Sex-related phrases have all kinds of connotations—make sure you’re aware of them before using them

Tales of sex in China all too often appear in media as a misunderstood amalgamation of simulation, sex toys, the brand Uniqlo, and, er, fox spirits.

It doesn’t help that sex education is pretty dismal, with a few notable exceptions. So how does one pursue an open and honest relationship, given the sensitivity of the subject?

TWOC can’t help the lonely get laid. We can, however, illuminate the connotations of some common sex-related phrases, so you can at least talk about it normally.

性交 (xìngjiāo, “coitus”)

Think of this as the Chinese equivalent to “sexual intercourse”. It is generally used in a more scientific setting and less as a pick-up line at the local watering hole.



Xìngjiāo shì yī zhǒng xìngmǎnzú de fāngfǎ.

Sexual intercourse is a method for sexual satisfaction.

做爱 (zuò’ài, “make love”)

Making love can be some of the most romantic times in a person’s life. Unfortunately, saying this in Chinese can sound corny and elicit unseen chuckles (and in English, too, really).



Yī duì fūqī zuò’ài hěn zhèngcháng.

It is normal for a couple to have sex.

上床 (shàngchuáng, “go to bed”)

Although the translation seems innocuous, this phrase does not refer to “going to bed to get much needed sleep,” but is more like the English phrase “to sleep with someone” (which does not imply shut-eye with a partner).  If you need to mean sleep, use 睡觉 (shuìjiào). If you want an inoffensive way to refer to sex performed between two or more individuals, use 上床.



Nǐ xiǎng gēn wǒ shàngchuáng ma?

Do you want to go to bed with me?

骑 (qí, “ride”)

A word that is often used in conjunction with forms of transport, 骑 gained its sexual connotation due to the popularization of certain inventive positions. While more commonly used to describe particular acts, it can be employed in a more general sense.



Jīntiān tài lèile. Zuótiān qíle yī wǎnshàng.

Too tired today. Was riding all last night.

打炮 (dǎpào, “fire cannon”)

In truth, any reference to shooting projectiles can be skewed for innuendo. However, to “fire the cannon” is the most common euphemism for ejaculation or climax.



Wǒ shìyǒu hé tā nán péngyǒu dǎpào shēngyīn tài dàle.

The sex noises that my roommate and his boyfriend make are too loud.

啪啪啪 (pāpāpā, “pa pa pa”)

This entry is probably the most fun to say, literally, due to its onomatopoeic properties. 啪啪啪 has quickly become a playful and naughty method to describe carnal acts.



Pā pā pā háishì guàngjiē, nǐ xuǎn nǎge?

Sex or shopping, which one do you choose?

艹 (cào)

The educated will recognize this “character” as a radical often used within chlorophyll-adjacent words. By itself, it would normally lack meaning. However, when talking about sex, cao (and other homonyms) is regarded as the equivalent to the F-word. Plus it has the bonus of being a commonly used curse.



Wǒ gēmen er bèi tā nǚ péngyǒu cào le.

My mate was f***** by his girlfriend.

Bonus: 打飞机 (dǎfēijī, lit. “hit the aeroplane”)

This one is for the more lonely or unlucky amongst you. Hitting or beating the plane is an activity that requires a minimum of one, making it the perfect pastime to accomplish in dark rooms in front of a single glowing blue screen.



Lǎopó méiliǎo. Xiǎosān er méiliǎo. Zhǐ shèng xià dǎfēijī.

Wife’s gone. Mistress’s gone. All that’s left is to hit the plane.

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Ethan Yun is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese.