Much of flirtation is code-breaking. When you’re experiencing a powerful attraction towards someone, it’s easy to end up reading deeply into every little word and gesture they make.
This is difficult no matter what gender you are, but it can be particularly tricky for guys trying to figure out if a woman wants to sleep with them. As men and women are socialized in such different ways, they often interpret the very same actions to mean totally different things.
As a result, knowing if a woman wants to sleep with you or not can feel like a total mystery.
In order to help demystify the situation, we spoke to three dating experts to give you a better idea of what’s going on the next time you share a little laugh with a beautiful female.
Male Sexual Interest vs. Female Sexual Interest
The difference between the way men and women do things is rarely black and white. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re exactly the same in the ways they express their desire to sleep with someone.
“The way people display interest in sex is not really based in gender, but is more subjective to the actual person,” says SKYN Condoms’ Sex & Intimacy Expert and certified sex coach Gigi Engle. “Because we do live in a world that still subscribes to specific gender roles a lot of the time, men are sometimes more straightforward about wanting to have than women.”
“This doesn’t mean a woman doesn’t want to have sex, but women are taught that they are the gatekeepers of sex, giving it over to the men who ‘just have to have it,’” Engle adds, referring to a powerful societal double-standard around sex known as “slut shaming,” which punishes women for their desire while rewarding men for essentially the same actions. “These ideas are super damaging, and play a role in why women are often not the [instigators] in sex.”
The difference is not just in socialization, but also in the natural hormones that male and female bodies produce.
“Men and women display sexual interest differently, most of the time,” says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of “Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today.”
“Men tend to be goal-oriented, and their driving hormones, testosterone and adrenaline make them goal-focused, so they tend to be much more direct. Women’s major sexual hormones, estrogen and oxytocin, cause them to be focused on emotions and how they feel. Their sexual interest tends to be love-driven.”
“Men are more direct and more verbal in conveying their sexual interest,” he suggests. “A guy might say, ‘You’re sexy’ or ‘Wanna hang out later?’ Women are less obvious in displaying romantic interest. Also,” [many women] want to see if a man is perceptive enough to read their clues, and confident enough to take action and lead the interaction to where sex might happen.”
Essentially, if you’re a guy who’s attracted to women, you’re likely going to have to put in some effort to figure out if a woman wants to have sex with you. Luckily for you, there are some signs that can help clue you in.
Signs a Woman Wants to Have Sex With You
Inviting You to Spend Alone Time With Her
If you don’t know each other well, and she’s interested in spending one-on-one time with you, that could be an indication that she sees you as more than just a friend.
Why? Women typically prefer to spend time alone with men they feel comfortable around. If she doesn’t know you well enough to feel platonically comfortable, some of that desire to be alone with you might instead be part of a dynamic of sexual attraction.
“She might ask a question like, ‘What are you doing later?’ or ‘What are your plans for the weekend?’” notes Barrett. “These are ways she’s letting you know that she’s available.”
In particular, if she’s inviting you out for drinks or invites you back to her place (or wants to come over to yours), those could be signalling her intentions.
Alcohol’s capacity to loosen one’s inhibitions means it’s often associated with sexual or romantic situations (this is part of why bars are such common first-date spots), and spending time together in private as opposed to public means it’s easy for things to progress to intimacy.
Having Flirtatious Conversations
One of the most common ways to signify interest is to flirt — talking to a person in a way where you’re subtly trying to convey your attraction without necessarily telling them you’re attracted outright.
The only problem with this approach is that flirtation can vary wildly from person to person, so it can be easy to misinterpret polite conversation as flirtation (or vice versa) in some situations.
“Women will give verbal clues” in cases like this, says Barrett, “such as offering multiple compliments.”
Of course, that might be a case of her being polite, but compliments about your looks or appearance could be more likely to be sexually charged than, for instance, telling you you did a good job on a class or work project.
As well as compliments, fllirting to signal sexual interest could take many different forms: giving you gifts, asking you about your love life or your sex life or otherwise being playful.
If, for instance, the two of you have a running inside joke together, that could be a case of her being flirtatious with you to signal her attraction.
Touching Your Body Intentionally
One classic sign of female attraction is breaking the touch barrier. By and large women are often on their guard around men, so being willing to touch you is a sign that she’s comfortable.
Barrett notes that the touch aspect of attraction can play itself out in different ways — some not even necessarily involving touch itself. Her desire to touch you might began to manifest itself first as a feeling of being attuned to your body and physical presence.
“She will get closer to you when she talks,” he says. “She will give you laser-like eye contact and be extra attentive to what you’re saying, not checking her phone or looking around the room. She might fidget like a young girl. She might bite her lower lip.”
However, if it progresses to actual touch, that can be a really clear sign of her interest.
“Many women will touch you on the arm as a sign that they’re interested in something more physical,” he adds. “A big giveaway is when she goes from touching your arm to your chest, which is a more personal place for a woman to touch a man. If she’s touching your arm, she might be interested in sex with you, but she might also just be a touchy person. If she touches your chest or torso, she’s almost definitely interested.”
