nonverbal communication in intimate settings

What You Say When You Don’t Say A Thing: A Guide to Nonverbal Intimacy

“It’s not what you said. It’s how you said it.”

How many times have you heard that? How many times have you said that? How many moments, days, years have you lost to misunderstanding? There’s no use in saying that communication is easy or simple. We know it’s not.

But with enough practice and know-how, it could be.


Body language

Our bodies speak volumes. If you’ve seen The Shape of Water, you know there’s a lot of silent communication that happens. That can happen. If you’re watching.

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Nothing in communication is absolute or 100% certain. When you think of all the things our bodies learn every moment of our lives, every unconscious association, every bit of learned behavior, the possibility for error and misunderstanding is HUGE!

However, there are definitely trends and tendencies to draw from.


The way someone carries themselves says a lot.

A tall spine and shoulders back signal confidence, whereas rounded shoulders can signal shyness, sadness, and/or discomfort. Crossing arms or legs is what is referred to as a closed posture. When someone is in a closed position, they’re likely uncomfortable or not into it. It’s a much better sign when the desirable person has an open posture, especially if they’re leaning in.

Social Distance

Social distance differs from culture to culture and from person to person, but generally, the closer someone feels comfortable standing near you, the closer they either already are or are willing to be with you.

If you keep taking steps in while they keep backing away — stop crowding them! Similarly, if you lean in and they lean closer — ooooo! It’s getting sexy in here!


Breathing can give us a lot of information about how someone is feeling.

Slow, deep breathing shows that a person is relaxed and content (unless it seems deliberate and challenging, which probably means the person is trying to calm themselves down). Fast or shallow breathing could indicate stress or anxiety, so maybe try to engage in something stress-relieving when you notice this about your date. Plus, a calm presence can be incredibly attractive to anxious folk!


There are a few universal facial expressions that have shown to be pretty accurate time and time again. Smiles generally mean happiness. Frowns are generally a bad sign. Biting your lip can communicate a few different things, so look at what the rest of their face is doing before making that judgment call!

Notice not only whether they’re frowning right-side-up or upside-down, but also what kind of smile. Are they grinning ear-to-ear and brimming with excitement?! Is it a coy Mona-Lisa-type smile? These details will give you clues about where they’re at emotionally and what kind of advance they might be into.


You can read a lot from someone’s eyes. You’ll get better at it the more you practice and the better you know someone.

Are they meeting your gaze or do they shift their focus away from you? This could mean a lot of things, but generally, it’s pointing to some discomfort.

How fast are they blinking? When people are uncomfortable, they will often blink more. So, be careful not to misinterpret someone’s discomfort with a flirtatious batting of the eyelashes!
PRO TIP: People rarely, if ever, bat their eyes flirtatiously. Unless they’re joking.

Watch their pupils! When we’re turned on, our pupils dilate. But they also dilate when we’re in a low-light scenario. Context matters.

Winking is often a flirty thing, but not always! Some people just wink a lot. See if the person in question winks at anyone else. If all winks point to you, consider yourself lucky! A good wink is hard to come by! (And can be VERY sexy!) 😉

All together now

When reading your date’s non-verbal communication, try to incorporate all of the information you’re receiving. If you focus on only one cue, you risk missing the bigger picture. Humans are super complex and the more information you have, the better!

Once you look at all the little cues and how they fit together, you can get a general sense of your partner’s energy. Do they seem happy and high-energy? Sleepy and low-energy? Angry? Excited? Annoyed that you’ve been staring at them? Work with it.


Knowing yourself and communicating what you want

Now that you know some body language, what has your body been saying? What do you want it to say? Use these guides to help unify and clarify your messages. Carry yourself how you want to be seen. Make eye contact and show ‘em your pupils! Be aware of what your face is doing.

A lot of our body language happens unconsciously, but becoming aware of what our bodies are saying can not only help us understand how we are feeling but also can help us communicate those feelings effectively. Our physicality also has a big impact on our physiology. Forcing a smile releases endorphins so that you actually feel happier. Which is to say that simply embodying the presence and energy you want will help get you there mentally and emotionally!


Energy-matching your partner

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that your partner(s) will have their own energy that they’re bringing to sex. It is important to read their energy first! Your partner needs to be able to receive your energy, just as you need to be able to send it. Take some time to really observe your partner. How is their breathing? Do they seem tired? Anxious? Energetic? Sensual? Try to bring yourself to where they are and use that as your starting point.

If you’re full of energy and excited to have a passionate time, but your partner is tired and slow-moving, you’re not going to be able to bring them to your level right away. That’s a big gap to jump! Try to match their energy level and slowly build up to where you want to go. Maintain physical contact as you slowly build up the energy in your own body. The slower, the better.


