My First Attempt to Discuss Asexuality in Mandarin

This is for the February 2013 Carnival of Aces.

A few months ago, I discussed why I hadn’t tried to talk about asexuality in Mandarin. Since this month’s carnival theme is ‘language’, and especially after reading Queenie’s post Talking about Asexuality in Japanese, I decided it was actually time to try talking about asexuality in Mandarin.

First, I had the figure out how to say ‘asexual’ in Mandarin. This dictionary says ‘asexual’ is ‘無性的’ (wúxìngde), but that clearly refers to lacking biological sex (just as amoebae don’t have biological sex).

I was surprised to find that this dictionary says ‘asexuality’ is ‘性慾缺乏’ (xìngyù quēfá) which roughly means ‘lack of lust/sexual desire’.

I then discovered that AVEN has a Chinese group. I don’t know why I didn’t find it before. They say ‘asexual’ is ‘無性戀’ (wúxìngliàn), which does feel quite right to me because … couldn’t that mean someone attracted to agender people? But then again, I only started studying Mandarin in my 20s. However, it’s clearly derived from words like 同性戀 (tóngxìngliàn), which means ‘homosexual’.

And then there’s the word ‘sexual attraction’, which in Chinese is apparently 性吸引 (xìngxīyǐn). When I first saw that word, I thought ‘doesn’t that mean sexual attractiveness?’ but again, I’m not a native-speaker.

Well, now that I had some vocabulary to work with, I wrote about asexuality at Lang-8. You can read the entry here (it includes an English translation of my original post, though the comments are not translated).

First of all, nobody who corrected or commented on it had known about asexuality before. At first at least one commenter thought that ‘xìngxīyǐn’ was being used improperly (ze thought it meant ‘sexual attractiveness’) – then ze read up on asexuality at the Chinese AVEN group, and found that I had used ‘xìngxīyǐn’ the same way they did. However, ze said that most Chinese speakers would not understand that word that way. Apparently, Mandarin currently lacks a good term for ‘sexual attraction’ the way ace-spectrum people mean it.

Then there was the question I asked – does 性慾 (xìngyù/lust) refer to ‘xìngxīyǐn’ (sexual attraction) or to 性驅力 (xìngqūlì/sex drive)? I wanted to know whether ‘xìngyù quēfá’ (asexuality according to the dictionary) refers to a lack of sexual attraction, or a lack of sex drive. All of the commenters said ‘xìngxīyǐn’ (sexual attraction, as used in the Chinese AVEN page), ‘xìngyù’ (lust), and ‘xìngqūlì’ (sex drive) are almost the same! Apparently, Chinese speakers (or at least the Chinese speakers who commented, but I’m going to assume the are representative) don’t make a distinction between sexual attraction and sex drive, so no matter what vocabulary I use, they wouldn’t understand what I mean without a heap of Asex 101.

I am not up to doing Asex 101 in Mandarin, at least not now.


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4 thoughts on “My First Attempt to Discuss Asexuality in Mandarin

  1. This is really interesting! Japanese also doesn’t distinguish between sexual desire and sexual attraction (性欲 is the word used for both). 性吸引 isn’t a word in Japanese, as far as I can tell. (Although my guess is that a Japanese speaker could guess what it’s supposed to mean.) I wonder at what point in English “sexual attraction” and “sexual desire” developed as separate concepts.

    Also, I assume that 無性 means “agender” in Chinese? I would think that would mean someone without a sex in Japanese (since 性 refers to sex and not gender), but I’ve never actually seen anyone use that word. (I guess I am wondering how Chinese deals with gender words–Japanese mostly borrows them from English.)

  2. Hmm, I’d say 性欲 and 性驱力 are basically the same (although 性欲 is more common in everyday usage), but 性吸引 is different from them. 性欲缺乏 means lack of sex drive/libido.

    I agree that “sexual attraction” is very difficult to translate into Chinese. It’s easily confused with “sexual attractiveness”. Strictly speaking, “sexual attractiveness” should be 性吸引力 or 性魅力. But if you translate “not experiencing sexual attraction” into “对别人没有性吸引”, it’s hard to tell the direction of 性吸引 here.

    Oh btw, that Chinese asexual group isn’t really associated with AVEN. It’s just one of the few Chinese online communities for asexuals. 🙂

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