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!
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.
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.
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