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I was practicing speaking Chinese with a native-speaking learning partner and used the phrase “你舒服吗” while referring to whether one is stressed out or relaxed.

The partner told me that it's unusual to use this phrase because it's often used in a sexual or relationship context. I was trying to figure out what this phrase means in this context, but I could not find an equivalent expression in English. I'm also guessing there is a cultural difference which I don't understand.

What does the expression "你舒服吗" mean in a relationship context?

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    If you observe someone is depressed or anything, it's completely ok to say 你不舒服吗? , which won't invoke anything sexual. 你舒服吗 is not a normal way to start a conversation in Chinese. People might be curious about what you mean or why you ask it. – dan Dec 13 '19 at 0:31
  • Thank you all a lot for your answers:) Now I'm clear about this and won't make this mistake again! – lmaooooo Dec 14 '19 at 17:45
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As I understand, aside from it's normal usage, 舒服 = "comfortable" is a euphemism for "sexually pleasurable" (or "sexually comfortable") or "comfortable with having sex". It might also be used as an indirect question asking for consent.

If you go to ZhiSex.com and search for 舒服, you'll find a lot of examples. Here's some below:

Examples (warning: explicit)

我怎么做他才最舒服。各位男士,告诉我好吗?你最希望你老婆做什么?
How do I make him "comfortable". All men, tell me, okay? What do you most want your wife to do?
Ask.Sina.com.cn

对女生来说,做爱会比自慰更舒服吗?
From a woman's perspective, [is] making love more "comfortable" than masturbating?
Zhi Sex

做爱时故意把阴道夹紧,老公会觉得舒服吗?
During love making, [if I] deliberately clamp my vagina, will [my] husband feel "comfortable"?
Baobao Zhidao

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    To all non-Chinese speakers, please do not be put off or afraid to use this term, 舒服, in your everyday social conversations to just mean "being comfortable" , for e.g. feeling comfortable sitting in a soft cozy armchair, etc. People use this term in this sense all the time without being misunderstood. Remember, context and circumstances, context and circumstances. – Wayne Cheah Dec 12 '19 at 16:25
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    This is a direct answer to the OP's question "What does the expression "你舒服吗" mean in a relationship context?". FWIW, we should point out 舒服 can also be used in other contexts so that, as Wayne Cheah said , non-Chinese speakers wouldn't be put off by what we say here. – dan Dec 12 '19 at 16:40
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歪了歪了…… I can see why 你舒服吗 will be easily interpreted as sexually comfortable.

Because without any context, we will not use 舒服 to describe relaxation of mind. And extremely structurally simple sentences are often uttered in sexual intercourse...(Think about it.)

Avoiding using words that have ambiguous meanings like 舒服, however, is an option.

The best choice is applying both: longer, specific sentence & proper words.

E.g.

我快要到了(I am about to arrive.)√

要来了(I'm coming...)x

你感到放松吗(Are you feeling relaxed?)√

你舒服吗?(emmm...)x

这椅子坐起来很安适呀(The armchair feels very comfortable to sit on)√

好舒服呀(Ah~Good~Yeah~)x

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  • Agree. 你舒服吗 indicates (我让)你舒服吗 as there is no subject. Or, just ask 这椅子(让你)舒服吗. I think that's the point that leads to sexually comfortable. – Shaw Dec 12 '19 at 21:51
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    @Shaw In 你舒服吗,你 is the subject. It's a normal sentence structure. If you replace 舒服 with other adjectives, you won't feel odd. E.g.你高兴吗? 你开心吗? You wouldn't interpret them as xxx让你开心/高兴. Well, the problem with 你舒服吗 is that people's perception tends to lead us to think about the sexual context. So, in order to diminish that perspective, we'd better add a bit more words to make it to be specific in a clear context. For example, 你现在舒服点了吗?(after you have take some medicine for your desease, a doctor might ask you) – dan Dec 13 '19 at 0:14
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你舒服吗

In ordinary, everyday parlance, it simply ask,"are you comfortable?" in a physical sense.

There are, however, many nuances to this apparently innocuous question, depending as always on the context and the circumstances when it is used.

Just like in English you have "that feels good" which can have multifarious meanings and innuendoes depending on the context and the circumstances when it is used.

Yes, it is also culture-centric as 舒服 could also euphemistically mean "sexually satisfied"

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    Wayne Cheah's already answered this question perfectly. "It all depend on context and the circumstances" For example, 努力耕耘 (work hard farming the field) can euphemistically mean "work hard to achieve a long term goal" or "going at it like rabbits" in different context – Tang Ho Dec 12 '19 at 14:43
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It just sounds weird. Indeed 舒服 is usually used for physical comfort. As a native speaker, the most common usage I know is for checking someone being sick or not (不舒服 mostly means sick, in all possible contexts). In other contexts it can ask about posture and so on, but if you ask it outright without any physical context, of course it can sound pretty sexual.

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I think the problem is the way you use it. 你舒服吗 normally isn't used for greeting, while 你不舒服吗 is. 你舒服吗 or 你不舒服吗 is usually used when you see someone is in a uncomfortable position. But you are not entirely sure, so you would ask 你舒服吗. It's like saying, By doing so, do you feel comfortable? or Keeping this position, do you feel comfortable?, which would be easily related to the sexual context. However, this is unnecessary and it can also be valid in other contexts. E.g. When you see your child's in a unnatural position while he's writing, you might say: 你舒服吗?(Are you comfortable?).

Sex is such an intriguing topic in our daily life that one could easily relate 你舒服吗 to it if he doesn't know the exact context.

In your question, you also seem to be interested what we could say when "referring to whether one is stressed out or relaxed". It could be (你)还好吧?(Are you ok?),(你)(感觉)怎么样?(How do you feel?), (工作)压力大吗?(stressd out (with your work)?), etc.

Hope this could help.

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The problem that such an innocuous term could have sexual connotation stems from the ingrained cultural inhibition of the Chinese people, (using this term loosely), towards anything sexual thus leading to the conscious exclusion of unacceptable thoughts or desires.

To overcome this, euphemisms provided a "comfortable" way out to express sexual acts, thoughts, desires, thereby substituting institutionalized "societal shame" with apparent outward moral deportment, for both the male and female. Hence the "inscrutable China man" image?

So, sexual satisfaction became 舒服, sexual intercourse became 春风一度, (Passing Spring Breeze), orgasm became 高潮, (high tide), penis became 阴茎, (shady stem), and last but not least vagina became 阴道, (shady way)

A non-Chinese speaker reading the above would be thrown into incredulous confusion when a dictionary gives the ordinary meaning of each individual word only, LOL, LOL.

Having said that, I believe every language of every nation has such euphemisms.

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