13 Euphemisms for Sex in Chinese

06 Aug 2013

We all know that Chinese can be a little challenging to learn, and one of the reasons is cultural. Certain topics are not talked about openly by most Chinese, or at least not directly. Enter the euphemism, those delightful ways of subtly referring to a taboo topic without outright naming it (and befuddling all foreigners in the process!).

Below is a list of Chinese euphemisms (委婉语) for sex. These are all somewhat subtle, but they vary quite a bit in how modern or tactful they are. Just to be clear, if you use the words 做爱 (“make love”) or (“sex, sexuality”) or 性交 (“sexual intercourse”), you’re not being subtle, and dropping those words in polite company is likely to cause some embarrassment.

OK, so here’s the list:

ML

  1. sex: This one needs no expanation, except that since it’s an English word, rather than a Chinese word, it loses a lot of its taboo flavor in Chinese (thus it’s counted as a euphemism when it’s really just a translation).

  2. 那个: Literally, “that.” You know… that.

    Example: 他们有没有……那个过?

  3. ML: Stands for “Make Love.” So once euphemized by translation, and then euphemized once again by abbreviation. I asked native speakers if there is a “ZA.” You know… for 做爱. Of course there isn’t. (And at first, before the clarification, native speakers were even confused about what in the world I could be talking about. “ZA”? Zā?) This one is often used online.

    Example: ML的时候

  4. happy: You may know this word as an innocuous English adjective, but in Chinese it can sometimes be a verb.

    Example: 他们今天可能要happy一下。

  5. 睡觉: This one is pretty easy to just translate, since the euphemism is directly analogous to the English “sleep with someone.” Just remember to use in Chinese: ……(somebody) 睡觉.

    Example: 她不会跟你睡觉。

  6. 爱爱: So you know how in Chinese verbs can reduplicate, like saying 看看 for “take a (quick) look”? Well, in this particular euphemism, the same little grammar trick is used for the verb . Only it’s pretty unambiguous in Chinese. Cute, huh?

    Example: 他们今天可能要爱爱。

  7. 嘿咻: This one is a little hard to explain if you’ve never heard it, but it’s the sound someone makes when engaged in some kind of hard labor. The kind where you’re breathing hard. So it’s essentially an onomatopoeia turned into a verb.

    Example: 在车里“嘿咻” [source]

  8. 办事: This one is slightly problematic because 办事 is a little bit hard to nail down even in the non-euphemistic sense. It’s kind of like “get some work done,” or “handle some (official) business.” Perhaps the most (unintentionally) appropriate translation in this particular case is “handle affairs.”

    Example: 男人、女人“办事”时喜欢开灯和不开灯的理由 [source]

  9. 发生关系: I love how spontaneous this one sounds. 发生 means “happen” or “occur,” and 关系 means “relations” or “relationship.” So sometimes “relationships happen.” The interesting thing is that this one is actually fairly formal; it can be used as an almost classy euphemism without the need for any additional chuckling or winking.

    Example: 为什么男女发生关系后一切都变了? [source]

  10. 床上运动: “Exercise in bed.” Need I say more? Often used as a noun phrase.

    Example: 床上运动一周几次才正常? [source]

  11. 上床: “Get in bed.” Again, this one isn’t too hard for an English speaker to decode. As with 睡觉, the pattern is ……(somebody) 上床.

    Example: 她不会跟你上床。

  12. 房事: Literally, “room affair.” I’ve actually never heard this one myself, but I’m assured that it is definitely used, and sometimes even by doctors. It can also be used as a verb.

    Example: 怀孕后多久不能房事,为什么? [source]

  13. 云雨: Ah, “clouds and rain.” (Yeah, you know what I’m talking about!) This one is definitely the most poetic of the bunch. To me, it smacks of “the birds and the bees,” only classier.

    I’ve got no examples for this one. My searches turn up a whole bunch of Chinese people asking how 云雨 came to mean 做爱 in ancient Chinese. It’s not normally used in spoken Chinese.

So that’s enough euphemisms for now! Next euphemism post: Chinese euphemisms for death.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. brilliant, educational, and hilarious..

    need I say more..

