The Science of Flirting (and Why it's Fun) -

Why is flirting so much fun?

Regardless of your motive, think about how flirting makes you feel. Flirting and being flirted with is fun. As we grow up, there are fewer and fewer avenues for playful interactions with other people, and eventually flirting is one of the few forms of play we have left. It’s also a huge boost to your self-confidence to be flirted with. Brain chemistry also plays a factor in why flirting can make you feel awesome. PET scans have shown that flirting excites the parts of the brain that release feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and beta-endorphins. Dopamine is a hormone and neurotransmitter that’s associated with euphoria. Other studies show that the eye contact during flirting releases oxytocin—AKA the “love” hormone… which might help you regain some of your mojo if you’re experiencing sexual side effects from medication (click the link for more ways to deal with sexual side effects).


Flirting is important too: research done by Dr. Monica Moore, a psychologist from Webster University in St. Louis, shows that flirting, which displays your interest and confidence, is more important to other people than your looks.


Why do people flirt?

Since you probably all realize by now that I love to geek out, I did some research on what flirting means from a scientific perspective. Although most of the research irritatingly heteronormative, there is some interesting research, including the studies from 2004 by NIU professor David Henningsen, which identifies the six reasons people flirt:



To indicate that we want to get laid. The research shows that sex as a motivator for flirting is actually one of the least common goals.



To increase intimacy in a relationship (like flirting with a friend to show you want it to be more).



Testing the water for a relationship or seeing if someone is receptive to initiating a relationship. Bonus points, because if it goes wrong you can brush off your flirting as a joke.



To convince someone to do something for you (research shows this is most common in the workplace).



We want reassurance that we’re appealing to others. (I’m so guilty of this, but what a confidence booster!) Also, be aware… if your flirting isn’t received well, this can backfire and hurt your self-esteem.



People flirt because they enjoy it, and it’s the most common motivation for flirting!


*Henningsen’s study also noted that many of the interactions he studied during his research had more than one of these motives. 


If I flirt with someone…. won’t they think I want to have sex with them?

There’s a misconception that flirting with someone there’s going to be an expectation of it progressing to something sexual. Let’s all agree right now that should be done away with immediately because consenting to flirt… is only consenting to flirt and nothing else. Agreed? That goes for anything anyone consents to too, consenting to one thing does not indicate that you’re consenting to anything else, and regardless you’re allowed to change your mind at any time. You should also get consent to flirt with someone; I can tell you from personal experience that I’ve had someone ask me if they could flirt with me and it wasn’t awkward at all, instead it was extremely flattering and charming.
It’s okay to flirt just because you enjoy it, but if it gets to a point where it might be moving in a direction your not comfortable with, or you don’t feel like you and the other person are on the same page, politely explain that you’re having a great time talking to them and that you think they’re awesome (and cute—if you think that), but that you’d like to continue just talking. If that’s not okay with them, move along to someone who will enjoy how amazing you are to talk to and flirt with.


I have no idea how to flirt… Help!?

I would love to tell you all the best tips on how to flirt, except I really don’t know what I’m doing either. My attempts at flirting involve copious amounts of rambling (I affectionately call this “word vomit” since there’s no hope of getting myself to stop talking), awkwardness, and blushing. The good news is, blushing can actually make you more attractive to others! Awkward blushers rejoice!
Here’s what I can tell you: smiling and eye contact are considered to be two ideal universal types of flirting (and it doesn’t even involve awkwardly tripping over your words!) Actually, eye contact alone has actually been shown to increase feelings of romantic love between two people.
It’s also a super cliche thing to say, but it works: just be yourself. Even if flirting isn’t yet a skill you possess, don’t fret—I don’t have any research to back it up, but I can tell you that some people are really in the awkward adorableness that results from some people’s uncomfortable attempts at flirting… It’s how my partner hooked me.


What if I’m already in a relationship?

I think most, if not all of us, can agree that cheating is a bad thing; if you feel monogamy isn’t for you, consider ethical non-monogamy instead. That being said, I don’t think playful flirting is cheating, but I know that’s not the case for everyone. People’s boundaries are drawn in different places, and it’s important to know where you partners’ and yours are. If you’re not sure where those boundaries are… ask them about it, and discuss what boundaries you’re both comfortable with.


The Science of Flirting (and Why it's Fun) -

Go Onward, and Flirt!

For a long time, I felt like being in a monogamous relationship meant that I wasn’t supposed to flirt with other people. It wasn’t a rule we had, it was just my assumption of how I was supposed to act. I didn’t necessarily intend or want to have sex with whoever I flirted with… I just enjoy flirting. In fact, playful, flirty banter is basically intellectual viagra for me, not to mention I get a boost of dopamine and confidence.


So I decided to do some research to figure out the science behind why flirting is so much fun, and I spent a surprising amount of time trying to find research. I’m a nerd and I like to back up my theories with facts, and I’m utterly fascinated by any research related to sexuality. Unfortunately, the research on flirting is pretty lacking. It’s overwhelmingly heteronormative and only examines flirting interactions between cis men and cis women. Here’s what we do know, though: flirting is fun and it makes the people involved feel good. It releases lots of fun, happy chemicals into your brain while boosting your confidence and affirming your attractiveness (and yes, it’s completely okay that you need to have that affirmed).


So go forth, fellow sex geeks, and flirt!

1 Comment

  1. Testing Waters Reply

    If you’re in a relationship, can’t you just flirt with your partner? In fact, if you are in a proper relationship, you should.

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