You spot him in the Sainsbury’s snacks aisle – appropriate, you think to yourself. Even from two metres away, you’re still close enough to notice the precise stormy blue shade of his eyes, the lone dimple in his cheek, the grey tracksuit bottoms clinging in all the right places. He catches you watching him. And the thick, hot tingle that pulses through you when you make eye contact? That’s electric.
Friends, welcome to the age of eye fucking – the safest way to get your kicks during COVID-19. While it’s difficult to bang from a government-regulated two metres apart, there’s no restrictions on letting a little erotically charged eye contact relieve some of that sexual tension during lockdown. But does it really work?
“Eye contact can be arousing because it allows for a connection which is authentic and emotional,” explains Daniel Sher, a clinical psychologist at Between Us Clinic who recommends it to his clients looking to overcome sexual dysfunction and relationship issues. “Neurological research has suggested that eye contact plays an important role in allowing two people to get a sense of one another’s emotional and mental states. In other words, eye contact allows us to transcend tendencies toward objectification and connect with our partner in a deeper, more authentic and intimate way.”
There’s also the added titillation that stems from the sense of being seen. According to French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, “the gaze” is a state of mind which arises from the awareness of being looked at – a concept he linked with scopophilia, or the pleasure in looking. “Eye contact is potent because it creates a feeling of nakedness, vulnerability and openness,” explains psychosexual therapist and love coach Cate McKenzie. “It creates a heady blend of excitement and danger.”
But the thing about eye contact that elevates it from simple voyeurism? Reciprocity. “One aspect of what makes eye contact so sexy is the interactive-responsive nature of it: it signals connection,” explains Sher. No wonder then that on PornHub, “eye contact” receives around 250k searches each month.
Anyone who has been on the receiving end of this kind of optical orgasm will understand the appeal – eye contact creates a strong emotional reaction in us that originates from deep within our cerebral cortices. “Research has shown that making eye contact activates […] a part of the emotional centre of the brain, known as the limbic system. Therefore, making eye-contactinvolves the activation of networks in the brain that are linked to a person’s experience of emotion.”
More importantly, eye contact can be a good insight into intent. According to a study from the University of Kansas, we’re piss-poor at reading flirting signals, but eye contact can help decode them. “In flirting eye contact, the gaze happens more often, is held for a longer length of time and is more intense,” explains social anthropologist Jean Smith. Think Claire and Leo through the aquarium in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, rather than Augustus Gloop in Willy Wonka’s candied crib.
Looking at the eye itself can also help reveal whether someone is attracted to you.Studies have shown that we read complex emotions via the eye muscles, including determining sexual interest. This interest is conveyed by the pupils dilating – an occurrence which research shows our brains automatically process. This can explain why, during the 16th century, women would use eye drops made from the “Belladonna” plant (aka Deadly Nightshade) in order to help keep their pupils dilated – a look believed to increase their attractiveness. Sure, this stuff was highly toxic, but at least the science behind it was sound. Incidentally, it’s still used
While doing the visual bump-and-grind might work as a good substitute in the short term for the lack of lockdown action, there could also be other perks. One Italian psychologist found that staring into someone else’s eyes for ten minutes resulted in mild “disassociation” – a term used to explain the experience of losing your normal connection to reality. Just look at the the intense reaction Marina Abramovic’s now infamous performance art elicited when she locked eyes with members of the public for hours on end at MoMAback in 2010 – many of her subjects were reduced to laughter or tears. Essentially, eye contact can offer you an experience that’s not wholly dissimilar from feeling high. Handy to know if your dealer is self-isolating.
These feels can be of the romantic kind, too. Multiple studies have shown that exchanging a mutual unbroken gaze for at least two minutes can increase feelings of passionate love. This is believed to be down to a spike in oxytocin – ie. the love hormone – being released during interpersonal gazing. Staring into each others’ eyes won’t simply turn you on, it can also get you high on love.
So while gazing into a stranger’s eyes for minutes on end might be off the table in these strange, socially-distant times, that quick eye-fuck through the plexiglass protection at the checkout? The perfect place to practise if you’re looking for some visual bangs on lockdown.
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HOW TO NAIL EROTIC EYE CONTACT
Timing is everything
Whilethe science shows that a minimum of three seconds is needed to have an impact, there’s no magic number as to the maximum amount of time to maintain eye contact. “The longer you can hold eye contact the more of a human connection you’ll make,” says Louise Beale, Director of Media & Presentation Training at Middle Table Productions.. “Just before it starts to feel uncomfortable is when you look away. Usually, anything over 6 seconds will feel too much.”
Trust your instincts
When it comes to finding the appropriate moment to start giving someone the eye, Daniel Shar recommends going with your gut: “When you’re making eye contact, your emotions are being elicited on a primal level, so trust them. If you’re feeling awkward or creeped out, it is fair to assume that your partner is feeling or picking up on this.”
Follow the rule of three
“Part of the appeal of eye contact is that it’s a bit of a game,” says Cate Mackenzie. “So if you look at something like burlesque, the way performers use their eyes is very teasing. This only adds to their allure and appeal.” To make your own eye contact more enticing, Mackenzie recommends trying the “Three Look Tease” – a method which involves looking at someone then looking away again three times to add an element of playfulness to the interaction. “It’s a kind of mastery that makes eye contact more psychological.”
Slide on over
Once someone has noticed your gaze, let your eyes slide away and around the room before settling back on them again. According to Cate Mckenzie, a returning gaze shows not only that you’re interested, but that you’re more interested in them than anyone else in the room that you’ve just scanned.
Practise makes perfect
While some people might have a knack for good eye contact, it’s something which can be learned. Like any skill you want to develop, the golden rule, says Louise Beale, is practice. “Practise holding eye contact with friends, family, colleagues – people you feel comfortable with to gain confidence. It’ll be worth when it comes to a moment you’re really trying to make count.”