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In college, my friend Audrey wrote her senior thesis about the clitorisspecifically about cultural representations of the clitoris in relation to feminism and the female body. One of her chapters focused on slang; she argued that the lack of nicknames for the clitoris (compared to other sexual anatomy) mirrored its scarcity in many areas of representation, including sex education, medical literature, and even sex in mainstream movies. It's true: There are nearly a thousand words and phrases to describe a penis, hundreds to describe a vagina, and only a handful for the clit. I was reminded of the language of sex and all the bizarre synonyms for sexually related words there are when I went to a party a few weeks ago.
After ogling women covered in body paint at the "Girls!Girls!Girls!" exhibit at the MF Gallery on the Lower East Side, my friends and I headed to Madame X in the West Village. Upstairs, the bar was abuzz with about 100 people, scattered in clumps throughout the long skinny space, there to play a game called PervArtistry (pervartistry.com). At one end, about a dozen twenty- and thirtysomethings sat on couches as a woman drew a picture on a large board on an easel in front of them. The crowd seemed stumped. Based on the words they shouted out, it was definitely a sex toy of some kind. Suddenly, the oldest, least hip-looking guy in the room shouted, "Rotating vibrator!" and the woman at the easel squealed, "Yes!"
Invented by 34-year-old Christi Smith and launched in November 2003, PervArtistry combines charades and Pictionary with a twist: All the words and expressions are naughty. One player from a team draws a card and shares it with one player on the other team. Each card has an erotic term and indicates how the person can give clues (either by acting it out or drawing it); teams try to guess the same answer simultaneously and the first team to guess correctly wins a point. Cards contain everything from ulth camel toe and muff dive to felching and golden shower (the latter pair are both labeled "warning: super kinky"). The "super kinky" label seemed random, at least to my friends, who did not consider orgy party all that kinky. Some terms were straightforward, others popular euphemisms, and a few just totally obscure: pink velvet sausage wallet and one-eyed trouser trout, anyone? I'm fascinated by how we describe our parts and our practices; the phrases are sexy, silly, old-fashioned, offensive.
I felt pretty confident when we sat down to play. As someone who combs erotic thesauruses like The Bald-Headed Hermit and the Artichoke for fun, I assumed I'd know all of the smutty jargon we'd be trying to deduce. I was proven wrong in the first round when my teammate drew what looked like several starbursts on the dry-erase board. After dozens of wrong guesses, finally someone said hesitantly, "Snowflakes?" and she was right. We all sat back, bewildered about how snowflakes was a sexual term. "I know what snowballing is," said one friend. (Me too: when a guy comes in his partner's mouth, then kisses her and retrieves his own semen; sometimes, they pass it back and forth.) Unable to come up with a definition, we finally called over Christi's partner Ted, whose business card says he's the chief operating officer of PFF Entertainment, the company they started together to market the game.
"Snowflakes are the dried flakes of semen that end up on your skin or clothes," said Ted in a warm Southern accent that made his definition delivery all the dirtier. We nodded collectively and realized there might be more erotic vernacular we'd learn as the night went on. Ted also reassured us that we were not the only people clueless about a word or two. When the game first hit the market, Christi got so many e-mails and letters that she added a glossary to the website.
With more than 500 nicknames and sayings (narrowed down from 800, according to her), how did she find all of them? They "came from friends, the Internet, The Big Book of Filth, test parties we did all over the country, and yes, my own personal naughty mind," said Christi. I was dying to know which one piece of sexy slang stumped the most players. "It is not easy to draw and only so many people know of it, but it was too funny for me to leave out of the game. It's called 'the Stranger'when a man sits on his hand until it goes numb and then masturbates, it feels as if it is a stranger. Only a man would think of something like this!"
Although the PervArtistry empire has grown, with parties like the one I attended (which happen every Tuesday at Madame X) and a new line of T-shirts, Christi, a self-described "tech geek," still has her day job. One day, she'd love to be a full-time entrepreneur, but for now she only moonlights as the Mistress of All Words Perverse.
The same evening, I talked to a 30-year-old woman from Brooklyn Heights who was introduced to Christi and Ted through a friend of a friend: "We met them at a Gen Art event. I remember her inviting me to one of their parties and saying emphatically, 'We're not swingers!' It never occurred to me that they were!" It was her first time attending the event and her first time playing the game. "You really let go of your inhibitions when you play. My husband keeps guessing the right answers and I don't understand how he knows all these terms." Another game virgin said he thought the gathering might be a good place to meet women. He's not far off: Christi told me that a couple who met playing the game together at one of their parties is now engaged.