Making love in Korean

Not that you’ll find it a lot in k-dramas. But emilyazel and I had a lengthy discussion about the various ways of expressing intimate relationships in Korean. I thought it was too good not to share, and therefore I’m doing so with her permission.

The following is her input, organized and formatted by me. We welcome any insights!

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I’m not sure I can answer this in an exhaustive manner, but here is what I know about the topic: the Korean society is very, very prude with everything that concerns sex, and it is treated, on a social level, as a sort of taboo. Which is the root of a societal problem, because if sex is stigmatized in social and educational setups, it gives way to very unhealthy practices and habits in individuals.

Here are a few expressions pertaining to it:

  • 성교하다 (seonggyo hada) is the most neutral and direct. It means «have sex», quite literally. I’ve never seen or heard it be used anywhere in everyday life. It seems to be used more like we would say «have sexual intercourse», it’s kind of formal register.

  • 씹하다 (ssipada) translates to copulate or have sexual intercourse, but in a vulgar way, so in English it would probably be translated to « to f** »…

  • 섹스를 하다 (sekseulul hada) is just the use of the English word «sex» and is very direct, it means “to have sex”. It’s used often when needing to be direct, more often than the Korean word in younger generations, because I guess using an English word helps to detach oneself from it.

  • 성행위를 하다 (seonghaengwireul hada) literally means ‘do the sexual deed’ (성 seong = sex, sexual ; 행위 haengwi = act, deed)

  • 행위를 하다 “do the deed”. I think sometimes it is used implicitly, like in English.

  • -랑 자다, "sleep with ~ "; is the one which is used the most often. I think what makes it obviously sexual is if it’s used exactly like this, with the ‘with’ marker -랑, for example in “너랑 자고 싶다” (= I want to sleep with you). For me, any other form of “to sleep” isn’t necessarily sexual, but this one doesn’t have any ambiguity (or almost none).

  • 같이 자다, to sleep together, is similar but less direct and has a little bit more ambiguity.

  • 합방 (hapbang) literally means “shared room” (more like “faire chambre commune” in French), so it can mean “sleep in the same room”, and in some context it metaphorically means to sleep together as in make love (but not necessarily). I guess this one is the least direct one, the one that is the most often ambiguous.

  • Sometimes, 합궁 (hapgung) can be used instead but I think it’s more direct: it is the same as hapbang but actually comes from the monarchy, and literally means “shared palace”, since at that time the King and Queen lived in different palace quarters except on the nights they were supposed to produce a heir (this is mostly my interpretation, though)… In my opinion, using ‘hapgung’ nowadays is more direct than using ‘hapbang’, because I think the allusion to sex is much more obvious, while ‘hapbang’ can still be interpreted as just sharing a room. But those two words would be used more in a joking way, since it is so metaphorical.

  • 성 관계를 갖다 “have a sexual relationship”, make love (to/with). 성 관계 (seong gwangye) means sex, sexual relationship. So I think it is more about the nature of the relationship than the sexual act.

  • 성행위를 하다 have sex (with) (성행위 = sexual behavior).

  • 사랑을 나누다 (sarangul nanuda) literally means «share love». I think it’s the same in English, it isn’t really sexual but it contains that dimension; it pertains to people in a love relationship and refers to all the different kinds of love, from attention and care to sexual relationship. (Again, this is mostly my interpretation since I’m not a Korean linguist). It has that poetic, soft feeling to it. It depends on the context as well.

Ex. 1우린 사랑을 나눈다. 그걸 어떻게 말해야하죠? We make love - how should I put it?

Ex. 2그녀 역시 나를 좋아해서 우리는 밤새도록 사랑을 나눈다. She likes me too and we make love all night.

These two examples show that it really often means sex, albeit in that poetic and metaphorical manner. I guess it is more direct than I thought, too, while still keeping that sort of prude feeling.

  • 사랑해 주다 (sarang hae chuda) "to give love"

Ex. 오래오래 부드럽게 사랑해 주세요. Make love tenderly to last and last.
It says “tenderly” and also uses 주세요, so there’s the “give tender love” meaning which is interpreted here as “make love” - it makes sense.

  • 동성애를 하다 make homosexual love (with) (동성애 = homosexuality) I think it’s also about the characterization of the relationship, because 동성 is “same sex” and 애 is from 애정 “love, affection”. But I guess it also carries the idea of a sexual relationship anyway.

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Why is there no precise equivalent to the expression “making love”, found in English, French, Italian etc.?