Raising energy through massage

Ok so, you’re already doing well enough that you and your date, partner or in some way significant other are in a sex-possible scenario. Maybe you live together, maybe you’ve been together a while or maybe this is the first hook up. Use your judgement and don’t spring massages on unsuspecting first-dates 2 minutes after ordering food…

…but a great way to bring your partner to the level you want is through massage! Not only is it a nice, relaxing gift you can give them, but by keeping physically connected, you can connect easier. Visualize yourself transferring your sexual energy to every part of their body as you continue through the massage.

As your partner relaxes, you can bring your attention towards their pelvic region. Feel yourself raising your sexual energy and transfer those feelings to your partner. Make fluid, circular motions with your hands, pushing your energy to their sex organs. Massage up through their thighs, in from their hips, down through their glutes. Take your time to really build up that energy.

After a bit of this, you’re likely to both be feeling a rise in sexual energy. Keep going. Imagine that energy becoming so powerful that it starts climbing up your bodies. Keep your bodies connected and start focusing on connecting all the way up your spine. Visualize you partner’s energy under your hands until your whole selves feel connected.

As you work through this process, focus on a rhythm to your massage. Start with long, slow and deep-pressured movements. As you progress, use your pressure to create pulses of movement. Gradually increase the speed of those pulses. Try to breathe in harmony with those pulses. You don’t need to match the speed of your movements with the speed of your breath, but try to inhale on a pulse. For example, if your pulses are only a second or two apart, you might breathe in over the course of 4 pulses, but you’ll still follow the beats.


Accept energy shifts

Remember, unless you’re masturbating by yourself, there is someone else involved and they have as much power as you if they want it. Taking the lead and visualizing really well is only part of the experience. When you notice shifts in energy, see where it takes you. We have a lot of power over our energy, but sometimes things come up that we aren’t expecting and it’s usually worth paying attention to.

Maybe you’ve been raising your sexual energy together and you reach a plateau and then suddenly drop the (energy) ball. It takes a lot of work to build up energy, so be kind to yourself when exhaustion kicks in. Use that drop in energy to explore a different tone to your sex. Focus on sensuality. Take a moment to appreciate your partner. Check in and see if the shift was really something more that your partner was experiencing.

Often times I find that having a break to enjoy some slower, sensual sex, or even chatting each other up will turn into raising energy again without even trying. Be patient.


Handy short-hand cues

Use your hands! A great way to communicate what you want your partner to do is to guide them with your hands.

Are they kissing OH SO CLOSE to where you want but not quite getting the spot? Gently, guide them to the spot with your hands.

Are they orally pleasing you and you don’t want them to stop, but you do want them to use a particular pattern or amount of pressure? Place your hand on their shoulder, or head, or wherever you think they won’t mind (PRO TIP : talk about this BEFORE you get it on!) and press your fingers into their skin the way you want to be touched. Not only is this easier to do than trying to verbally explain what you want, but they’re also more likely to understand it.



Nonverbal cues make up over 60% of communication. That means it’s the bigger part of the communication pie. Where consent is concerned, we want as much of that pie as possible!

7-38-55 Rule of Personal Communication

There are lots of times where we don’t feel like we can say what we mean. When power dynamics and context come into play, reading someone’s body language can help but ultimately, if you hold all of the power in the relationship, you may want to step back. Sometimes these power dynamics are obvious, like in an employer-employee relationship. Often, they’re not.

Before engaging in anything sexual with someone new, take some time to assess the power dynamics between you. Are you in a familiar, comfortable place? Are they? Do you have social support close at hand? Do they?

Follow your gut. If something inside you is telling you something’s not right, LISTEN TO IT! It’s much, much better to delay sex than it is to cross boundaries. In fact, delaying sex can make it even more fun!


When in doubt, check in

Freezing in the face of conflict or boundary-crossing is very common and it’s not always easy to spot. We may get caught off-guard and miss our chance to say something, or fear the consequences for speaking up. We might even try to hide whatever emotional reaction we’re having out of shame, fear or learned behavior. The less we know someone, the more we should check in.

A quick, “Are you ok?/Is this ok?” can go a long way. It gives the other person an opportunity to speak and shows an investment in your partners’ comfort and safety.

Many of us have baggage from previous relationships or experiences that can come up and change how we’re viewing the situation. Triggering difficult memories can happen quickly and suddenly and it’s not always easy to communicate this change to each other.

So, pay attention to your date’s energy. Are they lighting up with excitement and pleasure, or are they shutting down and retreating into themselves? Sexual responses can be very unique and tricky to decipher. You can always ask, in a heartfelt and/or sexy way, “How does this feel?”, or lovingly ask to look into their eyes. Look for clusters of signals that tell you where the emotional state is in the room. Don’t just assume all is fine unless stated otherwise.

It’s only fun if everyone is having fun.



Sex can be such a powerful experience and such a large part of life. Take the time to play. Learn something new each time.

Pay attention to your partner(s). Improving how you give and receive body language is an ongoing process that pays off the more you learn and practice!