Mandarin Love: Chinese Idioms For Talking About Sex

A red, light-up sign that says "Sex in progress"
(photo by Jean KOULEV)

Maybe it’s the summer, but I’ve got love…and love-making on my mind.

So let’s talk about sex, baby…in Chinese. The language has some splendid idioms on the subject — here are three of my favorites. And who knows? Maybe a little talk about what goes on beside your pillows might turn into a little pillow talk after all.

干柴烈火 (gānchái lièhuǒ)
You know them, those couples or newlyweds who just “can’t keep their hands off each other,” who really need to get a hotel room. Well, imagine the passion that gets ignited between these guys behind closed doors, the sparks that fly. That’s the idea behind this idiom, which means literally “raging fire and dry wood,” but is really about a couple caught in incredible passion.

When this pair of young lovers first slept together, it was like a raging fire and dry wood, burning with passion.
这对小情人第一次上床就像干柴烈火, 激情燃烧。
zhèduì xiǎoqíngrén dìyīcì shàngchuáng jiùxiàng gānchái lièhuǒ,jīqíng ránshāo.

男欢女爱 (nánhuān nǚài)
For couples, at its best, sex can offer some serious fun. That’s the heart of this idiom, which literally says “man happy, woman love” and means “a couple enjoying themselves sexually.” Let’s just hope that enjoyment is yours — and not your neighbor’s (see example). 😉

Our neighbors are college students. At night we always hear them enjoying themselves sexually, and it really makes us envious.
我们的邻居是大学生;晚上经常听到他们男欢女爱, 让人妒忌。
Wǒmen de línjū shì dàxuéshēng;wǎnshang jīngcháng tīngdào tāmen nánhuān nǚài, ràngrén dùjì.

巫山云雨 (wūshān yúnyǔ)
Arguably one of the most classic Chinese idioms to describe sex — with a pretty cool story behind it. Supposedly, there once was a King Chuhuai who traveled to a spot on the Yangtze River with scenery named “Rainclouds over Wushan.” He fell asleep and dreamt of a fairy woman who said she was from Wushan. Then she “offered him her pillow and mat,” which King Chuhuai realized meant a lot more than just sharing bedding. 😉 After they truly enjoyed themselves, the Wushan woman told him, if you ever want to find her, just remember Wushan — clouds in the morning, rain in the evening.

The idiom is literally “Rainclouds over Wushan,” just like the name for the scenery. But if you drop it in a sentence, I guarantee you that people won’t be thinking of tourism on the Yangtze. 😉

A couple of lovers came out of a hotel as if they were walking on air; one look and we knew they had just had sex inside.
Yíduì qínglǚ cóng lǚguǎn chūláile,piāopiāorán de yàngzi,yíkàn jiù zhīdào tāmen zài lǐmiàn wūshān yúnyǔle.


What are your favorite Chinese idioms for talking about sex?

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22 thoughts on “Mandarin Love: Chinese Idioms For Talking About Sex

  • August 17, 2012 at 9:18 am

    If married couples can still enjoy sex like 偷香窃玉 touxiang qieyu (literally like stolen scent and pilfered jade) ah, like the thrill of illicit sex, won’t that surely add to their sex life? 巫山云雨 wushan yunyu is a clever and subtle reference that makes me laugh!

  • August 17, 2012 at 11:22 am

    I wonder who is the Chinese person here. I found “Dreams Over Red Mansions”.
    I prefer English expressions in this department, more explicit. Ideal choice a man to get it on.

  • August 17, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    @Dan is it by Cao Xueqin? I’m reading the fifth volume and so far I fail to understand how the novel is sexual…

    Nice phrases by the way, reminds me that I wish summer was over already. (Not fun being single, living in a state that has minimum public transportation, and that has temperatures where 100 F is very common and well known.)

  • August 17, 2012 at 12:33 pm


    In chapter 6 of the book.

  • August 17, 2012 at 6:03 pm


  • August 17, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    Sex related joke
    Couple fighting in midnight: no good!

    没好事(no good) mei haoshi has double meaning: 1 dirty stuff, 2 Did not work.

  • August 17, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    Steamy post Jocelyn! 🙂 On this topic, ‘The Lover’ is my favourite film. I recommend it to those who haven’t seen it. I have yet to read the book, which is apparently excellent too.

  • August 17, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    One of my favorite movies of all times.

  • August 18, 2012 at 12:37 am

    “Repeat After Me” is a good modern day story.

  • August 18, 2012 at 2:24 am


  • August 18, 2012 at 10:25 am

    Blossom………..Thank you
    The first time I heard about this movie

  • August 18, 2012 at 11:01 am

    … The movie is very good

  • August 19, 2012 at 6:52 am

    鱼水之欢 The happyness of fish and water, means sex
    (and its not about cooking, the next one neither :D)
    生米煮成熟饭 Uncooked rice was cooked to boiled rice, means unmarital pregnancy

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  • August 20, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    haha this is hot steamy n super awesome…thks 4 posting ^^

  • August 22, 2012 at 9:16 pm



  • June 24, 2015 at 11:57 pm

    Hi, Any Classical Chinese experts out there?
    Am studying an inscription from the Korean Goryeo Period (read R to L, Up-Down) c.~ 1200s, possibly earlier


    述郞徒 is definitely an historical figure
    南 石 obv. seems to be a place, but could be a person

    Could 行 in this inscription have a sense other than “go”?
    Could it mean comradeship or some other meaning??

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