Responding Positively to Your Advances
If you’re the one leading the interactions, one sign that she’s interested is if she’s encouraging your advances rather than giving you negative or neutral responses.
“If a woman is comfortable and relaxed with you, open to being touched (especially if she feels understood and cared about), she will be responsive to your affection and caresses,” says Tessina. “If you move forward at a pace that’s not too fast, and she responds, she is open to having sex. If she stops, you should stop.”
In that situation, it’s possible that she’s attracted to you but not ready to get sexual just yet — in which case giving her time might be what she needs — or it’s possible that she’s not interested at all and unsure how to express it exactly. Just remember that you shouldn’t press the issue. Pressure will only make her less comfortable than she already is.
Telling You She Wants to Have Sex
Ultimately, none of these signs are fool-proof. Even seeing all of these combined isn’t proof of consent — only, as Engle says, an enthusiastic ‘yes’ is.
“You shouldn’t assume someone wants to have sex with you unless you’ve asked and they’ve consented,” she explains. “The idea that certain behaviors or choices mean she’s down for sex and should be willing to do it is a fallacy. Even if she’d taking off her clothes and you yours, you still need to check in here and there to be sure she’s comfortable and willing to continue. She should do the same for you.”
How to Respond to a Woman Who Wants to Have Sex With You
If You’re Interested
If she’s interested and you’re interested, congrats! That’s the dream scenario, and it’s likely to be less complicated than other possible situations.
“If you’ve asked if she wants to have sex (or she’s asked you), and then you both agree, that’s great,” says Engle. “You can go ahead with having sex and enjoy yourself together.”
However, just because you’re both attracted to each other and interested in having sex doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to be 100 percent smooth sailing. You should respond making it clear that you reciprocate her interest.
“Show a lot of interest in what she says, compliment her (but not on her body parts) and gently touch her arms or shoulders,” notes Tessina. “Look into her eyes briefly and repeatedly, don’t stare. Wait until she accepts a move before going to the next move.”
Barrett agrees that reciprocation of interest is key.
“If you’re interested in taking things to a sexual place with a woman, your job as a man is to, in a gentlemanly way, reciprocate and try to move things forward,” he says. “If she’s touching you, touch her right back. If she’s making it known when she’s free, ask her out. If she’s biting her lip and the two of you have already been touching, consider going for the kiss.”
“In general,” Barrett concludes, “a man’s job is to escalate [and] lead the interaction, [while] a woman’s job is to say either yes or no.”
Why? Well, as Barrett notes, that’s “in general” the way things are — meaning, not in every case. There are many women out there who want to lead and many men who prefer to follow, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
If You’re Not Interested
If you’re not interested in a woman pining after you, that becomes a bit trickier.
While men are rarely cast as the victims in a heterosexual interaction, it is possible for women to make men feel uncomfortable through their sexual advances. If you find yourself in such a situation, you shouldn’t feel embarrassed.
Instead, you should tailor your rejection to the intensity of her advances. If she’s not being over-the-top with you, there’s no need to necessarily clearly communicate your lack of interest — you can also signal it, according to Tessina.
“Keep your distance, be polite and friendly but don’t show too much personal interest,” she suggests. “Look around the room. She’ll get the message.”
Barrett agrees that you don’t necessarily need to tell her you’re not interested in pursuing anything.
“If you’re not interested in a woman, simply decide not to escalate matters,” he advises. “Be friendly, but don’t touch her back. Don’t ask her out. If she says something flirtatious, be polite but don’t return with a flirty comment of your own — that would be leading her on.”
If she doesn’t get the hint, another approach is to make yourself seem romantically or sexually unavailable by referencing an existing partner.
“A gentle way to let down a woman who’s interested in you is to drop in a comment about ‘the woman I’ve been seeing,’” suggests Barrett. “This tells her that not interested because you’re not available, and that it doesn’t reflect on her attractiveness.”
Engle, meanwhile, leans towards a more straightforward approach — one that might be particularly useful if the woman in question expresses her attraction or interest in very clear and/or insistent terms.
“If you’re not interested in sex, just be straightforward,” she says. “If you’re at a bar or somewhere social and she’s asked you to go home with her and you’re not interested, just say,
‘I think I’m gonna stay with my friends’ or
‘That’s a really nice offer, but no thank you.’”
And if things have progressed further than that, it doesn’t mean you have to engage in something you’re not comfortable with just to make her happy.
“If you’ve already gone home with her and aren’t feeling it,” says Engle, “simply say:
‘I think you’re really cute, but I’d rather just make out.’”
If you’d prefer not to get physical in any way, just do your best to let her know in a polite but clear way.
“We all really need to learn to be more straightforward about our desires,” she adds Engle. “Behavior and choices does not constitute consent. Only verbal, enthusiastic consent is a valid way of determining if someone wants to have sex with you.”