Physiological Responses to Lust: How a Body Responds to Desire

31. October 2011

When you spot an attractive man or woman, your eyes don’t fly out of your head like they always do in cartoons. However, there are really specific, physical cues that reveal your desire, even if the other person doesn’t realize it.

The brain is to blame for most of these reactions, but instead of panicking about masking your lust, use this knowledge to identify lust in others. Here are some of the top physiological signs of lustful desire.

Dilated pupils

The eyes might be a window to the soul, but they’re also a window to your lustful desires. Don’t put on your bug-eyed sunglasses just yet. Most people don’t know these cues, and hey, now you can figure out who’s into you just by studying their eyes, which you’re conveniently supposed to look at anyway!

Your pupils dilate when it’s dark and when you’re looking at something you like. That’s why this physical reaction is linked to sexual attraction, but it’s not limited to just sexual longing. So if your significant other’s pupils are larger when they’re staring at a cake, I wouldn’t get too alarmed.

Fun fact: Because it’s easier to identify pupil dilation when you have lighter-colored eyes, that might be why people generally find blue and green eyes the most attractive. If you have blue or green eyes, you’re more obvious about your feelings of attraction. You can decide if that’s a good or bad thing.

Heart racing/pounding

This has to be the most cliché indication of love:

Boy, you got my heartbeat running away…” – Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass”

Do I make your heart beat like an 808 drum?” – Ke$ha’s “Your Love Is My Drug”

If I said my heart was beating loud…” – Britney Spears’s “Hold It Against Me”

And that’s just with bad pop songs on the radio. Don’t even get us started on movies, TV shows, books, and every song every made before 2010. The beating heart is the ultimate representation of lust, love, and longing. But why? Other than the fact that it deals with the heart, what about lust makes this tiny organ beat so rapidly?

When you find someone attractive, your brain sends a message to your adrenal glands to start producing chemicals like adrenaline — you know, the same stuff that surges through you when you’re freaking out and able to lift a car off someone. It totally amps you. No wonder your heart beats faster.


Unlike a racing heart and dilated eyes, sweaty palms are a little more noticeable and a little more embarrassing. Sweating is one of the most obvious outward signs of attraction. That doesn’t mean you can shove your crush into a sauna to get the desired attraction results, though.

To tell if someone’s attracted to you, just pay attention to when they sweat (if they do). If you’re in a super well air-conditioned room eating frozen yogurt and watching Ice Age, and the person is sweating, that’s probably a good sign for you!

Adrenaline causes sweating just like it causes your heart to pound when you’re attracted to someone. Your brain signals the release of other chemicals when you’re feeling attraction, too, and the mix of all these chemicals produces the excitement (and the sweating). Two examples are dopamine and norepinephrine (which is similar to adrenaline). Basically, the brain has a field day.

Different breathing patterns

This chemical craziness doesn’t stop there. Dopamine, one of the major players in creating infatuation, is partly responsible for making you feel like you can’t breathe. Because that’s what you need — the panic of having quicker breaths, a faster heart rate, and sweat dripping out of every pore.

Then you bring in phenylethylamine (which is found in chocolate), another brain-released stimulate that plays a part and also might prompt the further release of the previously mentioned chemicals. All of these stimulants mixed together makes for a slew of physical reactions.

Once this natural brain rave is going on throughout your body, your breathing might quicken. You can also identify this quality in someone you think might be attracted to you. As long as you’re not running a marathon, this is a pretty accurate sign. Keep in mind, though, that not everyone is super obviously about their shorter breaths, so don’t get too discouraged if you don’t see the cues.


Our brain triggers the release of a lot of chemicals when we’re feeling attraction, which causes a variety of physical responses. The main signs are listed above, but there are others as well, like energy boosts, increased focus, and that fun “love” feeling, which usually tags along, unless you’re looking for a one-night stand.


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