Intimate Encounters: Decoding the Secrets of Body Language
by Jill Shuman, MS, RD, ELS
It is almost impossible for human beings not to communicate their innermost thoughts. In many cases, body language, eye contact, and sexual gestures are more effective than verbal communication. Learning to interpret body language can help you discern what people are really saying.
Body language reveals many of our most intimate feelings, whether we intend to confide them or not. From simple eye contact to a light touch on the leg, body gestures are a very direct form of communication. In a romantic relationship, reading the cues correctly is critical.
The Eyes Have It
Eye contact is the most effective nonverbal communication tool we use, so it's not surprising to find it's also the most common initial sexual advance. Eyes can reveal sparked interest, fantasy, or disinterest. We initiate eye contact every day, in places as disparate as the subway, the office, the supermarket, and the bedroom.
A simple, universal way to show someone that you are interested in them sexually is to make eye contact—by making eye contact you make it easier for him or her to respond to you. When speaking in person, look at him or her directly, not over a shoulder or down at the floor. To show your interest across a room, hold your glance longer than you would in an ordinary social situation. Do not overdo it though. Most people find anything more than intermittent eye contact (5 seconds out of every 30) uncomfortable or threatening and will probably look away. You can assume some mutual interest if they return your gaze steadily.
When your glance is recognized and welcomed, the recipient may move in a way that "opens up" the body, giving you more to look at. Perhaps he will stand sideways and push up his sleeves or lean back against the wall with his torso slightly pushed forward. Or she might place her hands in the back pockets of her jeans, or playfully push her hair back off her forehead.
Other encouraging responses include raised eyebrows, eyes that are wide open, or fluttering of the eyelashes. If you are looking at each other for longer and longer periods and moving closer in toward each other, that is a definite mating call. You can test this by moving slightly closer and noting whether the person moves closer in or draws further way.
If your initial contact is not welcome, the person you are looking at may try to shield themselves from your view or try to create a barrier between you. Hence, if the object of your attention suddenly disappears into the crowd or abruptly crosses her arms or legs, she is saying "you're going too fast for me", or "I am not interested right now."
Facial Expressions and Gestures
If your eyes are the windows to your soul, then your face is a billboard. Remember, you cannot always hide what you are thinking. It just may show up on your face. To send out a signal that you are interested in getting to know someone better, smile. Smiling sends the message that you find someone attractive and would like to initiate further conversation. Hand and head movements are also ways of encouraging people as you become interested in them. Turning your head and stepping in towards him sends the message that you would like to get closer. Gesturing her to sit down next to you or moving over to create some standing room indicates a willingness to pursue conversation. However, make sure you stand or sit a proper distance away—moving in too close too soon encroaches on personal boundaries and raises issues of proprietary space.
Finally, learning to use touch can step up the pace of any relationship. To offer positive encouragement during the early stages of a relationship, try touching her arm or hand while engaged in conversation. When coming up behind, put your hand on his shoulder in greeting. Keep it subtle, do not overstep the line between showing interest and being overly pushy. Remember, too, that skin-to-skin contact—touching a bare wrist, for example—is always more intimate than skin-to-clothing contact.
It Makes Sense
Our 5 senses can combine all the elements into one enticing package. Consider the involvement of everything around you and how it affects your attraction. From initial visual contact to watching a partner undress, sight is an important sexual stimulus.
Hearing soft music or the special intonations of your partner's voice can serve as a caress or even foreplay to sex itself.
Touching and holding can foster closeness and intimacy on their own.
The taste of good food and wine can put lovers in the mood by making them feel good and lowering their inhibitions. There is a definite correlation between eating and deriving emotional nourishment from your partner.
The "smell" of your lover's body mingled with perfume or other scent can act as a powerful stimulant. Is there any question, then, as to the aphrodisiac quality of a romantic dinner accompanied by soft music and followed by an evening of dancing cheek-to-cheek?
Because many people find it hard to converse verbally, body language can help them communicate. As you learn to interpret the various nuances of body language, you can learn to understand what people are really "saying".
American Psychological Association
Exploring Nonverbal Communication
Canadian Psychological Association
The body language of new romance. Attract Men website. Available at: https://attractmen.org/the-body-language-of-new-romance. Accessed October 17, 2017.
Nonverbal communication. Help Guide website. Available at: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/nonverbal-communication.htm. Updated May 2017. Accessed October 17, 2017.
Romantic body language. Changing Minds website. Available at:
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Accessed October 17, 2017.
Last reviewed October 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 1/24/2014
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