Inventing Language Filter
May 12, 2014 3:01 PM   Subscribe

Short version: I flippantly described myself today as a "repressed tramp" and that got all kinds of misinterpreted. I am looking for better descriptors that more accurately convey what I mean and are still succinct (or succinct-ish). More details below the fold. (potentially NSFW)

It was taken to mean "sexually repressed" and also, I guess, that I am insulting myself (and potentially others). I realize that "tramp" is, for some people, a loaded word with negative connotations. For me, it is not. (I chose it as less loaded than ...other words that came to mind as well.)

What I mean is that I am generally pretty comfortable with my sexuality and I am fond of men, so my wiring is kind of hippie tree hugger, make love not war, and all that. But I am very socially conservative about things like knowing who the daddy is and not exposing myself to germs and so on, so I live a pretty conservative life in some ways but not because I am emotionally inhibited but because I am aware of the potential consequences and wish to avoid bad things happening.

I am asking because I have these sorts of misunderstandings kind of a lot (not on this specific subject but this sort of "uh, no, I did not mean that at all" kind of situation is not unusual for me). I thought this would be a good opportunity to survey the hive mind and ask for feedback on this specific instance. So, what is a way to say this which is not offensive to other people and doesn't take scads of explaining? Sometimes there simply isn't the time and, often, trying to clarify when someone has heard it really negatively can be pretty problematic. The discussion tends to just start on the wrong foot and it can be really hard to get it back to something not negative.

Someone suggested the phrases "Only the requirements of safety and propriety restrict my libertine nature." and "My libertine nature is bound only by the requirements of social grace" which I thought were really good but are far from "nut shell" succinctness. (I guess we already have "Lady in the living room, tramp in the bedroom" kind of language but that is basically still a whole sentence and still commits the faux pas of calling myself a tramp, which is apparently really bad in the eyes of some people -- not to say they are wrong, just that I do not feel the same.)

So what is a polite, well-mannered way to convey that without it being paragraphs and paragraphs, and, preferably not even a sentence? Is there a phrase for that? If not, please suggest your short-ish sentences.

I realize also that the best way to convey this is without ever directly saying it but, reality being what it is, that kind of delicacy isn't always effective.

Thanks for any assistance.
posted by Michele in California to Writing & Language (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How about just sex-positive?
posted by stinkfoot at 3:12 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just say sex-positive.
posted by jessamyn at 3:25 PM on May 12, 2014

"Libertine with limits" has nice alliteration.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:28 PM on May 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

I actually do not think of myself as "libertine" but as "a hedonist" or "bon vivant." I don't actively spurn the morals of larger society. I generally agree with many of them, just not based on "you should be ashamed or feel guilty about even thinking about that." I agree with many of them based on "that typically leads to serious bad stuff" not based on some emotional guilt model. There are circumstances under which I would disregard social mores but it would be a case of "I thought it through and I think the reasons this is usually a bad idea simply do not apply in this instance."

But this is already proving very enlightening for me, just writing the question and seeing the initial replies. I hope there shall be more.
posted by Michele in California at 3:40 PM on May 12, 2014

Open minded?
posted by Jacen at 3:52 PM on May 12, 2014

Not sure why anyone would question your words, but is it possible they were referring to the entire passage, not just this phrase? I thought "repressed tramp" was fine, fwiw (it made me smile), but context matters maybe. I think it is ok to link to the usage, even though it's gone now.
posted by Houstonian at 3:54 PM on May 12, 2014

[Sort of an "ask a question, get answers" situation here]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:11 PM on May 12, 2014

Agreed that "sex-positive" is probably the most straightforward, but if that doesn't appeal, it seems like "careful" might be a more accurate descriptor than "repressed."
posted by dizziest at 4:29 PM on May 12, 2014

How about a "tramp manquée?" Substitute another word for tramp if you like, but it evokes a "woulda been if circumstances were otherwise."
posted by Liesl at 5:27 PM on May 12, 2014

Sex-positive, just choosy?
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:28 PM on May 12, 2014

First thing I thought of without reading the other responses was "sex-positive". If that doesn't sufficiently emphasise the carefulness, what about "sensibly sex-positive" or "sex-positive and sensible"?
posted by Athanassiel at 5:40 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know that sex positive is the term you want, really. I'd call myself sex positive, in that I feel that people should feel free to express themselves sexually without shame, etc--but I personally am largely uninterested in sex. (Which I feel is also under the sex-pos umbrella, in that I feel that I should be able to say yay you, get your freak on, but I should also be able to say that I don't really care a lot about sex, and that shouldn't be something I have to feel bad about.)

Possibly you could go with careful (or mindful?) hedonist, or something to that effect? I think that this is a really hard question, though, because so many words relating to sexuality are loaded, and how people perceive them varies dramatically. Trying to sum something like this up in a couple of words is always going to result in the occasional misinterpretation.
posted by MeghanC at 11:14 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think hedonist has negative connotations of having a very fuck-all, only I matter outlook.

Repressed tramp made me think of a person who wants to travel here and there with no plan but is stuck in one place until i got to the context of your question.

