Hot, Holy & Humorous

What Are Your Trigger Words?

I have a friend who hates the word “sexy.” It has a negative connotation for her, while I’m eager to embrace the word when my husband uses it to refer to moi. Our histories and perspectives aren’t the same, and that’s okay. I’ve learned to adjust my word choice when I’m in conversation with her.

Especially since I have my own words about sex that trigger a negative feeling. Do you have trigger words as well? Do you know why they don’t work for you? And have you and your spouse discussed what language you both like?

Two Words I Dislike (from Ministries I Admire)

Juli Slattery of Authentic Intimacy has a fantastic ministry that addresses sex in marriage, but also sexuality throughout one’s life and in various circumstances. I heartily recommend that people check out her resources. But…

She talks a lot about “sexual discipleship.” And I cringe every time I see that phrase. I recognize her use of this term refers to something biblical and beautiful. However, years ago, someone close to me joined a “Christian” cult that emphasized having a mentor (monitor) who discipled you in the faith. That person eventually left, but the damage done by that experience left a scar in my life. From that experience, I concluded that, rather than relying on those who might abuse their power, I would allow myself to be discipled by Jesus alone.

But here’s the thing: the verb disciple simply means to teach or train. In that sense, Ananias discipled Paul. Aquila and Priscilla discipled Apollos. Paul discipled Timothy. And so on. My background makes me wary of that word, but that’s not Juli Slattery’s problem. She’s saying that Christians who understand God’s design for sex need to teach and train Christians and searchers who don’t know God’s design. Which is a great idea!

The second term I struggle with is “sexual anorexia.” It was coined decades ago by psychologist Nathan Hare to refer to a deep aversion, or a “loss of appetite,” for sexual activity, but it was perhaps more popularized by author Patrick Carnes in his book titled—[checks notes]—Sexual Anorexia. Many Christian counselors, marriage coaches, and sex therapists have adopted the term to discuss how individuals starve themselves of sexual intimacy due to fear, anxiety, and a desire for control—sometimes due to past trauma.

While I entirely agree with describing and confronting this scenario, the word anorexia was used against me time after time after time growing up. You see, I was a very thin girl. The most I ever weighed in high school was 104 pounds, my senior year. Believe me, I ate. But no matter what I took in, I was still a size 4 or less. And before you hate me for that…my thin frame involved having little to no curves. I ached to weigh more, to feel more womanly, to shop for clothes and have them just fit.

Instead, I had people constantly asking me if I was anorexic. Including my father. That word became a reminder that I was odd, skinny, less than woman. So I would never, in turn, use the word anorexic about someone without sure evidence, even with sexual in front of it. Something inside me flinches at the idea.

But that’s not Hare’s or Carnes’s problem. They weren’t the ones labeling me anorexic when I wasn’t. (And let me pause here and say that I have enormous compassion for those who have struggled with anorexia. It’s a terrible condition, and I pray for all who have experienced it, especially that they find healing and health.)

Have I Used Your Trigger Word?

Sometimes I say something in a way that triggers a reader and they let me know. I try to clarify my meaning, but it’s more than possible that I used a word or phrase that has a negative connotation for them. And I don’t always know what to do about that. Should I stop using perfectly good words because they don’t work for a few people out there?

If someone makes a good case why I shouldn’t use a term, I certainly take that into account. On our podcast, Sex Chat for Christian Wives, I try to stay away from words that don’t land quite right for my cohosts. Knowing, of course, that they represent not only themselves but other wives who feel the same way. But of course, we can’t catch everything that might trigger someone out there.

Indeed, when I read the Bible, I may come across a word or phrase that hits me all wrong. Sometimes I wish we could change some words that have so much baggage the core meaning of a passage gets lost (e.g., submission). But that’s not the fault of God’s Word. Rather, I have to know my triggers and discern accordingly.

Still, if I’ve used a term that made you wince, I’m sorry. That was not my intention. Rather, I try to speak clearly while also varying my word choice to reach an array of readers.

Does Your Spouse Know Your Trigger Words?

Whatever I say pales in comparison to how your spouse speaks to you about sex. I’ve devoted a fair amount of time and effort over the years helping couples communicate more tenderly and effectively about sexual intimacy. I wrote a whole book about it!

Pillow Talk Book Ad - click to learn more

I’ve also addressed using words that work for your beloved, with such posts as Talking Flirty vs. Talking Dirty, 5 Sex Words I Really Want to Change, and 101 Words for Your Private Parts (But No Curse Words).