Simple. Because that place is taken by something different.
Here is a verb we all know:

*사랑을 하다 (sarang hada) (literally: “to do love”) = to love, to be in love with.

In the present tense

· 사랑해 (sarang hae) informal speech

· 사랑해요(sarang haeyo) polite form and

· 사랑합니다 (sarang hamnida) formal speech.

This one is about the feelings of love and not about sex. When you search 사랑하다 on the Korean Dictionary, it is defined as “cherishing and regarding someone’s existence as very precious”, “cherishing and regarding a thing or a subject as very precious”;“doting on someone”, “helping and understanding others”.
On its own 사랑하다 pertains to the feeling of love, but I think that in some cases it could mean sex as well, when it is paired together with other words that would bring such interpretation.

@cgwm808, @ajumma2, @bluewind, @abythe, @banananamilk, @sophie2you, @awesomeharry, @gripstar_385, @BWCatNYC, @itgirlfornow.


It’s good to know! Such a diversity to say something, it is really the beauty of the language and its complexity. Thank you for sharing!

I have not understood something.

  • You were looking for an equivalent of the expression “to make love” in Korean?

“No precise equivalent,” it means that there is no literal translation (direct translation, word-for-word) or does it mean there is no dedicated
and unique Korean expression with the same meaning conveyed without ambiguity?

  • the same meaning in that sense: “To make love” = sexual act with feelings of love between 2 willing partners.
    For me, the difference between “to make love” and “to have sex” is the feeling of love toward the partner, it is not only related to pulsions and desire satisfaction. The partners recognize their love for each other. There is no ambiguity left in the act and in feelings.

What do Korean couples say for example when American couples say “We made love”? (In the strict sense above)


My understanding from the above is that they use “sharing love” to convey that.

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So Korean couples would say

But it can be interpreted differently with the context, “from attention to care.” It doesn’t necessarily imply having sex. There could be ambiguity for the act then, but not for the love feelings.

  • What else can “sarangul nanuda” mean? In what other situations? It is difficult to translate it literally in French (share love) without a context to grasp the meaning because the literal translation leaves me no clue xd

Well, yes, because in French “shared love” means loving someone who also loves you back, as opposed to one-sided love.

Aimer, être aimé, connaître les joies d’un amour partagé et le bonheur d’une union intime et tendre, c’est le vœu de la nature et l’irrésistible penchant de tout mortel.
Rodolphe Töpffer : La traversée (1837)

Les soins, c’est de l’amour qui se partage ; ce sont des caresses discrètes, c’est une partie du culte.
Anne Barratin : De vous à moi (1892)

L’amour est le plus ancien et le meilleur des socialistes ; son mot d’ordre de l’avant-veille, du jour et du surlendemain fût, est et sera toujours, égalité, partage et dévouement.
Auguste Guyard : Quintessences (1847)

_L’amour partagé est le plus grand des sacrifices de soi.
Natalie Clifford Barney : Les traits et portraits (1963)

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I thought it was shared love that could be like in a love triangle or loving 2 people at the same time or 3 people in the same relationship :thinking: or even more for harem or in the past with many wives.

(Could it also be “share love” in a religious way or like the quote of the day?)

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I guess in that case it’s not “sharing the love”, but “sharing the partner”. I suppose the Koreans just refer to “sharing love” (equally or not) between two partners.

You mean like a Korean equivalent of “Make love, not war”?

Like “spread love”?
Share love is not clear in my mind xd



Very true. I was shocked to find out they don’t teach sexual education in school (I don’t know if this is still the case, my friends are 23+ years old). My single female Korean friends often asked me questions of a sexual nature, because they hadn’t learned about it and are too embarrassed to ask anyone who is Korean. I’ve had sexual education every year, since I was 11, so it was odd to me. We even had some police come to our school to explain what happens when you haven’t given or received consent from someone and the emotional damage that can have.

I remember the mentality that shocked me the most from my Korean friends was the idea that you can’t get pregnant during your “first time”. And I didn’t hear that from just one person, but multiple.

Sorry, not really on topic of the language discussion.


So they don’t have any sexual content in biology about humans? That’s weird for a high tech country.

How is it in Japan, China, USA?

What should the meaning of Spread Love be? For me it always had a context of being nice to people not sleeping around.


If I remember correctly, they said that they got a basic lesson, but didn’t learn much. For example, one of the girls had no idea how morning after-pills worked.

