I have been informed that it would be unwise to use the word “panties” in Fast Lane.

Panties.

First, a female editor I work with told me:

One of the things that I never liked about some of John Updike’s writing is that he tried to write as a woman. I don’t think it worked very well for him. In fact, I remember talking about Updike in a lit class in college and most of the men liked the book and the women didn’t (I think it was “S.”). The reason? One of the women said that when Updike called women’s underwear “panties,” it gave him away cuz that’s a decidedly male term. We all agreed that women never use the word “panties” and just call it underwear or underpants.

Then I asked my other editor, my wife, for a second opinion, and she told me “panties” is juvenile: “It’s what little girls wear.”

That sent me directly to my most recent Victoria Secret catalog. (Yes, VC sends me several of these a year, and it’s not a bad investment on their part.) I turned to my favorite spread—the one where they show mostly panties—and saw words like “brief,” “V-string,” “bikini” and, of course, “thong.”

And “panties.”

You’ve got your Hipster Panties, your Stretch Mesh Panties, your Signature Cotton Panties, your Secret Pink Panties and your ever-popular (I’m sure) Brazilian String Panties.

In fact, “panties” was the most common term for women’s underwear—and there was not a single depiction of anyone who might be confused for a “little girl.”

I was subsequently informed that this is because VC is aimed not at women, but at men.

What to conclude, then, when a Google search for “panties on sale” produces a Shopzilla screen that promises “great deals on panties,” followed by links not only to VC’s Sexy Little Things Satin Lace-up Hiphuggers, but also to Elle Macpherson Momamia Bikini Panties, Stretch Cotton Hicut Panties from Sears, Vanity Fair Caress Cotton Hi-Cut Brief—a smooth hi-cut panty, Regular Nylon Hi-Cut Panties from Land’s End and Hanes Women’s Perfect Panty Opaque Hi-Cuts, 2-Pack?

I don’t know about those Sexy Little Things and Elle Macphersons, but I guarantee you the target audience for the others was definitely not men.

None of the five women in my writer’s group objected to “panties” in the hottest of Fast Lane’s sex scenes, but if it’s not cool to use it, the word dies. A search found it lurking six times in the manuscript, including one in which Lara is being sarcastic.

And so I have some decisions to make. Just what kind of panties are Lara—and other women—taking off when they’re about to get it on? I’ll have to do more research—lots more research, in fact—but I can tell you one thing: Those Vanity Fair and Land’s End briefs, comfortable though they may be, are not in the running

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