphs from the original that you feel need to be changed.
posted by mediareport at 7:36 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This doesn't answer your question directly, but when I had similar questions recently I found this style guide published by GLAAD useful.
posted by cider at 7:39 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

what about "same-sex contact?"
posted by wabbittwax at 7:58 AM on October 26, 2009

"everything along the spectrum from kissing to fishing..."

So THAT'S what all the fuss is about?
posted by stuck on an island at 8:02 AM on October 26, 2009

I actually like the term you came up with, "same-sex erotic activity." Using the "same-sex" moniker is useful because it does not connote, necessarily, that the participants are homosexual. For brevity, you could also possibly use "same-sex intercourse."
posted by General Malaise at 8:13 AM on October 26, 2009

Response by poster: Cider: That style guide helps clear some things up, and isdefinitely helpful for other linguistic areas in the book, thanks.

mediareport: There are totally places where I can just use sex! Brilliant! However, there are other parts were queer and straight sex are being compared, or referred to obliquely, so I still need something. I'm under a non-disclosure agreement so I can't post any excerpts from the book.

My roommate just suggested "same-sex intimacy" which I like, but may suggest an emotional component that's not necessarily present in today's atmosphere of anonymous craigslist hookups, and those dang kids with their Atari machines and their Dan Fogelberg...
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:15 AM on October 26, 2009

What's wrong with homoerotic (sexuality/acts/behavior/games/sex.) Then you can be really specific- homoerotic sex play among heterosexual people, for example.
posted by headspace at 8:17 AM on October 26, 2009

"Same sex erotic activity" seems appropriately descriptive, but doesn't specifically connote men-with-men the way "gay" does. "Homoerotic activity" is essentially the same but shorter.
posted by notashroom at 8:20 AM on October 26, 2009

"Same sex intimacy" could become "physical intimacy between men" or "physical intimacy between women" to remove the possible emotional component with just "intimacy."

I think the human sexuality book my graduate course used variations of those when "sex" itself wouldn't do.
posted by zizzle at 8:31 AM on October 26, 2009

When I'm running tutorials, I always use "same sex sexual attraction" and "same sex sexual activity". It's wordy, but one of the things that I'm usually trying to point out is that "homosexual" implies a very culturally and time-specific pattern of both same sex sexual attraction and activity (including intimacy and marriage/marriage-like commitments) that does not necessarily hold true in other times and places. That may not be important in this context, but my students don't seem to have any difficulty in following the wordy phrases. So, especially if you can just use "sex" in lots of places, you could probably get away with a wordy phrase in some contexts.
posted by carmen at 8:35 AM on October 26, 2009

In public health, the standard language is "men who have sex with men" (MSM) - this sidesteps the question of identity, since men who have sex with men do not all identify as gay or bi, but simply describes the activity. This may be helpful in some sections in the book.
posted by rtha at 10:12 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

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