Fueled by desire: Sexual activation facilitates the enactment of relationship-initiating behaviors

Gurit E. Birnbaum, Moran Mizrahi, Harry T. Reis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Sexual desire has long been theorized to serve a relationship-initiation function by bringing partners together. Four studies addressed this possibility, examining whether activation of the sexual system encouraged the enactment of nonsexual behaviors that signal warmth and contact readiness. In Study 1, participants mimed together with an opposite-sex confederate to prerecorded music. Participant’s desire for the confederate was associated with coded immediacy behaviors toward the confederate (e.g., proximity seeking, synchronization). Study 2 extended these findings, showing that participants, who slow danced with a confederate perceived to be more desirable, were more synchronized with the confederate. Synchronization, in turn, was associated with greater interest in future interactions with the confederate. Studies 3 and 4 established a causal connection between sexual activation and engagement in relationship-promoting behaviors (provision of responsiveness and help, respectively). These findings suggest that intense desire, which attracts new partners to each other, elicits behaviors that support the attachment-bonding process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3057-3074
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Social and Personal Relationships
Issue number10
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Attraction
  • dating
  • relationship initiation
  • responsiveness
  • sexual desire
  • sexuality
  • synchrony


Dive into the research topics of 'Fueled by desire: Sexual activation facilitates the enactment of relationship-initiating behaviors'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this