“Talk dirty to me,” Karen whispered, her brown eyes on the bar table between us. Aside from being articulate, eccentric, and funny, she was a stone knockout; for the last month, I’d been scrambling just to feel worthy. Now she’d upped the ante.
“Come on,” she repeated with a grin. “Say something dirty.”
Ooh, I said to myself, this is gonna be great. I’ve never done it, but I bet I’m good at it. I quickly thought through some naughty openers—discarded one as crassly vulgar, tried on another, almost blurted out something smarmy. And still she was waiting—holding my hand, smiling.
But what vocabulary, even? After a normal misogynistic pubescence, I spent six years at the most PC campus in America. My sexual soul, I realized, had become the epitome of puritanical self-dividedness: On the one hand, a monster of violent vulgarity; on the other, a pussyfooting, self-hating weenie. I had no middle ground between “Blow me, bitch,” and “Excuse me, feel free to say no, but I was wondering if it might be all right for me to kiss you?”
“Well,” I said in my huskiest voice, “I’d just love to take off your … ”
“Come on, be sincere.”
She was right. I was faking it. “Uh,” I ventured, “well,I do want to lick your …”
“Now you’re talking like Brad Pitt.”
“You’re putting on somebody else’s voice.”
Yep, yep. Not quite my voice. I scanned my mind for the talk-dirty-in-my-own voice file. I told myself I’d been around the block a few times, wasn’t especially repressed, and had a reasonable way with words.
But I couldn’t even decide on the right sentence structure, the right subject-object relationships. I mean, all she’d have to say was “I want you to do x to me” and I’d be turned on, I told her defensively, because she’d have given me the go-ahead. But the inverse was clearly a dud: “I want to do x to you” reduced her to a blowup doll.
“That’s not even the point,” she said, laughing. “It’s not about doing something to somebody.”
“Well, what is it about, then? Just tell me what you want to hear.”
“I can’t. That would ruin it. You know,” she added, “maybe this just isn’t your thing.”
And just like that, I had failed—had been bested, unmanned.
The next day, I found myself rationalizing my inadequacy, arguing that the very demand “Talk dirty to me” precluded its own satisfaction by putting the guy on the spot, dominating him, when the underlying request was, I felt sure, to be dominated.
I asked a friend if he’d ever been hit with this request.
“Once,” he said. “I didn’t know what to say, so I just did her as hard as I could.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Karen told me later. “Domination’s got nothing to do with it.”
“Well, what does?” I asked, certain she was in denial.
“I told you—you’ve got to figure this out yourself.”
Over the next few days, other male friends made similar confessions: To a man, they loved the idea—and hadn’t a clue what to say. In fact, it struck all of them as a recipe for embarrassment.
In search of help from a dirty-talking pro, I traveled to the homeland of the erotic voice and called a phone-sex line. Right off, I got a sultry young woman who claimed to be in Sherman Oaks, California.
“I need help,” I told her.
“That’s what I’m here for, baby.”
“Not like that. I need to learn how to talk dirty, like what a woman really wants when she says, ‘Talk dirty to me.’”
“You want me to talk dirty to you?”
“No, no. I just want to know what girls want to hear.”
“Mmmm… girls mostly want to hear stuff like ‘You like it hard, don’t you? You horny li’l bitch. Yeah, I’m going to slap your ass, you dirty slut.’ That’s what they want to hear. Does that turn you on?”
“Are you turned on right now?”
I bailed out and called a sex line for women, and I discovered something interesting: The ur-voice of these lines is exclusively female, offering to help you “shed your inhibitions and discover what really excites you”—a friendly, sex-positive woman leading her less-emboldened sisters down the velvet-lined hallway of desire. Further, while the men’s line had promptly connected me to a female operator, presumably so I could say, “Blow me” and have her say, “Okay, I’m blowing you,” the women’s sex line (like all these women’s sex lines, it turned out) was strictly prerecorded: It offered “true confessions,” in which you listen to the secrets of others and record your own, and touch-tone menus of audio fantasies. Whereas the men’s line’s primary commodity was an “actual” encounter with an unknown other, the women’s line ruled out precisely that (apparently threatening) possibility. Aggressive men have nothing to do with it.
“If bare, round bottoms and over-the-knees spankies exist in your fantasies,” the menu offered, “press one.” I did. “For sweet discipline, press one. For hanky-spanky, press two. For naughty girls, press three.”
Naturally, I pressed three and promptly heard one woman saying to another: “Gee, Amy, isn’t it fun having a sister to play with when your husband’s not home?” Then: What’s that noise? A door opening! “Amy? Are you home? Hey, what’s that smell?… Amy, what have I told you about getting into my cigars? You’ve been a very naughty girl, and you know what happens to naughty girls, don’t you?”
“I won’t do it again—I promise!”
“I know you won’t, because I’m going to give you a spanking you won’t soon forget. Lift your skirt so I can pull your white panties down and spank your little behind.”
“Please give me another chance.”
“I’m afraid not. You like to be spanked, don’t you? You want it harder, don’t you?”
“Now, tell your sister what I do after I spank you! Tell her what I do with my big cock …. ”
Somehow, I didn’t think this was what Karen had in mind. I had two hours until dinner. If anyone could help me, it was my old friend Damian, a war veteran and shrink. I called and blurted out my predicament.
“You want to learn how to talk dirty?” Damian asked, laughing at my earnest chagrin. “Well, look,” he said. “Paul McCartney can write love songs; I can talk dirty.”
“It’s all about discovering a woman’s secret wantonness and making it a fun thing. You’ve got to get the tone right, like busting her for being bad but reveling in her hungers. Like ‘See, what I’m about to do to you, it’s not your fault, because you’re tied up. But we both know it’s what you want, and I’m going to give it to you.’” The point, Damian explained, is to make yourself an agent of forces larger than either of you, using the burlesque of punishment and domination in the service of its opposite: helping her transgress the boundaries of ladylike behavior.
“It’s all about what she personally, really wants,” he added, “not about your desires at all. It’s never about ‘Yeah, you want me, baby, don’t you?’ because she’s just going to think, ‘No, actually, I’ve already got you.’”
Damian told me a story about a girlfriend who went away to France. When he visited her, he discovered that she’d slept with an ex-boyfriend in the interim. That night, he said, they lay in bed neither talking nor touching until very late, when they finally began fooling around. As things warmed up, he found himself teasing her about her lust for the other guy, about how “You really want him right now, too, don’t you? You do! I can tell! You want both of us. You want as much as you can possibly get!”
“And that worked?” I was a little uncomfortable.
“She went wild. See, not only was I not mad at her—why, I have no idea—but I was playing with fantasies of hers that I could never satisfy. That’s what put it over the top: because it was so clearly not about me; it could only be about her.”
Through the several courses of sushi with Karen, I got ready, thought through the dirty-talker’s task: to decode the other’s most forbidden yearnings—especially the ones you couldn’t satisfy—and offer them up as a joyous joint pleasure. To be, in short, a kind of dream lover, relinquishing all ego involvement in sex and celebrating the other’s total independence from you even while making love.
With that in mind, I leaned over at dinner’s end and whispered the only thing I could—the only truly sincere, genuinely sensible product of all that I had learned. “Karen,” I began.
“You know what I really, really want?”
“I want you to talk dirty to me.”