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Intimacy across language barriers.

intimacy across language barriers.

Recommendations for foreign tongues.

The act of translation is inherently romantic — the practice of mirroring phrases, each of them carrying the same meaning, but built of new consonants, clipped accents, musical undertones. In the game of dating, we fantasize about this very ism. We wish to be woo-ed with French poetry, lithe Spanish, emphatic Italian. Call it a turn-on, even. There’s a mysterious sex appeal, famously, to a foreign accent. But logistically speaking, how do language gaps play out in bed?  

We spend plenty of time discussing the matter of “boundaries” in our sex lives — but what happens when the barrier in question is not physical, but linguistic? How do we communicate consent? Desire? Displeasure? Curiosity? On the one hand, sex can operate as a valuable iteration of language learning: It’s immersion and pleasure, all at once — and frankly, a rather unique approach to discovering cultural nuances. But on the other hand, sex across a language barrier can also deny us the opportunity to ask for what we want, or serve our partners accordingly. So how, exactly, do you approach the matter of sex across language barriers? Here are a few handy places to start: 

Make use of the words you do have in common

Whether we’re talking about yes and no, oui and non, das and nine, it’s worthwhile to align with your partner on the few terms you’ll find most useful in bed. Of course, you’ll want to use vocabulary that’ll allow you to communicate consent, but at the same time, you’ll want to find ways of communicating things like “more,” “less,” or, perhaps, “I’m close!.” If there’s time, think through the roster of terms you might find most helpful in bed before you get things going. 

Use your technology

Sure, pausing mid-sex to use Google translate isn’t ideal, but we live in the 21st century — and the speed at which our phones can provide us with information is miraculous. If you can keep your phone within arm’s reach, with a translation app open, locked, and loaded, you can indeed have answers within seconds when there’s a term or directive you simply cannot go on without. 

Gesture openly

Just as you might when requesting directions or ordering at a restaurant in a foreign city, feel free to make use of as much panta-miming as possible. In large part, hand motions are language agnostic. Point to body parts on yourself or your partner, gesture upwards or downwards for more or less intensity. Hell, throw in a thumbs up. Long story short, embrace gesticulation.

Agree on a safeword beforehand

In the hot-and-heavy throes of intercourse, it can be uniquely difficult to discern the difference between pain and pleasure; enthusiasm and discomfort — even for the most perceptive among us. If the words you might use for “stop,” “that hurts,” or “I don’t like that” differ, make sure you’ve got even one agreed-upon safeword between you that’ll carry the intended resonance. 

Use the opportunity for learning

If you find yourself having consistent sex with a partner who doesn’t speak your language — or several partners who speak the same alternative language — take advantage of the opportunity to learn something new. Not only is sex an excellent motivator in the realm of language learning, but also, for your partner (and…yourself), it’s hot as hell to hear you putting a new language into practice for the sake of great sex. 

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