  2. Great list! The 发生关系 reminds me of “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” And I think I learned 房事 from John P, many years ago. But my favorite is still 那个 for the vagueness of it.

  3. Thanks for the euphemisms. I’ll be sure to use the 5-1-3-6 2 for 3 technique on them. I have a funny feeling they’ll stick without too much effort. These are not phrases found in China’s Cultural Code Words! I should tell you: the book has been republished under a different title and by a different publisher. The new title is The Chinese Have a Word For It, published by McGraw Hill. (PS I have no affiliation with either the book or McGraw Hill. I am not plugging the book; I am only telling you about it because of the email we shared.)

  4. To be fair, we say “那个” in English too whenever we say that someone’s “doin’ it.” 房事 I’ve seen mostly in official or formal contexts.

  5. You left off one of my favorites…大活….hehe

  6. […] Sinosplice points out: “If you use the words 做爱 (‘make love’) or 性 (‘sex, […]

  7. A couple of suggestions~ don’t take them too seriously!
    圈圈叉叉 and 滚床单 that is not that different from 床上运动 but I find it very amusing : )

  8. Interesting that the next one will be about death, because in French, “la petite mort” (the little death) is a euphemism for orgasm.

  9. 跟……睡觉 is often abbreviated to 睡, and 睡 can be used as a transitive verb “我要睡她”

    上床 can also be shortened to 上 and similarly used as a transitive verb. These are not that classy

    Another of my favourites that didn’t make it to this list is to “push over” 推倒. AFAIK it comes from the literal motion of pushing a girl down on a bed.

    Ten years ago in Taiwan it may have been briefly cool to say “炒饭” as a euphemism as well; as far as I know it has no currency in the PRC.

  10. I’ve seen/heard the use of #2 and #9.. none of the others though.. but as you say, some of these are online things. With #9, I’ve never heard used with those 4 specific characters but more in the sense of “relations”

  11. John 房事 isn’t normally used as a verb. It has a verb form which is 行房.

  12. 云雨 is still used nowadays, and speaking it to someone who knows what it means could be very fun! 🙂

  13. There’s a series of (English-language) books by Qiu Xiaolong about a poet-detective (the “Inspector Chen” series). Inspector Chen is quite fond of quoting Chinese poetry, and the “Clouds and Rain” euphemism comes up quite a bit. =P Next time I get around to reading one of the books I’ll keep an eye out for the mention of any classical poems which sport the phrase.

  14. Just came across 顛鸞倒鳳 in a dictionary, which looks like a very poetic euphemism that no one would probably use nowadays…!

  15. 加深关系

    We use this one alot

    我们回房间加深关系吧
    或者

    我想和你加深关系

  16. I’m fond of “clouds and rain” because it comes up in perfectly innocent English sentences and makes me laugh.

  17. I suppose 洞房 doesn’t qualify as a euphemism, that’s what I’ve heard doctors say.

  18. 那个 similar to the English “do it”.

    You two just did it didn’t you. :p

  19. i think “翻云覆雨” is the right one….. not “云雨”…
    i am not sure..

  20. Michael Says: May 17, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    I remember going into a Teavana and loving green tea (of course 杭州春天龙井茶 is #1) sampling the 香 of the various containers they had before making a purchase as I had more than enough early spring Dragon Well. The young girl handed me another cannister and I fanned another whiff of scent and thought it was nice so asked her the tea’s name. She said in her innocence, “EMPEROR’S CLOUDS AND MIST GREEN TEA”. I turned away in a guffaw.
    She surely thought me crazy not knowing I had read translations of many early medical text of the Yellow Emperor and all those sexual euphemisms. I bent over and whispered to her what “Clouds and Rain [Mist]” alludes to and she would have made a bright red Chinese Lantern look midnight black. Young people are so fun to tease.

  21. azerdocmom Says: April 23, 2015 at 3:48 am

    Awesome post, haha. So fascinating!

  22. “Clouds and rain” apparently originates from the poem Gaotangfu by Song Yu in which a king meets the goddess of Wushan in a dream. The goddess says “in the morning I am a cloud, in the evening I come down like rain” when she gives herself to him.

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