When we hear the word “consent,” many of us fast-track to how it applies in a sexual setting. But the topic relates to so many situations beyond the bedroom, including one that’s oft-overlooked – flirting.
How to Flirt... With Consent!
I have a much easier time imposing my boundaries in an intimate, sexual setting, than in social situations with strangers. There have been countless times I’ve been made to feel uncomfortable by a stranger occupying my personal space, saying inappropriate things, or touching me, even casually, without consent. Most of the time, they’re obviously trying to flirt with me. But the way they’re going about it is all wrong.
So, in a #MeToo era, where people are more conscious of issues of consent, how do we handle the spontaneous act of flirting?
First things first! Knowing how to flirt is important, both in digital and IRL settings. It’s how we invite others to connect and signal that we’re into them, in a more-than-just-friends kind of way. It signals that we may want to dig deeper, into a more intimate relationship.
It can be done for fun or with intention. But when it’s done with intention, it can sometimes come off as creepy if the person is trying too hard to achieve an end goal. So, if you don’t want to be weirdo, here are some things you can do (and still flirt successfully).
1. Respect Boundaries
Okay, this is an important one: Pay attention to a person’s boundaries.
I get it. You’re super into someone and want to grab their attention. You’re willing to do anything to make a good impression. That’s great and all – only if that enthusiasm is reciprocated.
Ask first if someone wants to engage. This may seem like a perfunctory gesture but asking for consent is a big deal in a world where female-presenting people are pretty much always expected to be polite and participate. Everyone has the right to choose whether they want to engage (or not), without any explanation owed.
2. Ditto for Personal Space
If you’re flirting with someone IRL, be mindful and do not infringe on someone’s personal space unless given physical cues or verbal confirmation signalling it’s OK. Don’t be that jerk who doesn't know how to flirt and pushes an undesired agenda.
Also, do not touch another person without explicit, enthusiastic consent. This is non-negotiable. You may think a casual hug or arm around the waist or shoulder is OK, but unless the recipient clearly says it is – it is not OK.
3. Non-Verbal Indicators of Attraction Are Not Permission
In my experience, some (often male-identifying) folks interpret friendliness, such as a subtle smile or even basic friendly banter, as a sexual come-on, even if it isn't meant that way. It's important not to misconstrue those things as something they're not. If someone tells you they aren't feeling it, take it for what it is and leave them alone.
If you are on the receiving end of a flirtation and you’re not into someone, the easiest way to shut down a conversation is by being direct. You can still be polite while doing so, but if they can’t take a hint, screw being respectful and nice. All the conditioning we’ve been force-fed (I speak as a female-identifying human) not to hurt someone else’s feelings often does us a great disservice.
4. Be Present
When you’re focusing your flirting attention, be present and listen – actively. It’s important to hear what the person you’re smitten with has to say and to pay close attention to their non-verbal cues. This also means not checking your cell phone every two minutes. Knowing how to flirt means being intentional; I pinky swear your efforts (and interest!) won’t go unnoticed.
I know, I know. This command doesn’t always land well. But if you’re trying to make an impression with someone, a friendly, authentic smile will always go a long way.
6. Make Eye Contact
If you want to be intentional in your connection, make eye contact. It’s another way to intimately show up that doesn’t involve much effort or physical contact.
You can express a whole lot with just your eyes and holding someone’s gaze a few seconds longer than normal is an easy way to signal that you like someone.
7. Gentle Teasing
Okay, this one may not work for everyone, so feel it out and proceed with caution. I’m not into full-court press teasing, pretty much ever. But, in the name of flirting, some playful prodding can be OK.
Just don’t be a relentless jerk about it. If you’re unsure of whether gentle teasing is OK, a simple, “Is this OK?” will work.
Flirting is the sexy slow burn in getting to know someone. Take it slow and get to know the person. This will help you better understand them and read their reactions more accurately. Even when our intentions are good, we can and do still screw up. If you do, own it, apologize, and don’t do it again. When both parties are into it and on the same page, flirting can be a lot of fun. Remember, consent applies to every interpersonal communication, no matter what.
Ryn Pfeuffer is a versatile print and digital writer specializing in sex, lifestyle, and relationship topics. Over the past two decades, her work has appeared in more than 100 media outlets including Marie Claire, Playboy, Refinery29, The Globe and Mail, The Washington Post, WIRED, and Thrillist.
She adopted a pseudonym and was AVN’s (Adult Video Network) first female porn reviewer – while penning children’s books at the same time. More recently, she is the author of 101 Ways to Rock Online Dating (2019). She lives in Seattle with her rescue dog, Mimi. You can find her on Twitter @rynpfeuffer or IG @ryn_says