No, this is not one of those when having sex in... nodes -- instead, I'll discourse briefly on the topic of how to speak about sex in Japanese and, at least as importantly, how to avoid accidental misunderstandings.

If you've ever read Shogun or any of those pieces romantic fiction with a Japonesque veneer by James Clavell, you've probably heard about the Japanese penchant for euphemism. Most of this is bullshit -- any attempts to refer to a Jade Gate or Steaming Stalk are guaranteed to crack up any native speaker. (These funny terms come from Chinese poetry and Clavell's overactive imagination.) The nugget of truth behind this, though, is that Japanese often has ludicrously wide ranges of meaning for the same word: for example, hayai is both early and fast and neither is there a distinction between late and slow (osoi). And since sex is always a bit of a touchy topic, you can already see the trouble brewing here...

But let's start with an easy one.

  • "Ai shiteru!", breathlessly exclaims the Japanese soap opera starlet before falling into the arms of her lover. While usually (quite correctly) translated "to love", as used in the example above, ai suru is literally "to do love" and occasionally crosses the border into the English "to make love". Especially conditional expressions like Ai shite-mo ii? (May I love you?) and Ai shitai-no (I want to love you) are definitely non-platonic in intent. These can be quite romantic, perhaps even a bit exaggeratedly so if you aren't careful. The expressions Suki da (I like you) and Daisuki da (I really like you) are better for expressing affection, and no, they don't sound as pansy as their inexact translations.

  • Up next, the average Japanese textbook will tell you that neru means "to sleep". Your Japanese teacher, on the other hand, will hopefully soon clue you in to the fact that it also means "to have sex". Thus, to sleep with somebody means exactly what it would in English (which, mind you, is not what it would mean in most other languages), and a not uncommon proposition for sex is Issho-ni neyou? (Shall we sleep together?). This is a relatively classy way of referring to sex, much heard in J-pop and one of the most likely terms to use with a lover.

    Things get difficult when you want to refer to sleeping without sex, eg. "Do you want to sleep over tonight?" or even "Did you sleep well last night?". The easiest way to avoid unwanted implications is to try other words:

    • sleeping over: tomaru (verb)
    • being sleepy: nemui (adj.)
    • sleeping: nemuru (verb)

  • The second nasty case of definition slippage is that idaku, "to hug", has also come to mean "to fuck". The really annoying part is that there is really no decent way around this, so you have to rely on context when talking about giving your little sister or your poodle Fluffy a hug. Note that the slang form daku is even more likely to mean going for a roll in the hay, whereas the diminutive form dakko only refers to a Mom-and-kid type hug. The emphatic dakishimeru is "to hold tight" or "to embrace", not sex but an activity reserved for lovers just the same -- your saving grace is that the Japanese are a notably touch-averse people, so you are unlikely to engage in much hugging with people who aren't also sex partners.

  • One word for which the original meaning has been almost forgetten is hameru, originally "to insert". If you talk about putting it in with somebody, you really don't need to specify what you are inserting and where. You're unlikely to hear this outside all-male company.

  • Another step down on the scale of politesse, the expression kama wo horu -- literally "digging the pot" -- means anal sex, most probably between two men. Highly derogatory.

  • Then there's the all-purpose word yaru, which means "to do" and is used for any concievable type of doing -- including, of course, doing "it". As in English, leaving the object of the doing undefined will let the listener fill in their own assumptions, especially when using the construction yaru ("doing it with..."). Incidentally, the Japanese word yariman, "slut", comes from this and literally means "does ten thousand".

  • The anime crowd associates ecchi with tentacle sex, but while it comes from the first letter of the word hentai, "perverted", these days the construction ecchi suru (or ecchi yaru; ecchi can also be spelled just H) simply means having sex. In terms of flavor, this is a little crude and slangy, but very frequently used among younger folks.

  • The other common loanword is sekkusu, the Japanese spelling for "sex". Like the English word, this is often emblazoned on tabloids and can be used in more serious documents as well, but is not heard all that often in conversation. The expression sekkusu ga umai, meaning "skilled in bed", is common though.

  • And finally, an actual quaint euphemism:

    Issho-ni yoake no koohii nomanai?
    Shall we drink morning coffee together?

    There are many of these, of course, this one just appears to have been around for a millennium or so (although the coffee is a relatively new development). A more modern version often heard among exchange students is kokusai-kouryuu wo fukameru, or "deepening the level of international exchange".

Ijou desu. So go out there and do that thing!

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