My new girlfriend is fantastic in every way — apart from one. She uses really cutesy pet names for me in bed. I don’t want to embarrass her, but I find it so unsexy. It turns me off.
You clearly don’t like the cutesy moniker that your girlfriend has settled on, but you forget that pet names are never picked by the pet.
They are chosen by the person who loves the pet. When a mother calls her tiny baby ‘peanut’, the pet name signifies bonding, connection and, to some degree, ownership. There can be an element of possessiveness and exclusivity to pet names too.
As you rightly point out, it’s not easy to tell someone that the words they use during sex turn you off — when you really like someone, it is natural to want to avoid saying anything that might hurt, offend or embarrass them.
However, it is far better to nip relationship niggles like this in the bud. If you hold back out of politeness, you deny your girlfriend the opportunity to change — and you also undermine your own sexual experience.
Although it is normally best to have conversations about sex when you are not actually having it, in this case, making your point when she next offends is going to be more effective. As soon as she says the word, tell her that you really don’t like it when she speaks like that during sex.
If it is any consolation the longer you stay with your new girlfriend, the less of an issue this is likely to be.
Research by the evolutionary biologist Justin Garcia suggests that the use of pet names is at its most extreme in the early stages of a relationship. New couples apparently spend about 10 minutes of every hour together using romantic talk or ‘loverese’.
Anyone who has had the misfortune to witness these sweet nothings knows that what feels charming for the loving couple, is cringey for the innocent observer.
The good news is that it stops relatively quickly. Garcia believes that ‘loverese’ bonds new couples in the same way that ‘parentese’ — the singsong speech that mums and dads use — bonds parents to their babies. Once the relationship cements, idiosyncratic communication is no longer required.
In romantic relationships, pet names are a quick way to communicate feelings of affection, but they are also a good indication of mood.
No one uses pet names when they are angry or in a terrible mood, so your girlfriend is obviously happy with you, and with the relationship.
Several studies have identified a positive link between relationship satisfaction and using terms of endearment.
In her rather lovely 1993 paper ‘Sweet Pea’ and ‘Pussy Cat’: An Examination of Idiom Use and Marital Satisfaction Over the Life Cycle, Carol J Bruess, the director of family studies at the University of St Thomas, Minnesota, found that happier couples used more pet names and nicknames.
Similarly, in her online study of 100,000 participants, Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle, found that 76% of people, who described themselves as being in ‘very happy’ relationships, reported using pet names.
The trouble with these studies is that they look at general, rather than sexual pet-name usage, and there is a distinct difference. When you are putting the bins out an appreciative pet name can be endearing. When mid-coitus it can be unsexy.
Although love and sex are inextricably linked, the language of erotic desire is very different to the language of tenderness and affection. Hopefully, you can encourage your girlfriend to leave cute outside the door.
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