What exactly does this phrase mean? Specifically, is groins used here as an idiom? Or just coined by the speaker here? Here is the context:

What I hope for the future is that all that major religions of the world (the chief promulgators of homophobia, after all) will finally lose their grip on the groins of their followers and begin preaching decency and human kindness. Fat chance, I know, but a boy can dream.

The article in which I saw this phrase was Armistead Maupin: ‘When Stonewall Happened, I Was Smoking My First Dick, So I Was a Little Distracted’

I know the meaning of grip. It’s the groins that I don’t understand. Why should the speaker choose groins instead of maybe arms or heads or minds? I mean, is gripping someone’s groins an idiom used by many people, or is it just a choice made by the speaker?

Is it a metaphor of one’s sexuality, taking into consideration homophobia in the context of the entire article?

  • Incidentally, I think he actually means "release their grip" rather than "lose their grip": the latter would be if their followers were to abandon or ignore their preaching, but the rest of the sentence makes clear that his actual hope is for the preaching itself to change.
    – ruakh
    Jun 6, 2019 at 21:26
  • @ruakh: They could have meant "loose", which is defined in the OED (as a verb) as "to release". However, "lose" makes sense here to. To loose/release your grip is something you do willingly. To lose your grip is something that happens without you wanting to. The latter is equally possible.
    – Flater
    Jun 7, 2019 at 14:38

6 Answers 6


To explain why 'groin' was used in this context you need to understand a well used phrase:-

'To have someone by the balls(testicles)'

Cambridge Dictionary. ‘to have someone in a situation where you have complete power over them’

Macmillan Dictionary 'to have complete control over someone, so that they have to do what you want'

The phrase 'get (someone) by the balls'

The Free Dictionary vulgar 'To gain complete control or dominance over someone; to have someone at one's mercy.'

If you now replace 'groins' with 'balls' to read “lose their grip on the balls of their followers” you will reach similar conclusions to @Mixolydian's answer:-

The author is saying that most religions have (depending on their actual religion) a fairly rigid control over what their followers believe in and in particular to this statement their stance on homosexuality.

So using the phrase “lose their grip on the groins of their followers” the author means religions should ‘loosen their grip on the said testicles’ and allow their followers more freedom of thought, ‘embracing’ all people, not just the people that subscribe to their own religious beliefs, sexuality, lifestyle, etc.

  • 2
    The groins are of their followers, thus both men and women. Your answer limits the scope of the euphemism.
    – Lambie
    Jun 5, 2019 at 21:28
  • 12
    @Lambie You can have anyone by the balls - its a figure of speech. Its the meaning of the phrase rather than the words used. All of the dictionary references use the term 'someone'; you'll note they don't use man.
    – 7caifyi
    Jun 5, 2019 at 21:32
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    I think this may be relevant, but the aspect discussed in the answers by Lambie and Mixolydian of goin as a metaphor for sexuality is even more important here. Jun 5, 2019 at 21:45
  • Not only is it this, it's probably a specific allusion to the famous quote "if you've got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow."
    – hobbs
    Jun 6, 2019 at 15:10
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    I don't think it's a particular allusion to "having them by the balls", but rather meant to suggest that religion very specifically tried to control people's sexuality (and thus they should "lose grip", i.e. stop doing that). "To have someone by the balls" suggests that you can get them to do anything, but the article seems to just focus on controlling people's sexuality. (I would agree with someone stating that religion has its follower by the balls, but I don't agree that this article is trying to state exactly that)
    – Flater
    Jun 7, 2019 at 14:44

I think "groins" is used rather than "arms" or "heads" or "minds" because this represents people's sexuality (EDIT: Lambie's answer makes this more clear - the groin is the part of the body where one's abdomen meets one's legs - where the sexual organs are located). You are right to think that this word is chosen because of the discussion of homophobia. The author is saying that he wishes the major religions of the world would stop trying to repress the sexuality of homosexual people and instead allow homosexual people to live their lives. Trying to control people in this way goes against the values of decency and human kindness, which the author hopes the religions will realize (even though he doesn't have much confidence that this will ever happen).


"The groins" is a euphemism for the area that includes genitalia in a male or female. The place near sex organs in the human body.

It is a nice way of saying: penises and vaginas, to put it bluntly.

It's that simple, really.

The author is saying that the homophobia crowd should stop worrying about their own followers' sexual organs, which after all is what they do seem to be fixated on indirectly.

  • 4
    It's not a nice way - I'd say it's a rather crude metaphor, lightly veiled. This phrasing is meant to be aggressive and shocking - I would be careful using it generally as it is not a polite expression (not the word "groin", generally, but as it is used in the context cited by OP)
    – J...
    Jun 6, 2019 at 11:33
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    You failed to point out that it a common metaphor in English is that if someone has you by the short and curlies - they have complete control over what you do often by way of blackmail. I guess the next most common I can think of is "with a gun to the head" - They're saying that the major regions of the world have full control of the followers; and it has nothing to do with anyones sexual organs
    – UKMonkey
    Jun 6, 2019 at 11:41
  • Edit: Re-reading - yes it does have things to do with sexual organs; but it's a play on words for both - which is why it's a clever line. I think the correct answer should flag both points.
    – UKMonkey
    Jun 6, 2019 at 11:47

It's to do with how religions like to control the sexuality of their followers; that is, their gods are conveniently very concerned about what people do with their groins.


Perhaps the meaning is relatated to this quote from Theodor Roosevelt (https://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/54/messages/368.html)

When you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow

I understand this to mean that you have some kind of control over someone and, through that control, you force them to change their way of thinking.


You're correct that the phrase conveys the same thing as if it had said "arms" or "heads" or "minds" instead. "Groins" is simply used to convey a stronger image; for approximately 50% of the population, a strong grip on their groin is very unpleasant (and not exactly desirable for the other 50%).

  • 5
    Don't agree. See Mixolydian's answer.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 5, 2019 at 14:20
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    Also, I'm pretty sure women would find a strong grip on their groins as very unpleasant too, not just "not desirable".
    – BruceWayne
    Jun 5, 2019 at 20:30
  • @BruceWayne You can't really grip a woman by the groin. It would be crotch and we all know who used the other term as he descended from that bus. [ahem]
    – Lambie
    Jun 5, 2019 at 23:05

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