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Sex Tips For Geeks: The Art of the Pickup

Too many hackers seem to feel they're doomed from the opening scene of the mating game. Fortunately, picking up potential partners is a learnable skill. Even if you find that sexual tension reduces you to a tongue-tied clod or a babbling twit, there are steps you can take to get better at it.

The first, most important thing for you to know is this; women can smell fear -- and they run away from it. When you're trying to pick up a girl, whether it's for a one-night stand or because you think she might be the love of your life, the most powerful thing you can do is to be unafraid of either failure or success.

The flip side of this is that self-confidence is your best friend. As we discussed in How To Be Sexy, women can smell self-confidence too -- and they go for it like cats for catnip. It doesn't much matter exactly why you're self-confident; it could be because you're an alpha male in some hierarchy, or it could be because you've encountered the woman in a setting where you are functioning at your best and you know it, or it could even be because you just took the right recreational drugs.

"But Eric," I hear you ask, "I'm a beta male, and I'm standing around at some stupid party, and I am neither tipsy nor stoned. How do I become self-confident enough not to smell of fear?" I can answer in two words: fake it.

I realize that this goes against all the standard advice you get from the usual well-meaning people, who will begin and end with "be yourself". If yourself is chronically inept with attractive women, this advice sucks. You need to learn method acting. At that party, watch guys who are chatting up women effectively. Imitate them. Don't worry too hard about replicating their mental states or understanding why they do what they do; if you do their moves understanding will happen naturally over time. Play the role of confident person until you become it.

You are going to crash and burn a few times as you work this. Cope with it, and learn from your mistakes. It's like programming or any other skill; you get better with practice. And you need to practice, in situations where the stakes are low. If you tried to learn programming by thinking about it a lot, but not actually trying it until success was a life-or-death issue, chances are you'd never get any good at it.

There are a couple of things you can do to keep the stakes low and make the learning process less harrowing. One is to not automatically zero in on the hot chicks who make your pulse pound. Try your method acting out on women who look moderately attractive but don't send you into instant and total sexual panic; you're much less likely to freeze up that way. Another is to chat up women for your friends. If you notice your buddy staring tongue-tied and longingly at that foxy redhead in the bolero, walk over to her, smile conspiratorially and tell her he'd like to meet her. You'll find it amazing how much easier talking to an attractive woman gets when your own ego isn't on the line.

OK, so what are the successful moves to imitate? There are a couple of basics every guy should know. You want to take on the body language of relaxation and confidence -- so speak softly, and move gracefully and deliberately. Use the lower end of your normal vocal range; high notes come from a tense throat.

Make eye contact. Ideally, look at her as though the two of you are sharing a private joke. Hold the contact long enough to give her time to respond. Watch for pupillary dilation; if they get wider when she looks back at you, you're winning. Conversely, if her pupils shrink you are probably better off looking elsewhere. Unlike most body language, these are involuntary responses and cannot be faked.

To be sexy, let your sexual interest show in a quiet, controlled way. Women really go for men who appreciate them without being overly needy or uptight or conflicted or hesitant about it. Some men have this down well enough that they can make eye contact with a woman they've never met before, smile, say "You're very pretty." and make her smile back. Try this sometime. The self-confidence required to pull it off is attractive to women -- if you sound sure of yourself when you do it, the response you get may surprise you.

Cathy: Try this on a stranger in an elevator, if you must, to minimize the fear level.

In picking up women, failure breeds failure. If, when you meet a woman you like, your first thought is of the times you screwed up similar encounters before, it will show in your body language and she'll turn off. Conversely, success breeds success. If you remember previous successes and behave as though other women have found you attractive, she'll notice. Maybe not consciously, but she will notice.

Now let's say you've gotten past eye contact the mutual introduction to the point where she's interested enough to have a conversation with you. The most important thing is to pay attention. Calm down. Listen. You want her to feel that, at least for the time she chooses to spend talking with you, she is the center of the world and has your undivided attention. This means not being distracted by other things going on around you; but more importantly it means not being distracted by the things going on in your own head. If you're busy worrying about how you're doing or whether or not you're going to score, your attention will fall away from her, and she'll notice.

