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Hey Man: How to Flirt Without Getting Nervous

Plus: here's how to have sex after a lockdown dry spell.
April 29, 2021, 8:30am
Men's advice column on dating
Photo: VICE
‘Hey Man’ is a personal advice column about guys, by guys. Need help? Email HeyMan@vice.com.

Hey man, now that we’re allowed to mingle a bit more, I’m hoping to meet people again. I’m quite anxious about going on dates, and especially with flirting in the moment. How can I up my game?  

Hey man, 

Seeing as lockdown reduced the idea of a date to walking around aimlessly until you need a piss – or having something more akin to an unofficial work Zoom – rest assured that even the smoothest of operators are going to be rusty by now. Fortunately, flirting is a science with a bit of art thrown in. 

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It isn’t simple to stop the general anxiety that comes along with dating, but it can be surprisingly liberating to accept the notion of “huh, maybe I am overthinking the idea that this date is going to affect the rest of my life and that if they don’t like me for some reason I am forever doomed”. 

According to dating and relationship expert Sarah Louise Ryan, people get caught up on “the end goal” way too much.

“By trying to not worry about this, you will find yourself being more present in the moment, really engaging with your date,” she says. “This means you're both more likely to actually have a good time.”

Assuming you and the person know each other’s intentions (always good to be direct with these if you’re texting before your date) and/or the vibe is good, we can consider the actual mechanics of flirting.

Everyone is different, but I figured it made sense to get a general consensus on what makes good flirt game. I asked a bunch of people for their thoughts, and the things that came up most frequently were: eye contact, confidence and good conversation. Let’s unpack them. 

Eye contact is incredibly underrated. It shows a willingness to communicate and suggests our attention is fixed on the person. It’s also something a lot of men actually shy away from, as it can feel pretty vulnerable. If you can, try and keep eye contact while chatting. Look down now and then and gaze back up (insert dreamboat celebrity bloke here) when necessary, so you don’t feel or look like you’re trying to burn a hole in their face.

“Eye contact across the room lets me know you want me,” Nic, 23, says. This tip can be applied in most cases, from dancefloor to diner. Of course, if you meet eyes a couple times but they aren’t trying to return eye contact, perhaps give it up for a bit. Unreciprocated eye contact can quickly get creepy.

Good conversation is the most important aspect of flirting. Here’s where you’ll need a little bit of imagination, to keep things alive. Just have a couple questions locked down that aren’t to do with work, “what have you been up to in the last year” or any other stale pandemic questions. Use your surroundings if needs be. However, the key to all good chat is to simply listen to what the other person is saying, and to respond properly, with a bit of curiosity about who they are. 

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“Being fully present in the moment, and connecting with what is being said is very important,” says Ryan. This is improved by eye contact and open body language: Lean in a little but keep your chest and arms/hands fairly wide. Everyone wants to feel valued, so show you’re into them with body language and questions, keep them talking. 

As a good date or bit of flirting comes down to how well you and the person hit it off, it’s hard to guarantee success. Not everyone is compatible. That’s alright, though. Could you imagine how exhausting it would be if we wanted to open a joint bank account with everyone we ever dated? No thanks.  

“It’s important to not see failure as a final destination,” Ryan says. Essentially, if it doesn’t work out long-term, there’ll be other dates. Also, by not focussing on what’s right in front of you, you might miss a chance to connect with them. By trying out some of the commonly-liked devices above, hopefully the stress will fade and you’ll find yourself more frequently having a good time on the scene. Good luck, man.

Hey man, I’ve forgotten how to shag. I think. I’m not saying I was the business beforehand, but it’s been about a year now, and I’m talking to people about casual hook-ups, but I keep putting it off “until June” because I’m nervous I’ll be shit at it. Any pointers?  

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Hey man. We all have a lot of anxieties around sexual performance. This likely contributes to – and is exacerbated by – the fact that British people have less regular sex on average than in years previous, and the fact we’ve had our perception of sex warped slightly by porn.

In lockdown of course, shagging dried up even further. Dr Lee Smith, Head of Academic Research at EKHO Wellbeing, says he “did a study which found that just 40 per cent of UK adults were sexually active during the first lockdown”. Being nervous makes a lot of sense, but we’ve got you covered. 

Psychological, physical, and inter-personal considerations all play their part in making the experience a good one.

Practical concerns first though: Condoms and lube are non-negotiable. Make sure you have them. If you’re convinced you can’t have good sex with a condom, you’re probably using the wrong ones. There are loads out there and they all have different attributes. Getting the right condom can even improve sex. Whether you want something to help you last longer or get you (or them) there quicker, there’s a johnny for that. Do a little research before choosing. Bonus points for getting the other person’s input also. 

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When it comes to the physical side, exercises such as “pelvic floor exercises help prolong sexual performance,” says Dr Luke Pratsides, a GP in east London and with Numan, an online clinic for men. He explains: “You can do this by sitting and squeezing the muscles 10 to 15 times. Repeat this maybe two or three times a day.” If you’re worried about premature ejaculation, this can help. Otherwise you could try edging (i.e. stopping just before ejaculating, waiting a little, and then starting again).

The most important aspect of good sex is psychological; a horny mix of confidence and chemistry. To help here, I spoke with around a dozen people to get a general sense of what people of all identities and orientations like when shagging a man. There seems to be a few universal truths when it comes to good sex. 

“Having sex with someone should be a team effort, not just kind of going at it like a random dog on someone's leg,” says Scott Flashheart from Probably True Podcast, a queer life and sex podcast. What Scott’s getting at is that communication is paramount for a good shag. You want to be speaking to the partner in the moment, or at least “being responsive to body language”, as Em, 26, says. 

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Play the long game, too. When men get positive visual or verbal queues we often assume that means they want the same but harder and faster. Not always the case! Nor is aiming for an orgasm. Though you might think society says otherwise, you're not really having sex to have an orgasm. You’re there because you fancy the other person enough to be getting intimate with them. 

The word “confidence” was mentioned by nine of the people I spoke with. Obviously telling someone to be confident is useless, but if you can tell yourself that the more you listen and do what feels right, the more you’re likely to not be their worst shag, hopefully that’ll reduce the stress. Also, don’t take it too seriously. Many people mentioned that being able to “have a laugh” is very important. Pay attention, but enjoy the moment for the clumsy, frisky, sticky hot mess it often is. 

In short, what it comes down to is listening to what you want, but also whatever the person in the room (or car, park, dilapidated public building, etc) with you wants too. Even if you’ve had a good experience with them before, “sometimes I want a loving like tender shag, other times I want to be slapped and thrown around the room” as Edward, 25, points out (among many others).

Considering what the other person says they like, before and during, is the way to near foolproof a decent shag. Beyond that, just enjoy yourself. Some pelvic exercises won’t hurt either. 

And one more time: Consent. Condom. Lube. 

@_rhysthomas_