Alexis on the Sexes: Check it out

ALEXIS MCKINNIS | Updated 8/17/2012

Of sexy etymology and marital sex ruts.


Q: I was wondering what the origin of the word "cum" is, as in orgasm. Does it have any relation to the Greek word "cum," or was it just a lazy way of spelling it for the sake of getting off in the early days of cyber sex? Urban Dictionary is not much help.

A: Urban Dictionary is a real mine field, isn't it? As far as defining sexual acts, it can be downright offensive, not to mention wholly inaccurate.

Never fear -- my all-things-sex, hide-it-when-Grandma-comes-over book collection is here. For your question, we refer to one of my all-time favorites, "Sexy Origins and Intimate Things" by Charles Panati. Panati explains that linguists believe the alternate spelling does indeed come from hot and bothered script, but its origins date back to Shakespeare's era rather than the dawn of online sex chat.

The word "come" was a briefer form of "come at" and "come unto," both of which were used liberally in text as a printable euphemism for copulation. In a time before peep shows, porn and the Internet, books were the only media one had to stimulate the imagination during masturbation. To assist readers, writers changed the spelling of the word depending on how it was being used. If a reader wanted to skip ahead to the juicy part, they needed only to scan the page for "cum." In this context, the word bears no relation to its non-sexy Greek "cum," which simply means "with."

Q: Great advice for the gal who gets no oral pleasure from boyfriend ("Balance due," Nov. 10). I have the reverse problem, and it is not looking like I will get any blow jobs in this life if I stay with the wife and stay loyal. I go down on her as much as possible and she loves it. I've learned to breathe out of my ears. But I am sadly longing for a serious blow job or 70. When she has tried on rare occasion, it is rather pathetic and she is not into it. Same for her attempts at being on top. I may not be willing to hold out hope much longer or stay faithful. The missionary sex is great otherwise.

A: What about blow jobs and being on top is so off-putting for your wife? Does she feel too self-conscious, or is there some deep-seated guilt or shame over certain parts of sex? If you're interested in staying married, a dialogue must happen, either alone together or with the help of a marriage therapist. You've probably cemented your sexual behavior patterns, but hopefully you and your wife can overcome what seems to be a psychological roadblock on her end. Unlike the case of the girl with the selfish boyfriend, I don't believe your wife doesn't love you enough to make simple compromises in the bedroom -- the difference is that they're not simple for her.

Why don't you give "Mating in Captivity" by Esther Perel a read? Perel doesn't tell you to talk it out over a box of Kleenex; she marches you straight into the bedroom. Her strategy to renewing eroticism relies heavily upon distance, explaining how intimacy and stability in a marriage can often kill the physical element. You and your wife see each other as symbols of security and equality. That's about as sexy as the missionary position twice a week.

Change the dynamic by not discussing your respective bad days over dinner. Take up a new after-work pastime that keeps you out of each other's hair a few nights a week. Without encouraging readers to step out of bounds, Perel even suggests that affairs aren't always a bad thing in marriage; they often draw attention to an absence of passion and help renew carnal desire. Essentially, ambiguity recreates eroticism. It's a very smart book, and I think your wife might surprise you with a willingness to try one or more of Perel's modern methods.