Come or cum: We ask the hard questions about when to use which sexy term.

When Should You Use Come vs. Cum? It Depends What Kind of Sex You’re Describing.

When Should You Use Come vs. Cum? It Depends What Kind of Sex You’re Describing.

Lexicon Valley
A Blog About Language
July 17 2015 4:20 PM

When Should You Use Come vs. Cum? It Depends What Kind of Sex You’re Describing.

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Sorry about this picture.

Photo by Taylor Weidman/Getty Images

A note on reading this post: Please assume that every double entendre you encounter is intentional, unless it is not funny, in which case get your mind out of the gutter, perv.

Katy Waldman Katy Waldman

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer.

“When it comes to the spelling of cum,” wrote sex columnist Maureen O’Connor a few days ago, “I defer to the Strunk and White of filth, the Vice style guide. Come is the verb, cum the resulting substance.”

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Not so fast. Over at the Hairpin, Haley Mlotek jumped on O’Connor’s throwaway disclaimer. Her solution is to flush cum down the toilet in a Bounty square.

“It’s so … truncated,” she argued. “It’s squat. ‘Cum’ is for the men trying to get me to cyber with them on ICQ; it’s the paperbacks I found in the bookcase of a rental apartment my family once lived in. ‘Cum’ is the deliberately misspelled phrase that, to me, fails to denote any kind of sexually satisfying sleaze and instead only conjures up grease, a shortcut to pleasure, and there are no shortcuts to pleasure, or at least there shouldn’t be.”

This is both persuasive and wrong. (O’Connor’s argument-from-authority is unpersuasive and wrong, because the Vice style guide governs the use of cum/come in a highly specific context—Vice articles—and our sex lives are not Vice articles, thank you very much.) True, the spelling of the material and the act that produces it should not be part-of-speech dependent. There’s no precedent for such orthographic niceness: One juices, and one drinks juice. One surfs in the surf, and buckles one’s buckle, and sleeps by going to sleep. Likewise, one comes and the resulting emission, come, is qualitatively different from what you get when you cum, which is cum.

Rather than part-of-speech dependent, in other words, the spelling should be context dependent, because the tonal shimmer around cum is very distinct from the one around come. Come and cum are not two different words for the same act-cum-orgasm ectoplasm; they are two different words for two different acts-cum-orgasm ectoplasms. And all four meanings have their place.

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For example, there you are, having sweet vanilla sex with your shy, classically handsome crush, listening to vintage Taylor Swift while the pie in the oven gets a little burnt, though it’s still definitely edible. He comes, there is come, veni, weenie, vici.

Or: The standoffish but mysteriously attractive guy from the party wants to have his way with you. His pillows are made of leather. Crazy. “I’m gonna cum,” he grunts, and you reply, “Great.” Even if you don’t believe that these two situations are substantively different enough from each other to justify using two separate words, what’s your alternative? You cannot do away with come altogether without depleting our cultural supply of sexual puns: Come on our girls. Come on our Facebook page (a favorite of Slate’s DoubleX Gabfest). Come as you are (a sentence that is enthusiastically tautological if you try to complete it with the obvious participle, coming). The harder they come, the quicker they fall asleep. Etc.  

But nor do you want come all across the board. (Gross.) Just as we need puns, we also need cum, a term whose blunt force is commensurate with the raunchy sexual substance that occasionally shoots out of a dude’s eggplant emoji. Without getting too torrid about it, sometimes a gentleman is not coming in a liquid sigh of polite satisfaction but … cumming. Like a geyser with an attitude problem. Alan Cumming would “stick with cum,” which must count for something.

So, while Lexicon Valley eschews prescriptivism as a rule, it seems wise, just this once, to spray-paint some lines on the soccer field.

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Here are two scenarios in which you must use come:

  • In a piece of serious journalism, this one excluded. You shouldn’t presume to know the spirit in which the ejaculate was ejaculated and should revert to the more tasteful and less evocative option. Come, the more neutral term, preserves your subject’s privacy.
  • If you are screwing someone of delicate sensibilities, and he or she would be offended were you to describe your dalliances with the graphic U-version.

And here are some contexts in which it probably makes more sense to use come:

  • magazine article, real magazine
  • novel, literary
  • nonfiction, historical
  • letter to the editor, newspaper

Contexts in which it probably makes more sense to use cum:

  • magazine article, men’s magazine
  • novel, romance
  • nonfiction, steamy memoir
  • sexts

Contexts in which it doesn’t really matter:

  • in bed! Put down the notepad and be grateful for homonyms.