Body Language – Courtship Gestures and Signals

I have a friend named Graham who has developed an art that most males would love to acquire. Whenever he attends a social function he can quickly ‘psych out’ the available women, make his choice and, in almost record-breaking time (sometimes as little as ten minutes), he may be seen heading towards the exit with the woman, escorting her to his car and drilling back to his apartment. I have even seen him return to the party within an hour and repeat this amazing process two or three times in the same evening. He seems to have built-in radar for finding the right girl at the right time and getting her to go with him. Many people wonder: what is the key to his success? Per- haps you know someone like Graham and have asked yourself the same question.

Research into animal courtship behaviour conducted by zoologists and behavioural scientists reveals that male and female animals use a series of intricate courtship gestures, some quite obvious and others extremely subtle, and that most are done subconsciously. In the animal world, courtship behaviour in each species follows specific and predetermined patterns. For example, in several species of bird, the male struts around the female giving a vocal display, puffing up his feathers and performing many intricate body movements to gain her attention, while the female appears to display little or no interest. This ritual is similar to that performed by the human animal when courtship begins.

Graham’s technique was to display male courtship gestures to the prospective females and those who were interested would respond with the appropriate female courtship signals, giving Graham the non-verbal green light to proceed with a more intimate approach.

The success that people have in sexual encounters with members of the opposite sex is directly related to their ability to send courtship signals and to recognise those being sent back. Women are aware of the courtship gestures, as they are aware of most other body gestures, but men are far less perceptive, often being totally blind to them.

It was interesting to note that women described Graham as ‘sexy’, ‘masculine’ and ‘someone who makes you feel feminine’; their reactions to his constant array of court- ship signals. Men, on the other hand, described him as ‘aggressive’, ‘insincere’, and ‘arrogant’; their reaction to the aggressive competition that Graham represented. Consequently he had very few male friends, and the reasons for this should be obvious – no male likes a rival for the attentions of his female.

‘What gestures and body movements do people use to communicate desire for in- volvement?’ is frequently asked. We will now list the signals used by both sexes to attract potential sexual partners. You will note that more space is devoted to female courtship signals than to male signals; this is because women have a greater range of courtship signals than men.

While some courtship signals are studied and deliberate, others are given completely unconsciously. How we learn these signals is difficult to explain and a popular theory is that they may be inborn.

Dr Albert Scheflen, in his article ‘Quasicourtship behaviour in psychotherapy’, noted that, when a person enters the company of a member of the opposite sex, certain physiological changes take place. He found that high muscle tone became evident in preparation for a possible sexual encounter, ‘bagging’ around the face and eyes decreased, body sagging disappeared, the chest protruded, the stomach was automatically pulled in, pot-bellied slumping disappeared, the body assumed an erect posture and the person appeared to become more youthful in appearance. The ideal place to observe these changes is on a beach when a man and woman approach each other from a distance. The changes take place when the man and woman are close enough to meet each other’s gaze and continue until after they have passed each other, at which time the original posture returns (Figures 115 to 117).


Like most animal species, the human male displays preening behaviour as the female approaches. In addition to the automatic physiological reactions already mentioned, he will reach for his throat and straighten his tie. If he is not wearing a tie, he may smooth his collar or brush imaginary dust from his shoulder and rearrange cufflinks, shirt, coat and other clothing. He may also preen himself by smoothing his hair.

The most aggressive sexual display he can make towards the female is the aggressive thumbs-in-belt gesture that highlights his genital region (see Figure 103). He may also turn his body towards her and point his foot at her. He uses the intimate gaze (Figure 111) and holds her gaze for a split second longer than normal. If he is really keen his pupils will be dilated. He often stands with his hands on hips (Figure 98) to accentuate his physical size and show his readiness to be involved with the female. When seated or leaning against a wall, he may also spread his legs to give a crotch display.

When it comes to courtship rituals, most men are about as effective as someone standing in a river trying to catch fish by hitting them on the head with a big stick. Women, as we shall see, have more lures and fishing skills to land their fish than any male could ever hope to acquire.


Women use most of the same basic preening gestures as men, including touching the hair, smoothing the clothing, one or both hands on hips, foot and body pointing towards the male, extended intimate gaze and increasing eye contact. They also adopt the thumbs-in-belt gesture which, although it is a male aggression gesture, is used with feminine subtlety; only one thumb tucked into a belt or protruding from a handbag or pocket is displayed.

Excited interest also causes pupil dilation and a flushed appearance in the cheeks. Other female courtship signals follow.

The Head Toss

The head is flicked to toss the hair back over the shoulders or away from the face. Even women with short hair may use this gesture.

Exposed Wrists

An interested female will gradually expose the smooth soft skin of her wrists to the potential male partner. The wrist area has long been considered one of the highly erotic areas of the body. The palms are also made visible to the male while she is speaking. Women who smoke cigarettes find this tantalising wrist/palm exposure quite simple to perform while smoking. The exposed wrist and head toss gestures are often mimicked by homosexual males who want to take on a feminine appearance.

Open Legs

The legs are opened wider than they would normally have been if the male had not arrived on the scene. This occurs whether the woman is sitting or standing and contrasts with the sexually defensive female who keeps her legs crossed and together at all times.

Rolling Hips

The hips have an accentuated roll when walking to highlight the pelvic region.

Some of the more subtle female courtship gestures that follow have been used for centuries in advertising to sell goods and services.

Sideways Glance

With partially dropped eyelids, the woman holds the man’s gaze just long enough for him to notice, then she quickly looks away. This has the tantalising feeling of peeping and being peeped at and can light the fires of most normal men.

Mouth Slightly Open, Wet Lips

Dr Desmond Morris describes this as ‘selfmimicry’ as it is intended to symbolise the female genital region. The lips can be made to appear wet either by the use of saliva or cosmetics. Both give the woman the appearance of sexual invitation.


When a woman becomes sexually aroused her lips, breasts and genitals become larger and redder as they fill with blood. The use of lipstick is a technique thousands of years old that is intended to mimic the reddened genitals of the sexually aroused female.

Fondling a Cylindrical Object

Fondling cigarettes, the stem of a wine glass, a finger or any long, thin object is an unconscious indication of what may be in the mind.

Sideways Glance Over Raised Shoulder

This is self-mimicry of the rounded female breasts. Figure 119 also makes use of dilated pupils, the head toss, exposed wrists, sideways glance, artificially extended gaze, wet lips, head up and fondling a cylindrical object, all of which are intended to generate desire for a particular brand of cigar.

Female Leg Cross Gestures

Men often sit with their legs apart in an aggressive crotch display, whereas women use leg crossing as protection for their delicate genital area. Women use three basic positions to communicate a courting attitude.

With the knee point (Figure 121), one leg is tucked under the other and points to the person whom she finds interesting. This is a very relaxed position which takes the formality out of a conversation and gives the opportunity for a fleeting exposure of the thighs.

The shoe fondle (Figure 122) also indicates a relaxed attitude and has the phallic effect of thrusting the foot in and out of the shoe, which can drive some men wild.

Most men agree that the leg twine (Figure 123) is the most appealing sitting position a woman can take. It is a gesture that women consciously use to attract attention. Dr Scheflen states that one leg is pressed firmly against the other to give the appearance of high muscle tone which, as previously mentioned, is a condition that the body takes when a person is ready for sexual performance.

Other signals used by women include crossing and uncrossing the legs slowly in front of the man and gently stroking the thighs with her hand, indicating a desire to be touched. This is often accompanied by speaking in a low voice.

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