Amy: "Yes, listening is good. But don't be too shy to talk. My man hardly said a word to me the first few months we knew each other. I thought he figured I was a dork! The truth is that he was too damned shy and geeky to give me anything more than yes or no answers to anything I said. (Sound like Columbia Internet yet?) He finally asked me out. I didn't leave his apartment for three days following that date. Get the picture? If you talk to us, the worst thing we can do is indicate we aren't interested and you don't get laid. On the other hand, you may strike up a conversation and find out she's had a crush on you for months! If you don't talk to us, you can guarantee you won't get laid. Play the statistics!"

The verbal level of the conversation is significant. Finding common interests is a good thing. But body language, kinesics, and instinct are just as (if not more) important. We're animals. We mate mostly with hindbrains and glands and bodies, not with our frontal lobes. Animal awareness helps. Men who fully understand this seldom lack for female company, even if they're jerks.

Cathy: "Try to have a smile in your voice -- you want it to radiate relaxation and pleasure. If that's too vague, think about the way a good trainer talks to a horse."

Most simply: you need to establish communication so you can find out what she wants. Men who assume that every woman wants to be wooed like a prospect for marriage are almost as blind as men who who treat women solely as sex objects. Sometimes she'll be looking for romance, sometimes for a simple horny fuck, and often she'll be after something in between. The more accurately you zero in on her desire, the more likely you are to get yours.

Cathy: "If you can't find any common interests after a couple of minutes of conversation, maybe you're talking with the wrong woman."

Even if you're both in simple-horny-fuck mode, communication and mutual respect matter a lot. For one thing, they make the sex better. For another thing, being the kind of person who respects your partners gets you more partners and keeps them around longer. Being a decent human being and treating her like a human being is not a distraction or a sacrifice, it's an investment that pays off. Among other benefits, you might find that what starts out as a fuck ends up being lovemaking.

The next step is touch. It's very easy to touch a woman intimately (even a woman you've just met) if you bear two things in mind. One is that you must not fear the consequences of touching her; if you do, that fear will make your touch unpleasant. The other is that she must at all times feel that she has control of the level of intimacy, so she doesn't fear getting involved in something she isn't ready for.

When you reach towards her, whether it's to touch her hand put an arm around her or whatever, ask permission kinesically. Stop the motion, just short of completion, long enough that she knows she has the option to move away or otherwise refuse the offered intimacy. Often, the fact of asking such permission will be enough to ensure that you get it.

When you touch her, relax and enjoy it -- moderately. Don't cling; don't prolong the contact beyond what's natural for the situation. At first, the best touches are not sexual but suggest sexual possibility. For example, if after some conversation she's standing beside you and returns a smile, you might offer her a light hug around the waist or run a hand lightly down her upper back. How she responds will tell you a lot.

Amy: "A very good way to tell whether a women is interested (or, at least, not grossed out) is whether she touches you. This doesn't mean that she jumps you in the middle of the cubicle farm. All she really needs to do is in some way make physical contact -- like picking a piece of lint of your shirt. Conversely, if you brush up against her (perhaps completely innocently), and she pulls away, chances are she's not interested. If she doesn't react at all, proceed but with caution. If she strips naked and jumps you in the middle of the cube farm, you've got other problems entirely!"

Cathy: "In fact, if she's interested she is more likely to touch you in subtle ways (like brushing up against you) instead of doing something more overt, or actually telling you she's interested. Part of this is conditioning - `nice' girls don't make the first move! And part is, on some level, a desire for plausible deniability in case the guy doesn't respond. So she can say `Well, I did make nice at him but I guess he wasn't interested,' even if the problem is that he was simply unaware how interested she was! Women have egos, too."

Once you've reached the point where you're both comfortable touching each other in a semi-sexual way, we're out of the pickup script and into the mating dance proper.

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Eric S. Raymond <>