It's most often women, not men, who initiate sexual encounters
In a nature documentary about the sexual wilderness, men would be the hunters and women would be the prey. In natural habitats of bars and nightclubs, the men would strut ostentatiously up to the women, attempting to demonstrate their sexual prowess. Every step — the opening line, the first kiss, the over-the-clothes groping to the terrible oral sex — would be initiated by the man.
However, psychologists say our understanding of the human mating routine is all wrong. It’s not men who initiate these sexual encounters — it’s women.
Using a process called romantic signaling, ladies wordlessly communicate to fellas whether or not they can come closer and pursue a romantic encounter. Men generally think it was their own bold idea to approach a beautiful woman — but they often have no idea that they’ve already been summoned.
Psychologist Dr. Lucia O’Sullivan has written about the many ways that women silently signal sexual interest. The primitive mating practices of humans aren’t far off from those of other animal species, she says. Preening, gentle touch gestures or exposing attractive parts of the body can describe humans’ methods of romantic signaling just as much as birds’ or wildebeests’.
These are just a few of the ways that females ensure the males they’re interested in will pursue them. Typically, the ladies’ “come hither” technique looks something like this: a woman enters a social (drinking) environment with friends and takes a long look around the room, scanning for someone attractive. Once she spots a hunk, she stops her search… and stares.
Eyes are the most powerful tool in signaling sexual interest to a potential partner. When women are giving men the come-on, they’ll fix their gaze onto their target hottie until he notices, smile and look away, return to his eye contact, break it, return it, and so on.
If eyes aren’t incentive enough, there’s a few more methods to encourage a man’s approach. By preening, fixing her hair or adjusting her clothes, a woman makes herself look more attractive for the fella’s viewing pleasure. By caressing herself or even enacting sexually stimulating activities, like stroking a wine glass or toying with a necklace over her breasts, she draws the man’s attention exactly where she wants it.
A woman can send all these sexual clues until he’s essentially hypnotized into coming closer. Once the man has been lured in, both orient their bodies toward one another, and the woman can continue using nonverbal signaling like leaning in, thrusting forward her most attractive assets, or “accidental” touching.
Researchers have even gone so far as to say romantic interactions always follow this specific series of steps. In the 5-phase courtship process, first comes the initial approach phase, followed by a phase of acknowledging each other’s attention, then comes the interaction stage (all described above), leading into the sexual arousal phase, and ending with the resolution phase, in which the man and the woman have filthy sex like the horny animals they truly are.
The beauty of this primitive display is that it often happens on a highly subconscious level. Women won’t normally realize that they’re fixing their hair or their posture when a Chris Pratt/Evans/Hemsworth/Pine-type walks through the door. Men are often oblivious that they had been signaled by the woman they approach, instead assuming the idea was completely their own.
Signaling is so influential to attracting men, studies have found, that it often overpowers physical attractiveness. “High-signaling women of average attractiveness were much more likely to be approached than low-signaling, beautiful counterparts,” Dr. O’Sullivan writes.
Of course, not every encounter in the wild dating world is always so perfectly choreographed. Men still make the mistake of hitting on women who have not signaled them. They stick around as women send signals of rejection — leaning away, crossing their arms or avoiding eye contact. Some guys just suck at social cues.
In the nature documentary about the sexual wilderness, it seems the roles of hunter and prey need re-examination. The science insists that women are smarter predators than they seem, luring in men and initiating sexual encounters, all without saying a word.