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The Science of Flirting

Dr. Jess     
Learn why we flirt, and how to use flirting to connect - and reconnect - with your partner.

Flirting may be an art, but it is also a custom that is universal across all cultures. Not only is flirting essential to human reproduction, but evolutionary psychologists suggest that humans owe our advanced civilization and technological advances to this fine courtship skill. Our ancestors used body language, eye contact and verbal cues to charm one another and send signals with regards to sexual interest.

Today, we express our attraction to one another using a similar set of subtle (and not so subtle) prompts designed to take the place of awkward conversations. Rather than walking up to a stranger in the bar and asking, “Is the attraction mutual?”, we utilize an array of signals ranging from shy smiles to licking lips to convey our desire.  This ability to test the waters and enchant our mates may be responsible for our rise to the top of the food chain.

Research reveals that those who rate themselves as more charming are more likely to get what they want out of negotiations. When we first meet (or notice) a potential lover, flirting often comes naturally as we feel compelled to express both our desire and our longing to be desired.

In long-term relationships, however, our ancient primal brain often gives way to other parts that are wired for reason and executive functioning. Flirting becomes less of a necessity, as we communicate our needs in more concrete terms, often using language. However, flirting is essential to keeping the sexual spark alive, as it draws sex out of the bedroom and into our daily routines to eroticize the relationship. By teasing and tantalizing your lover in non-sexual situations, you prime their mind and body for sex at a later time.

Some tips from Jess for flirting with your lover:

  • Touch seductively when out in public. A peck on the cheek or brush of the thighs can go a long way to build sexual tension.
  • Laugh together as often as possible. It makes you more attractive and signals to your lover that you understand them. Reminiscing about funny times is connected with greater relationship satisfaction.
  • Ask questions that delve into a part of their life you don’t know much about. Even if you’ve been together for 25 years, there is always more to learn and the act of sharing new information enhances an intimate connection.
  • Compliment and revere your lover in group situations. The social signal reinforces your attraction and bond.
  • Make eye contact at unexpected times. Sit across from one another at a party or gathering and sneak a coy smile as you lower your eyes.
  • Use a secret code word or phrase to indicate your desire for intimacy or sex.
  • Be mysterious. An intimate connection does not require that you reveal everything about your life to your lover. Some grooming rituals are best reserved for private spaces and getting dressed for date night in private can create erotic anticipation.
  • Surprise one another regularly with small favors. Whether you pick up their dry cleaning, wash their car or pack a lunch unexpectedly, unpredictable favors make your lover feel special and appreciated.

For Sex Geeks Only... The Science of Flirting

Flirting is so deeply entrenched in human behavior that researchers believe that it has become hard-wired into our brains.

One early study, which compared the non-verbal flirting behaviors of women in dozens of cultures (ranging from the South Sea islands and Sub-Saharan Africa to Western Europe and North America), revealed that women across all cultures use similar physical cues to charm their mates: arching brows, lowering eyelids, tucking chins, extending their necks and touching the area near their mouth, to name a few.

Flirtologist and author of "Flirtology: Stop Swiping, Start Talking and Find Love", Jean Smith suggests that you try these additional techniques:

  • No matter how long you have been together, re-enact what you used to do at the beginning of your relationship. Basically, show up as your best self; put in extra attention, extra effort, and make the other person feel special. This applies equally to men and women. Obviously, this can’t happen every second of the day. But, if you spend Saturday nights in sweatpants, watching TV, is it any surprise that the spark might have fizzled?

  • In my research into flirting behavior, I found that there were six signs that helped people to recognize when someone was flirting with them and they used these same signs to convey their interests to others. I created the acronym H.O.T. A.P.E. to help you remember what they are: Humor, open body language, touch, attention, proximity and eye contact.

  • Don’t block yourself from doing what feels right for you. H.O.T. A.P.E. is certainly helpful, but if you followed your instincts of what was feeling right in that moment, then you wouldn’t need a reminder. You know how to flirt; you know what to do. Just stop analyzing everything and go with it. You got this!

Enjoy reconnecting with your partner by flirting with them.

Dr. Jess

"An award-winning speaker, Jess has worked with thousands of couples from all corners of the globe to transform their relationships via her wildly successful Marriage As A Business program. From Prague and Istanbul to Albuquerque and New York City, her relationship retreats receive rave reviews from some of the most powerful couples in the world who are drawn to her enthusiastic, practical and no-nonsense approach to happily ever after. Jess's doctoral research focused on sexual health and relationship education and she is passionate about accessible, classroom-based education. When she isn't globetrotting for speaking engagements, she volunteers with students, teachers and social service organizations to empower young people to embrace healthy, happy relationships. As a global ambassador for several brands, Jess contributes regularly to the biggest names in international media. You'll find her advice weekly in the likes of Women's Health, Men's Fitness, Cosmopolitan, SELF, Showtime and The Movie Network. Her insights into couple' issues reaches millions of homes across America as the host of the hit reality series Swing, which just capped its fifth season on PlayboyTV. Canadian-born and Chinese-Jamaican and Irish by descent, Dr. Jess loves ultimate frisbee, crab, airplane turbulence, cheese and red wine. Makes perfect sense, right?"
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