You sound pretty much like an original hippie (O.H.?) to me, but I'm too young to have experienced that in real time. Does "Sensual"work? Intimacy enthusiast?
posted by WeekendJen at 7:09 AM on May 13, 2014

Conservative Tramp
Ethical Tramp
Ethical Slut

But I actually like Sex Positive better than any of those.
posted by alms at 7:20 AM on May 13, 2014

What's the context? If you're talking to your doctor you're going to put it differently than if you're talking to someone you're flirting with.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:15 AM on May 13, 2014

I'd skip "ethical slut" unless you're wholly comfortable with the polyamorous connotation. Riffing on MeghanC's answer - sensualist? Relaxed? Or, rather than a catchphrase, just what you wrote in your question: I am generally pretty comfortable with my sexuality and I am fond of men. Only those who are getting up close and personal get more detail, because you'd be hashing out some other matters at the same time anyway.

What I'm trying to say is, you're not an uncomplicated, simple person (because nobody is) with an uncomplicated, simple sexuality (because nobody's is), and I think trying to affix a label is doing yourself a disservice. Especially since you wrote: I have these sorts of misunderstandings kind of a lot. "Repressed" and "tramp" have a lot of different meanings to a lot of different people, as you've seen; you may run into the same trouble with another reductionist, "meant-to-be-clear-and-specifically-evocative-of-this" phrase.
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:42 AM on May 13, 2014

Slut at heart?
posted by metasarah at 10:53 AM on May 13, 2014

Adding to the list: Someone had also suggested to me "concealed roundheel" and I had not previously known the term roundheel. I doubt I will use it but I wanted to toss that out there. I thought it was not bad but, hey, I did not know it and I don't know how common a term that is or how polite it is and all that. (And, looking it up in Urban Dictionary, that doesn't sound to me like what I mean here.)

What's the context?

I am trying to leave out context here. I realize that matters a whole lot but the specific instance is not really important here and was not really what prompted the question. It was just the latest example of a pattern in my life and I thought "hey, that could be a useful ask for me."

I was a homemaker for a long time and I am a third culture kid and I did a lot of therapy where I sat around telling mostly men of the cloth all the nasty awful things that happened to me as a kid and I am a former military wife (and military folks swear a lot more than most civilians with "respectable" jobs and this was noticeable at my corporate job and a potential reason to get fired, actually) and so on. For just a really long list of reasons, I often am too blunt, too crass, too comfortable with terms other folks find loaded and so on. Thus, I wanted to sort of do a survey of "how do other folks express themselves" in part to gauge kind of what's normal.

I have, at times, said to people things like "I am a hedonist. I just want to have fun. But an STD is not my idea of fun. I like my fun without regrets." I also like the term Bon Vivant which suggests I like living well and my idea of living well involves some complex decision-making, wisdom and long term thinking of a sort that can be hard to sum up. Bon Vivant is possibly the exact perfect term for what I am expressing generally except that it is not specifically a sexual term. So that doesn't, by itself, capture what I was flippantly trying to sum up. I also thought of "savoir faire" which I have seen applied to sexual situations (there is a joke about that phrase, which I won't try to repeat here) but it sounds somewhat snobby to me as a thing to apply to myself plus I suspect the term is obscure enough that it would not be a good means to communicate clearly without having to do a lot of explaining.

I am just not crazy about sex-positive. It sounds clinical to me, which may be part of why other people like it: It is kind of dry and not loaded (to me -- maybe it has associations for you, but, to me, that is how it sounds). I am very aware that most "sexy" language gets strong reactions, both pro and con, and the same word can be viewed by one person as very much of a turn on and by another as a terrible, horrible thing to say (and sometimes both those at the same time by the same person). But, while I am looking for something polite and well-mannered, I don't really like the clinical way that sounds to me, even though I recognize that may be exactly why some people think it is the best term: Clinical terms get selected in part for being not loaded terminology. I want something politely evocative, if I can come up with it and, for me, that fails the "evocative" test.

Only those who are getting up close and personal get more detail
Yuppers, that is my general rule of thumb: That you don't need to know that* about me unless we are sleeping together, considering sleeping together, or good friends having a frank discussion where, for some reason, those details are relevant and so on. But I choose to answer some things quite publicly in a fairly frank and open fashion so there are times when I wrestle with how to do that well without stepping on toes, being rude and so on. So I actually put a lot of thought into delicate use of language for tough topics. Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I bomb. I like working on improving that. It's a fun and gratifying experience.

Thank you for participating in this exercise. I am getting a great deal more out of it than I expected to and I hope yet more folks will drop in to give their take.

* "that" = specific details about my personal predilections in bed
posted by Michele in California at 11:45 AM on May 13, 2014

Someone once called me a "non-practicing slut". It made no sense to me back then, but over time it's grown on me. I think it might convey some of what you're getting at.
posted by tangerine at 11:00 AM on May 14, 2014

I get what you mean about sex-positive. It isn't terribly sexy, but definitely won't shock anybody either which is often what people are aiming for when they use it.

What about voluptuary? It's similar to hedonist, sensualist, etc but with a somewhat different connotation. It also covers pleasure in general, not just sexual pleasure, but because "voluptuous" primarily connotes a woman with impressive cleavage I think it has more of a sexual flavour than not.

I'd probably just say something like, "I like sex but I don't screw it up."
posted by Athanassiel at 1:05 AM on May 15, 2014

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