“The sexiest part of the body is the eyes. That's what I believe.” —Clive Owen
“I always close my eyes during sex — except for a few glances. So I was surprised to see, for the first time in my life, that the eyes of my new lover were open every time I opened mine.” —A divorced woman
Eye contact is vital in romantic communication. However, during sex, which is central in romance, many people close their eyes. Is the look of sex different from the look of love? If vision is not valuable in sex, why do people waste money on fancy mirrors in their bedroom? Why do many people prefer having sex with the light off? And why is blindfold sex so exciting?
The value of eye contact in romantic communication
“The look of love is in your eyes . . . The look of love is saying so much more than just words could ever say.” — Dusty Springfield
“You're just too good to be true, can't take my eyes off you.” — Frankie Valli
Eyes have been regarded as the mirror of our mind. St. Augustine called the eyes "the windows to the soul." Descartes argued that there is no passion that some particular expression of the eyes does not reveal. The eyes are indeed crucial in communicating our emotions. No wonder that the eyes are the organs that release tears, which are typically produced by intense emotions.
Many love songs express the role of the eyes in romance. In love, the eyes speak louder than words. It is the eyes, rather than the genitals or the heart, which may be the main channel through which love is communicated.
In their article, “Love is in the gaze,” Mylene Bolmont and colleagues (2014) emphasize the role of human faces in conveying critical information for social interactions and capturing attention in ways that are unique to faces. Indeed, eye fixations that are longer and more frequent are taken to be an indication of interest, including romantic interest. Bolmont and colleagues suggest that mutual eye gaze is one of the most reliable markers of love between couples, and can be used to differentiate love from lust. Thus, love, compared to lust, elicited relatively longer and more frequent eye fixations to the face than to the body (Bolmont, et al., 2014).
The essential role of eye contact in romantic interactions seems to run counter to the habit of closing the eyes during sex.
Is love blind? Do you close your eyes during sex?
“I shut my eyes in order to see.” —Paul Gauguin
“My wife wants to put mirrors in our bedroom, but when we have sex, she turns off the lights, closes her eyes, and tells me not to look at her." —Unknown
Closing the eyes during sex is not a universal habit — it is not done by all people, all the time. For the purpose of illustrating the variation concerning this habit, I offer some answers (taken from the site Reddit AskWomen) provided by women to the question, “Do you close your eyes during sex?”
- “Having my eyes open is too overwhelming and leads to me not being able to pay attention to physical sensation.”
- “Not for more than a few seconds at a time. I just like to see my partner.”
- “If I can keep my eyes closed, it's a lot easier for me to be ‘present’ instead of being distracted.”
- "Yes, it’s easier to focus on the physical sensation and the sounds he’s making, which turn me on more than anything visual (porn doesn’t do much for me). If my eyes are open, I get distracted. The exception is when we’re doing it sweet and slow, and it’s more about the intimacy and connection than the physical sensation — we’ll look into each other’s eyes for a while.”
- “I love seeing my S.O., and I find him hot as hell, but closing my eyes helps me concentrate on the sensations. I try not to overdo it, though.”
- “My eyes naturally close as I'm approaching orgasm.”
- “Both. If we’re facing each other, I like to look at him.”
Despite the essential role of eye contact in love, closing your eyes during sex is common, and is expressed by various habits, such as having sex with the light off and being excited by blindfold sex.
The role of imagination in love and sex
“The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes.” —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“It is as impossible to climax with your eyes open as it is impossible to sneeze with your eyes open.” —A single woman
In my book, The Arc of Love: How Our Romantic Lives Change Over Time (2019), I discuss the significant role of imagination in romantic love and sexual desire. The imagination in love often includes positive illusions, whereas in sex, fantasies are more central. One difference between them is that in illusions we do not know about the falsity of the imagined content, whereas in fantasies we do. The significance of imagination can be gauged from the impact of art upon us.
Fantasies are essential in sexual desire, as they offer an effective way of coping with personal limitations, normative boundaries, and external constraints. Sexual fantasies have the function of both avoiding negative information and adding positive data. In order for the fantasy to be vivid and (in a sense) reliable, information to the contrary should be neglected. As in watching a movie, we try to get into a detachment mode, in order not to be distracted. Moreover, you can always fantasize the most outrageous encounters done in exactly the way you want and with precisely those who you most desire. Given the affective powers of imagination, it is no wonder that many women say they can achieve orgasm by fantasy alone, with no physical stimulation at all.
Sex with the lights on and off
“I prefer having sex with some moderate light on. If it is a day, I will dim the light a little bit by arranging the curtain; in the evening, I will turn on some weak light.” —A married woman
A related issue to having sex with your eyes closed is having sex with the lights off. In having the lights off, both partners are engaging in sexual interactions with basically closed eyes.
Research suggests that having sex with the lights on can lead to better intercourse. Exposure to light helps boost men’s levels of testosterone and increases sexual satisfaction (Koukouna et al., 2016). Nevertheless, in a survey of singles, those in a relationship, and married people, only singles preferred having sex in unclouded spaces: 54 percent of them prefer the light on, while 46 percent preferred the light off. The ratio among those in a relationship was 49 percent on and 51 percent off. Among married people, only 43 percent preferred the lights on and 57 percent the lights off.
The excitement of blindfold sex
“My eyes adored you though I never laid a hand on you.” — Frankie Valli
A blindfold, a cloth tied to one’s head to cover the eyes and thus disable one’s sight, is yet another way of closing the eyes. By handing over your own control to your partner, blindfold sex games can increase excitement. A 2017 Glamour article on blindfold sex enumerates six reasons for its appeal:
- Blindfold sex spices things up.
- Not being able to see can reduce inhibitions.
- Shutting down one sense intensifies others.
- Being blindfolded increases trust between partners.
- Blindfold sex adds an element of surprise.
- Blindfolding your partner puts you in control.
Leaving aside the details of these reasons, it is clear that the connection between eye contact and sexual desire is multifaceted and depends on various circumstances.
“Although I have sex (mostly) with my eyes closed, I have mirrors in my bedrooms; occasionally, looking at us having sex is a big turn-on for me.” —A woman in a relationship
Increasing sexual excitement often combines closing the eyes with opening them now and again. Many people enjoy opening their eyes at the beginning of the interaction; this can take various forms, such as lights on, a constant gaze, or occasional peeks. Closing the eyes is quite common later on, toward climax. Eye-closing, too, can be done in different ways, by voluntarily dimming the lights, for example, or by being blindfolded. For those open-eye moments, mirrors can be helpful. But closed or open, it seems that the “eyes” definitely have it.
Ben-Ze’ev, A. (2019). The Arc of Love: How Our Romantic Lives Change Over Time. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Bolmont, M., Cacioppo, J. T., & Cacioppo, S. (2014). Love is in the gaze: An eye-tracking study of love and sexual desire. Psychological science, 25, 1748-1756.
Koukouna, D., Bossini, L., Casolaro, I., Caterini, C., & Fagiolini, A. (2016). Light therapy as a treatment for sexual dysfunction; focus on testosterone levels. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 26, S606.