But the best way to know what triggers your spouse is to ask. And the best way your spouse can learn your trigger words is to tell them. I’m hoping this post will encourage couples to have this important conversation!

The best way to know what triggers your spouse is to ask. And the best way your spouse can learn your trigger words is to tell them.


Just find a time when stress is low, when you can focus a bit, and when you’re in a neutral or positive-for-both-of-you space and then pose questions like:

  • “Are there words or phrases I use to talk about sex that bother you?”
  • “What words would you like me to use to talk about our bodies and sex?”
  • “Did you know that I don’t like _____ [word/phrase]?”

Talk about the why behind your triggers. Some spouses use vulgar or condescending language that most spouses would object to, but sometimes—like the words I shared above—it’s just about your own background. If that’s the case, interpret their words in the best light while requesting a change in how you discuss the topic.

And if you’re the spouse asked to change your words, follow through. It doesn’t have to make sense to you. You may not ever understand why a particular term makes your beloved cringe, but “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). Show love and honor by cooperating with their request.

By speaking in ways that demonstrate esteem for your spouse, you foster emotional safety and greater marital intimacy overall—both of which are prerequisites for a healthy and happy sex life in marriage.

6 thoughts on “What Are Your Trigger Words?”

  1. My wife hates the term “low sex drive”. Her sex drive is just “different according to her. Even though she has little desire for sex, she will not talk to her doctor about…it is too embarrassing. Since we are in our 60’s, I need to learn to adapt to her desires otherwise I am being selfish. As a Christian husband, I have learned to adapt to her desires.

  2. There really aren’t too many trigger words between my spouse and me. I’m not a fan of a certain crass words that seem to be making a creep into what is considered acceptable speech.

    Under the Christian marriage umbrella I’m not a fan of authors using the word b*tch or its various forms. You can take this sentence out if it violates the rules of your blog.

    This is one that see occasionally that just doesn’t apply to the marriage space but my workspace as well. Using the term gal or girl instead of wife/woman. Or when at work say “Can one of the nursing assistants help me?” instead of “Can one of the girls help me” when referring to young women who are over the age of 18. I find it infantilizing and cringeworthy.

    I think terms like godly, biblical and Christian can be misused as a justification to guilt individuals into doing things in the bedroom they don’t want to do. There might be no specific prohibitions against wearing clown suits in the bedroom, but that doesn’t mean God requires us to do so. It is especially troubling when these terms are used to justify things that are potentially harmful or degrading to one of the individuals involved.

    Some words just send mixed messages, like your example of anorexia. It might be appropriate in my work environment to say John has anorexia related to his cancer diagnosis but saying decreased appetite instead comes with less baggage. I’d never heard of the books or authors you mention but I think it would be fair to discuss if there is better terminology than sexual anorexia.

  3. Good topic.

    Some of us seem to have a rolodex of words that we don’t like to hear. Some can be explained, and some can’t.

    I have to do better in that department and take into account there is a reason why certain words would be considered “buzz words” to some but not to others. Here are 3 examples: “Caress” “Sweet” and “Wonderful” (my buzz word)

    A few years ago, I read in a different thread that a younger contributing writer proclaimed that she can’t stand the word “Caress” almost to a point to where she was critical to those that use it. Whereas, in the generation I grew up, “caress” was a romantic word. My spouse also likes that word.

    I believe that my wife has the most beautiful heart and good looks on the planet and have told her as much. It was only recently that she told me that she didn’t like telling her how “Sweet” she is. (she thought “Sweet” was a little demeaning)

    She didn’t know that secretly I thought her kindness and the way she conducts herself around me and others and rarely saying anything negative was emotionally appealing, extremely attractive and very sexy. She skipped a heartbeat when I told her that and now, she actually likes it when I refer her as “sweet”.

    Long story about “wonderful” that has nothing to do with the bedroom or even my spouse, but used by someone that irritated me, a long time ago. To our surprise, we soon discovered, that the word “wonderful” during intimacy (and the way she said it) caused the blood to stop flowing, going from hard to soft in less than a minute. Later we got a little chuckle out of it, though at the time of heated passion, I felt as if my own immaturity left her feeling very stranded.

    She says a lot during intimacy and may have used the word “wonderful” before I heard that word passed through that irritating colleagues’ mouth, but after that she has never used the word “wonderful” during the act of making love again.

  4. Fortunately, my wife and I are in the same page with most words. There is only one word that I absolutely love she doesn’t care for, and it isn’t something like the ‘F’ word. She has heard it in a derogatory manner so it is out. Not an issue with me. My wife is not a vocal person, so I am not at all disappointed.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *