Using sexual chemistry to guide you to the right partner

Step 4 of Intelligent Lust: Cracking the Code of Sexual Chemistry

We’ve all had the experience of seeing someone on the street or in a social setting and feeling an instant attraction. Our eyes lock, our pulse races, everyone else in the room disappears. Other times attraction sneaks up on us slowly as we get to know someone. One day we realize that we are very sexually attracted to them. Whether it is their hair, their body, their voice, their smell, or their attitude and behavior that attracts us, we attribute it to the mysteries of chemistry.

But chemistry isn’t so mysterious. And in my opinion, it’s not what evolutionary scientists say – our instinctive way of knowing a potential mate’s reproductive potential and whether they possess the right set of genes.

On the contrary, chemistry begins in our thoughts. The subconscious mind reads signals and symbols – usually the physical traits and mannerisms of another person – and interprets them in relation to our individual fantasies. The body inspires our imagination; our reading of it echoes deeper psychological themes. We create a story grounded in our history. This happens so instantaneously that the details remain out of our awareness. When there is a match between our fantasy and what a physical trait psychologically represents to us, we feel the excitement in our body.

For instance, if we have identified through the exercises in my previous columns, that mastering feelings of powerlessness is our unconscious sexual motivation, we may feel strongly attracted to someone whose cocky attitude, muscled body, or tattoos, signals strength and power to us. But, the same attitude or physical attributes would turn us off if the purpose of our sexual fantasies is to repair feelings of loneliness and isolation. In that case, those traits that suggest a gentle spirit who is in touch with his feminine side, such as a soft voice, a delicate frame, or soulful eyes, would pique our sexual interest. Yet there are times when first meeting someone where our hearts feel like they will bursts from excitement, but when we actually get to know the person we discover that their personalities are incongruent with their physical appearance and their behavior inconsistent with what our fantasies inspired, and our attraction will quickly evaporate. We have misread or misinterpreted the signals.

What do we experience when we gaze at another human body? Our sexual antennae are organized by the interaction of our senses – visual, auditory, and olfactory – and of our perception of what these signals mean to us psychologically. Does the person have the right color hair, or eyes? Are they thin or well-built enough?

Ideas of attractiveness differ among cultures and subgroups, but there are commonly held beliefs that influence our perceptions. As Americans, for instance, blond hair suggests brightness and a carefree personality, while those with brown hair are considered serious and dependable. Very dark hair is seen as exotic, sensuous, or dangerous, while red hair is associated with passion.  Thick hair on men suggests the power of Samson. Similarly, tall, or big men suggest strength and protectiveness, while short women seem more youthful and vigorous. Tightly muscled men with v- shaped torsos project sexuality and good health. A large penis means a man can give superhuman pleasure. And while everyone has their own opinions about what smells are attractive, gentle perfumes on woman and natural smells on men appear to appeal to many. A man’s deep voice represents masculinity, and a man or woman’s wide smile gives the impression of well-being and happiness.

A person who we consider our sexual “type” possesses those qualities that we find highly attractive, though we often can’t explain why. When the right signals appear, our fantasies will be ignited even though they may occur so instantaneously that we are not fully conscious of them. The ability to decode our attractions based on our sexual fantasies is an essential step in Intelligent Lust. With practice, we can improve our ability to tune into sexual cues, what they mean and whether they are compatible with our true sexual desires. Armed with this knowledge, we increase our chances of choosing a partner with whom we are truly sexually compatible, as well as our potential to form a restorative experience that will be far more meaningful and satisfying than any sexual hook-up.

It’s not always easy to grasp the complexity of our sexual attractions. Much of what happens is invisible. The following exercise will help identify those specific characteristics and traits in others that excite the deeper psychological and spiritual aspects of our sexuality – those that create the feeling of chemistry. Record them privately in your journal along with your other notes.

Observational Exercise

The next time you take a subway or train or when you walk the mall, choose a stranger to focus on whom you find physically attractive. Notice their hair, eyes, skin, mouth, body type, height, hands, feet, and posture. If they are speaking, listen to the timbre of their voice, their accent, and style of speech. If you’re close enough, breathe in their smell.

Keeping in mind that there is a difference between physical attractiveness and sexual attraction, what is it about each of these traits that turns you on or off? Which do you feel neutral about? What drew you to that person initially? How close is this person to your “type”? In what ways? Does this person arouse your sexual fantasies? Let your imagination go. What would you want to happen if you were to have sex with him/her? What role do they play in your fantasy? What role do you play? What is your sexual motivation?

Intelligent Lust goes beyond just understanding the meaning and purpose of our fantasies and true desires. It means using those insights to create a meaningful, and satisfying sexual life that helps heal old conflicts and unmet needs. Knowing how to apply sexual chemistry is a key element in that process. This step helps us identify and interpret the characteristics and attributes in other people that arouse us.

Knowing our own sexual attractions and their psychological significance is only half of the sexual equation; discerning a potential partner’s is the other. In my next column you will learn how to determine sexual compatibility.

First published on PsychologyToday.com on September 27, 2011.