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Dear Dr. H,

How do you gauge the level of interest between a guy and a girl? I don’t want to force it but I want to advance the intimacy.

Dear student,

All too often in our confrontation-averse culture, we avoid asking direct questions (i.e. “Are you into me?”) and rely on nonverbal cues (i.e. they aren’t shoving me off of them, so they must be into me).
You refer to the “advancement of intimacy,” so I am going to assume you’re asking about how to know whether your partner wants to go further in a sexual relationship.
No you do not want to force it but, the thing about “force” is that people often believe it is synonymous only with physical pressure – that if you’re not physically pushing someone toward a more sexually intimate relationship, then it’s all good. You would be wrong to think that.
Pressure comes by way not just of physical force, but of verbal and psychological coercion, as well as the lack of recognition and respect of partners who aren’t active participants.
So even if you’re not physically forcing someone to take off their clothes or give you oral sex or a hand job or whatever, “gauging the level of interest” in someone – especially when you’re getting to know them – often means you’re asking pointed questions.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, asking if you can take someone’s shirt off is so much more awkward than just going for it and seeing what happens.
But the “go for it and see” method runs the risk of sexual assault; consent comes before, not after, advancing sexual activity.
If you care about this person, you don’t want them to feel pressured into the activity you’re engaging in.
Asking things like, “Are you good with this?” or “Does this feel good?” is a great way to gauge the level of interest.
If your partner relies on communicating through nonverbal cues, tell them it’s hard to really know what they want when they aren’t verbalizing it and you just want to make sure you’re on the same page.
These conversations are sometimes better had out of the bedroom and with your clothes on.
Don’t let “getting caught up in the moment” cloud your judgement about what makes for consensual activity – ask early; ask often, especially when you’re getting to know someone.
While you asked about assessing your partner’s interest for progressing the level of intimacy in a relationship, I also hear from students who are confused whether someone they are talking to, hanging out with, etc is into them.
Again, because we’d often rather eat our left arm than to come right out and ask, “Hey, are you into me?”Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Is this person curious about me, my day and my life?
Does this person call me when they say they will and show up when they say they will?
Has this person introduced me to their friends and are they interested in hanging out with mine?
Do they value my thoughts, opinions and ideas?
Do they put down their phone or ignore texts when we’re having a conversation?
The list goes on, but there’s a good jumping off point. No one likes wondering where they stand and if you aren’t sure where you do, go ahead and ask.
If someone is into you, asking them if they are isn’t going to change their mind.
That said, insecurity is unbecoming, so if you’re constantly needing verbal reassurance when their actions have really given you no reason to question their intent, that may make someone head for the hills.
Good luck!
For more information on navigating sexual consent, check out:

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Ask Dr. H