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First, a few definitions:

 

shounen-ai

: literally “boy love” This is mostly romance centered around the younger set (high school students and possibly even younger) and almost never includes any sort of sex, even fade to black. There are kisses, hugs, and light touches, but that is all.

yaoi

: the more adult type of manga. There is often explicit (though censored) sex. The themes are more adult in nature.

seme

: What we usually refer to as the “top.”

uke

: What we usually refer to as the “bottom.”

seke

: A switch. Please note this is rarely used and is so rare that I’ve actually seen a warning page telling readers this is coming. (How ridiculous is this?!)

 

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Mr. Grace says: Totally ridiculous, that’s how ridiculous it is 😛

“hold” or “embrace”

: The japanese don’t often say they’re going to have sex or fuck. Instead they talk about holding or being held/embracing or being embraced. (This one threw me for a while until I went and looked it up.)

 

There are also idioms and ways of speaking that are common in yaoi and hentai in general. “I’m at my limit” is one such line that you will see often.

“Lewd” is another word that is commonly used, but Mr. Grace and I have a theory that, like a few other terms commonly used, it’s a replacement for common words we use that they don’t. I personally think “lewd” is used in place of “sexy” because I have rarely seen “sexy” used as a descriptor. The difference between the words changes the attitude of the one saying it so it’s hard to tell. Often the seme is the one using that, talking about how “sensitive” the uke is, and, like “lewd” is a way the seme is trying to get the uke to let go and just enjoy things.

Also, it is very rare to see words like “cock” or “dick.” I think most of the time those have shown up, it’s because of the scanlation groups putting a more Western spin on the dialog. The word I see most often is “thing,” followed by “penis.”

 

The second thing I want to explain about yaoi is that there are conventions that those of us who read Western fiction do not use. To understand these, we have to understand the culture that affects these stories.

The Japanese are still very conservative when it comes to relationships and romance. While there are a few prefectures that are offering “certificates” (with no legal standing) to same-sex couples, the country does not have same-sex marriage. Like many countries, two women together is more recognized than two men, but it is still not widely accepted. So the concept of “two guys” is still a very big deal there. It’s getting better, but it is way less accepted than it is here (and considering it is still not well accepted here, that’s saying something).

Beyond this, expressing emotion, showing pleasure, and most other things involving emotion-based relationships causes embarrassment. Even in heterosexual relationships, it is often very limited in expressing their feelings. One prime example of this is that there are several different levels of “love” and the one that actually uses the word love is only used in the most intimate of relationships. Everything else is only a level of “like.”

Because of this, there are often entire manga where the word “love” is never used. Especially those with a somewhat ambiguous ending. Sometimes, one or the other never actually says the words.

This also causes a lot of embarrassment in sex scenes. Most often is the bottom in the scene who is embarrassed, but occasionally, it’s even the top. The problem that comes from this is that many times, that means there’s a lot of “no” and “don’t” and “stop” within a sex scene. In western culture and fiction, that’d be a huge red flag of “nope” and “rape.” But within the yaoi genre, because of the Japanese culture, this is often not meant literally.

The problem this creates, then, is that when there is actual rape, it is not always easily distinguished from the resistance borne from Japanese embarrassment. There are situations, of course, that are very obvious, but often within a private sex scene between a couple–especially the main characters–it is not always clear when they really mean “stop” or not.

Lastly, as something of an aside, manga does not always show safe sex and/or the use of any type of lubricant. Occasionally, that means they’ve used it and it’s simply not shown. Sometimes, they use nothing but spit (which, yeah, can work, but is generally not good enough). Sometimes, you never see anything.

I try to keep these things in mind when I’m reading yaoi. Condom use is not something I am hardcore about to begin with. I recognize that there is a lot of embarrassment that would cause the majority of the “no” and “stop” dialog. And I can overlook that lack of lube, for the most part. I understand that these are simply conventions and typical things you’ll see in yaoi and, honestly, if they are a bother, then it’s not the genre for you.

 

Please try to keep these things in mind as you read yaoi.

Thank you for reading!