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From my understanding of it, “to share love” as in 사랑을 나누다 (sarangul nanuda) is not about spreading love but about the idea of giving and receiving in a relationship. Which is why it includes the sexual aspect, which is an exchange of love between the two people in the relationship.

When I say:

I actually mean that it’s not only sexual, as would “to have sex” be, but encompasses more the entirety of a relationship, mutual feelings, affection and acts of caring included. As in “to make love” in English: it is a sexual act but on a whole different level from just “to have sex”, like you said:

So, 사랑을 나누다 (sarangul nanuda) is often the sexual act but in a “making love” sense, with the idea of a mutual exchange of affection. “To exchange acts of affection” in English can be interpreted either as “making love” or as a non-sexual behaviour such as giving a gift to a friend, but I think that because the English language is much more open about clear mentions of sex, using such expression to talk about making love seems like going a roundabout way, like a dated expression that you would only expect to find in poetry or victorian literature. But in a society where you don’t talk about making love as freely and directly, such expression is more likely to often pertain to the sexual deed. (in French I guess it could be like “se donner de l’affection l’un l’autre” ? )
I don’t know how to explain my thoughts clearly, it’s a bit difficult to grasp. The idea is that an expression that is regarded as extremely ambiguous and mild in English or French culture, where sex is less of a taboo, can be more easily taken in its second, more “crude” sense in a culture where you generally don’t use the more direct expression.


Yes, “to spread love” is generally used to mean showing kindness around you. In Korean, maybe it could be translated to “사랑을 퍼뜨리다” (not sure about that one).
I guess sometimes people can also use “to spread love” in a sarcastic way to talk about someone who sleeps around, but that would be in a very specific context and is not the original meaning.


I don’t know about their sexual education in schools, but according to my Korean friend, who lives in Japan, Japan is very liberated when it comes to sexuality, to the point that everything is acceptable, including pedophilia.

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Every year? Wow, we had it only once in school, as part of our highschool biology lectures. Quite thoroughly, it lasted several weeks or so, but was never repeated. And as far as I remember there was no special attention for sexual violence and definately no police at school. I’m glad to hear they did pay attention to that part, though.

Thank you very much for the explanation! It is really interesting!

I think I got it:

  • we can also use 사랑을 나누다 (sarangul nanuda) when talking to a child, parent or friend; not only to a lover.
    (I hope I won’t say anything wrong to them here XD)

  • there is no unique and dedicated equivalent for “making love” in Korean, contrary to French.
    (“sarangul nanuda” could either mean “making love” or something else related to caring and affection. The same expression can mean something else).

We use a literal translation of “making love” in French in everyday life.
That expression, I’d use it only when I am sure both partners are lovers (they know their feelings for each other and are a couple).

:thinking: I think we can still use the literal expression of “making love” in French for the Victorian era (1837-1901), because some authors used it around the French Revolution period (1789).
Otherwise, we can use metaphors like “share the same bed” or “sleep together,” it’s less explicit though.

When English expressions have the same equivalent expressions in French like “making love” (same unique meaning and no ambiguity), I am quite happy XD

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That explains all the anime and manga including incest in a non-critical way (and also the many abusive sexual aspects in many stories in a way I’ve only noticed it in Japanese anime/manga).

@ sexual education lessons at school

I think it changed a bit during the past time in Europe, also with aspects like bullying at school (so it depends when someone went to school here). We had few lessons at grammar school including a visit from a police officer who was talking about sexual abuse of children and that they should talk to teachers to get help (one of the class mates had a breakdown after that).

In high school we mainly had the aspect of how to not get pregnant and avoid HIV. It was never about asking for permission so I could say rape, sexual abuse/harassment was never a topic during class at high school/for teens and it was as if sexual abuse could only happen to little kids but never to teens or students or even adults…


Yup, last year of elementary and during vwo in biology and after that during a social class. Our principle really cared about the subject, so we got it every year, sometimes with a lesson about different drugs and what drug use can do to you attached to it.

I remember that they split up the police officers. Some would talk about drugs, some about sexual abuse.
They talked to us in smaller groups as well and I remember an officer telling us about the worst case of sexual abuse he’d ever encountered, and honestly it was a shock to us to hear some of the details of that case (the girl was really really young).

@sonmachinima yup, that’s also what they focused on. How not to get STDs, how not to get pregnant, teaching everyone how to put condoms on and different types of birth control, etc. I wished they talked a bit more on consent though, because honestly, there are different ways to pressure someone into doing something they aren’t ready for.


I suddenly have to think of a documentary series I saw years ago: