Morton Bast

editorial coordinator, TED


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What metaphors for sex are used in your country?

In his talk, sexuality educator Al Vernacchio laments the flawed metaphor that many Americans use to talk about sex: baseball. Instead of this regulated and competitive framework, he suggest that we think about sex like pizza -- a communicative and collaborative experience.

The baseball metaphor is indeed very common in the US. So I wondered, what metaphors for sex are commonly used in other countries or in other languages? Are there Americans, too, who grew up with a different metaphor? And what else besides pizza would be a helpful new one?

Share some funny or interesting euphemisms for sex from your own culture!

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    Jul 15 2013: As a feminist, and also a mother of four grown children I am questioning on the one hand; why we need sexual metaphors to begin with however; also understand that the topic of sexuality in any form may be uncomfortable for some and even more so if discussing needs/wants with a partner or parent sharing information with a child. I think that it is not only healthy but also provides a common backdrop if we were to address sexuality and all it entails in a direct, age appropriate manner. I think that the "baseball" metaphor is not only old but archaic in concept. Just an opinion here.
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      Jul 15 2013: There is conduct only for actions. Thoughts are free. It's silly to dab a thought as dirty, lustful, improper or gross. Metaphors are the beacons of that freedom, just shrouded.
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    Jul 12 2013: Indian Culture acknowledges sex as a profoundly spiritual and natural part of life. For example of a euphemism, a synonym of mother (among many) is 'Janani' in sanskrit and many sanskrit derivative Indian languages. It comes from the sanskrit word 'Janan' that means sex (for sexual reproduction).
    Ripe and succulent fruits like mango are used as metaphor for sex in many instances.
    Shivling, the phallus of Lord Shiva is worshiped as the substance of creation. In Lingaraj temple in Odisha state of India, a huge stone Shivling is seen firmly stuck in an impression of vagina. When I asked one priest about the seemingly paradoxical anatomical orientation of it, he explained that we, as onlookers are unborn and inside the divine womb, or else how can we see it like that!
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        Jul 13 2013: I am sorry to disagree. Jnan means knowledge, not Janan or Janana. You can use Sanskrit dictionary and check.
        Janana means birth, race, causation and sexual reproduction (birth).
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    Jul 14 2013: i've never heard of any metaphors for sex.

    but euphamisms I have heard include: bumping uglies, rooting, humping, bonking, getting one's leg over, jumping someone's bones, pooning. There are others but probably not really necessary to post here..
  • Jul 13 2013: Absolutely brilliant talk! So intelligent, so incitefull, unfortunately most won't get it.
  • Jul 18 2013: "Doing it" is seemingly the most popular here (without swearing of course), which kind of makes me think that the whole world must revolve around sex, because "it" is a very general term and can apply to many different things; everything is an it. There are some swear words too "F***ing" is a popular one, making me think that sex is bad as it's an expression of bad, which is interesting because of the double meaning for a swear word.
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    Jul 18 2013: hitting the one of the most used sex metaphors
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    Jul 16 2013: Cricket

    Cricket is the most popular game in India
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      Jul 18 2013: Well Deepak.....when you state....'but in India it is a taboo and nothing much is discussed.' I guess you aren't referring to the era of the Kama Sutra. :):);)

      But then historically, open discussion about sex in societies goes in cycles..............just look at Victorian England or early Rome and by and large the biggest no no on open sex discussions are Middle Eastern religious based.

      But what has got me curious is this statement of yours.....

      'Anyway we are at the end of our journey and everyone will soon understand in the time to come.'

      Like to elaborate/enlighten us thereto??
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    Jul 15 2013: I believe sexual metaphors are repulsive language and talk
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    Jul 15 2013: Metafora qe perdoret per sexin ne Shqiperi,nuk eshte ajo me lojen Golf,mbasi i afrohet shume pak golfit,paversisht vrimes ku hyn topi...metafora shqiptare per seksein eshte ajo e nje Motorri me djegje te brendshme...
    Kur arrin orgazma ,nis e punon ventilatori dhe shuan epshin...
    Leon Qafzezi
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      Jul 15 2013: This is from Google Translate. Because the translation is mechanical/computerized it is a bit wooden. But if the internet gives us the opportunity to translate, why shouldn't we use it.

      "Sexi metaphor used for Albania, is not she play golf when approaching little golf hole irrespective of where the ball goes ... Albanian metaphor for seksein is that it is an internal combustion engine ...
      When you reach orgasm, left the fan works and extinguishes lust ...
      Leon Qafzezi"

      If a TEDtranslator takes a crack at this one and cleans up the poor grammar delivered by "Google Translate" -- I shall be delighted to delete this post. But again, thanks to the miracle of "Google," I can get a good sense of what was said here via translation - & I'll take that over total ignorance any day!
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    Jul 15 2013: Kill the cat (billi marna)

    In my country the next day of honeymoon , all friends of male would ask a question , did you kill the cat?

    They certainly want to know....You had your way or not?

    It is believed this sets the relationship equation between the husband and wife in coming days. If you had your way than you are the one likely to wear pants in the house otherwise women is likely to domiante in a relationship.
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      Jul 15 2013: I made great plans to kill the cat 25 years ago. I realized it is a tough task for a rat.
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      Jul 15 2013: I think this is a really good example of our metaphors reflecting the dominant culture. "Killing the cat" expresses a clear power structure. One can listen to this metaphor and easily tell that sex is not expected to be an equal act in that context.
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        Jul 16 2013: I think it is more complicated than you imagine Morton. 'Killing the cat' surely expresses a power structure with hint of male domination, but the sexual connotation is only part of that domination. Killing the cat on the first night after wedding implies establishing the role of a master by men over everything.
        But let me explain why I say this is complicated.
        In Indian parlance Jaru ka ghulam is a popular euphemism too. Jaru = wife, Ghulam = slave and ka means of. This is more powerful in expression compared to what you may understand by the word henpecked. And undeniably, this slavery is on account of a submission to the power of female sexuality. Sex is not not an equal act in this context as well but the master-slave relationship is reversed.
  • Jul 15 2013: I have been critical of this talk in the main thread but I forgot to mention something very related. Pizza is already a sexual euphemism for vagina in Serbia and with small alterations for an attractive female. Fish is another that's used in the same context, but I can't think of any metaphors for the actual act of sex.
  • Jul 15 2013: So horrible about your metaphors...Why does sex must have something to do with food? Would piza be pleasant about that idea?
  • Jul 14 2013: for America itis Baseball.
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    Jul 13 2013: In my opinion, this conversation could have been an interesting or even funny one. But it has been a little bit misunderstood, I think. Pity!
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      Jul 15 2013: Hi Deepak. What I wanted to know was: In your culture, is there a common subject that people use to talk about sex in a disguised way? In the US, we make lots of baseball references when we're really talking about sex -- different sexual acts are called "the bases," failing sexually is called "striking out," etc. We realized this metaphor was very specific to American cultures, and wondered if other cultures had similar subjects that they use to talk about sex.
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    Jul 13 2013: it's just matter of romance in a hidden place and a matter of crime if it is disclosed in public.
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    Jul 13 2013: How would one romanticize a dob of mash potatoes, some boiled pea's and some cut up boiled carrots with a meat pie on a plate? Back in the 70's and early 80's this average everyday dinner was known worldwide in New Zealand...I still have nightmares about those days lol.
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        Jul 13 2013: Aye mate, I kid you not, that's how it was. We're a bit more evolved now but that dreaded pie on a plate still sticks and the sheep jokes abound galore heh heh. What about the poor Scots?
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        Jul 13 2013: I've spent some time around medical staff and yes if memory serves me right (which i find is fallible) I've never known them to ever use or even banter with each other, in fact they adhered to an unspoken rule while on duty. Keep it real and light.Off duty was a different story but we all put it down to debriefing, some were under enormous pressure.

        This will probably be deleted but that's fine, this video has nothing to do with pizza or baseball or hetereo sex, it's a feeler for the so called progressive element for insertion. He made his intention quite clear with a few words, well it was obvious.
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        Jul 14 2013: Oh, Sorry. It might've been different where you were and for me it was 25 years ago, a long time ago, I worked at a medium sized Geriatric and Obstet unit that had Psych and eventually a range of Day clinics added to it for 5 years, i was just an orderly and i wasn't interested in taking it further though the Hr manager was always pushing the younger ones to move up through the depts. i got enough family in health and i could move through the depts on my rounds, so i got to know everyone really well. It didn't have a resus unit, it was just a medium sized hospital with just about everything a main hospital had. The senior doctors were their only to supervise the interns and the rest was left up to management. I spent a lot of time with the surgical unit team running drills and even i had to be there just in case on the off chance i had to step in and do what i was ordered to do.

        Sorry, this looks like an assertion and a cv, my apologies, Does this help? My hospital didn't handle specialized cases. Anything like what you said that has the word necrotic i would take as a quarantine case? similar to Mrsa.Bio hazzard controls would take effect once identified? It was a long time ago and Nz at the time wasn't the States where you had far superior medical access to the latest and up to date systems..
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        Jul 14 2013: I left the hospital about the time we started to adopt that provider/client rubbish and recently i spoke to a young paramedic, they require him to write a self assessment report once a week as well as log the minutes he spends with each person they attend and find ways to increase efficiency, rubbish.

        At one time people thought i had a whacky family and growing up around queens teaches you a lot.

        Your right though, pizza doesn't cut it.
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        Jul 15 2013: I don't think the food itself is intended as the point. The intention isn't to think of the cheese or tomato sauce as a sexual metaphor, but the process of choosing something together with the person you want to share it with, talking about exactly what you do or don't like, and eating only as much a you want on a particular occasion.
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          Jul 15 2013: @Morton Bast: hi! As I said above:

          "It must be my medical background. Any part of the human body that winds up looking like anything like 'pizza' has some deeply significant medical health issues. Look up "caseating necrosis" on wikipedia. Add in colored vegetables, onions, olives, mushrooms - the more vegetables you add the worse the pathology gets! And pepperoni? Yeeeeeesh Yee Gawd!"

          I agree w/you. My comments don't add as much value to this thread as I had hoped. Plus, I digress & get off topic somewhat. My response/impression is unique to me & my background w/ very little 'public' appeal. I'll edit/delete some of what I put here and hopefully that will terminate my distraction.

          Thanks for the correction & guidance. TED is worth every bit of that! And I do thank you. I mean it!
  • Jul 12 2013: In Brazil, the following are euphemisms to 'having sex':
    - Afogar o ganso (drowning the goose)
    - Molhar o biscoito (getting the cookie wet)
    - Agasalhar o peru (wrapping up the turkey)
    - Dar um tapa na macaca (slapping the monkley)
    - Brincar de médico (playing doctor)
    - Furar o couro (putting a hole on the skin)
    - Trocar o óleo (changing the oil)
    - Briga de aranha (spider fight = lesbian sex)

    There are many more.
  • Jul 12 2013: Cuckooing (Sweden)