Flirting, courtship, dating and mating - sexual body language
Many signals in flirting, dating and mating body language are covered in the general translation signals above, and the fundamental principles of social/work body language also apply to the development or blocking of sexual relationships.
Of course lots of flirting, and more, goes on at work, but for the purposes of this article it's easier to keep the two situations separate.
There are some differences which can completely change the nature of a signal given in a sexual context. Sitting opposite someone is an example, which is confrontational at work, but is often intimate and enabling for sexual and romantic relationships: full constant eye-to-eye contact is helpful for intimacy, as is full frontal facing between male and female for obvious reasons.
Personal space must also be considered in a different way in social-sexual situations compared to work and non-sexual situations: At work, the primary consideration is given to respecting the personal zones and not invading closer than the situation warrants. In a sexual flirting context however, personal space becomes the arena for ritual and play, and within reason is more of a game than a set of fixed limits.
Dancing is further example of how body language operates at a different level in sexual-social situations. Different tolerances and tacit (implied) permissions apply. It's a ritual and a game which humans have played for thousands of years.
Dancing relates strongly to the attention stage of the dating/mating/courtship process. In many ways courtship echoes the selling and advertising model AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action). This is also known as the Hierarchy of Effects, since steps must be successfully completed in order to achieve the sale at the end. For example, nothing happens without first attracting attention, a point commonly ignored by people looking for a mate. The attention stage is even more critical in crowded and highly competitive environments such as nightclubs and dating websites.
And while not technically part of body language, environment is a vital aspect of dating and mating. The environment in which the dating activity is pursued equates to market/audience-targeting in business. People seeking a mate are effectively marketing themselves. Commonly people head to where everyone else goes - to nightclubs and dating websites - but crucially these environments are highly unsuitable markets for many people, for instance those not good at dancing, and those not good at writing and communicating online. Just as a business needs to find the best markets and ways of reaching its target audience, so in dating people can seek environments where they can best display their strengths and where relevant 'buyers' will be.
Knowing about flirting body language becomes more useful in a favourable environment.
female indications of interest in a male
Females have very many more ways of attracting attention to themselves than males, and so are able to express interest and availability in far more ways than males tend to do.
Female interest in males is relatively selective. Male interest in females is by comparison constant and indiscriminate.
This is due fundamentally to human mating behaviour, evolved over many thousands of years, in which essentially women control the chase and the choice, and men respond primarily to female availability and permissions. These differences in behaviour perhaps mainly exist because females produce one viable egg per month, about 500 in a lifetime, whereas males make several hundred sperm every day. Do the math, as they say.
As with interpreting body language generally, beware of concluding anything based on a single signal. Clusters of signals are more reliable. Foot pointing, knee pointing, and leg-crossing signals can all be due simply to comfort, rather than expressions of interest or sexual appeal.
Aside from the specific flirting and sexual attraction signs below, females also express interest using the general signalling explained in the earlier sections, e.g., prolonged direct eye contact, active responsive listening, attentive open alert postures and body positions, etc.
Here are the most common female flirting body language signals and meanings, according to experts on the subject:
eye contact - anything more than a glance indicates initial interest.
eye catch and look away- establishing eye contact then looking away or down is said by many experts to be the standard initial signal of interest designed to hook male reaction. The reliability of the signal meaning is strengthened when repeated and/or reinforced with longer eye-contact.
eyelash flicker - subtle movement of eyelashes to widen eyes briefly.
pupil dilating - interest, liking what is seen, arousal.
looking sideways up - lowering head, slightly sideways, and looking up - also known as doe-eyes, with eyelashes normally slightly lowered - displays interest and vulnerability/coyness, most famously employed by Diana Princess of Wales, notably in her interview with Martin Bashir in battle for public sympathy following her split with Prince Charles.
shoulder glance - looking sideways towards the target over the shoulder signals availability, and hence interest.
smiling - obvious sign of welcoming and friendliness.
moistening lips - lips are significant in signalling because (psychologists say) they mimic the female labia, hence the potency of red lipstick (suggesting increased blood flow) and moistening/licking the lips.
parted lips - significant and potent attraction signal.
preening - especially of hair, which exposes the soft underarm.
flicking hair - often combined with a slight tossing movement of the head.
canting (tilting) head - also exposes neck.
showing inner wrist or forearm - a soft vulnerable area and erogenous zone.
straightening posture - standing taller, chest out, stomach in - a natural response to feeling the urge to appear more appealing.
self-touching - drawing attention to sexually appealing parts of the body; neck, hair, cleavage, thigh, etc. - additionally self-touching is said to represent transference/imagining of being touched - and of course demonstration of what it would be like for the target to do the touching; teasing in other words.
self thigh-stroking - usually while sitting down - same as self-touching.
standing opposite - normally a confrontational positioning, but in flirting allows direct eye contact and optimizes engagement. Refer also to personal space rules: less than 4ft between people is personal; less than 18 inches is intimate and only sustainable when there is some mutual interest and attraction, especially when direct facing and not in a crowded environment. N.B. Crowded environments distort the personal space rules, where implied permissions (e.g., for public transport and dense crowds or queues) override normal interpretations.
leaning forward - sitting or standing; leaning forwards towards a person indicates interest and attraction.
foot pointing - direction can indicate person of interest.
knee-pointing - as foot pointing.
leg twine - a tight-leg cross 'aimed' (combined with eye contact) at a target, or when sitting one-to-one, increases sexual allure since it emphasises leg shape and tone. When employed flirtatiously, female leg crossing and uncrossing also has obvious sexual connotations and stimulates basic urges in males.
shoe-dangling - positive signal of relaxation or of greater promise, especially if the foot thrusts in and out of the shoe.
pouting - pouting involves tightening the lips together; the tongue rises to the roof of the mouth as if ready to swallow. Pouting displays various emotions, not always a sexual one, for example projection of the lower lip indicates upset. An attraction pout looks more like the initial forming of a kiss.
picking fluff - removing fluff, hair, etc., from the target's clothes is playing in the intimate personal space zone, in which the fluff picking is merely a pretext or excuse.
fondling cylindrical objects - phallic transference, for instance using pens, a dangling earring, a wine glass stem, etc.
mirroring - mirroring or synchronizing gestures and positions is a signal of interest and attraction. See mirroring.
When considering body language in such detail, remember that males and females rely greatly on conversation and verbal communication to determine mutual attraction as soon as the situation allows. Body language in flirting can be significant in indicating a strong match, but just as easily can merely be an initial filtering stage which progresses no further because other (infinitely variable) personal or situational criteria on either or both sides are not met.
Also bear in mind that a lot of flirting happens for fun with no intention of proceeding to sexual or romantic attachment.
The purpose of this page is chiefly to explain body language signals, not to explain human relationships.