Your Call: How Can I Talk to Men Without It Being About Sex?

We get a lot of advice questions coming in at EMandLO.com, but sadly, we just can’t answer them all. Which is why, once a week, we turn to you to decide how best to advise a reader. Make your call on the letter below by leaving your advice in the comments section. 

Dear Em & Lo,

How can I have a lively, engaging conversation with a guy I’ve just met in a social setting (ex: house party, bar, laundromat) without an undercurrent of sex creeping in?

It’s not that I have anything against sex (or party/bar/laundromat hookups). Far from it. I’m an attractive girl in my mid-twenties, and I’ve had my share of sexual adventures (& misadventures). I’m a-okay with flirting, but I feel like it sometimes inhibits the opportunity to get to know these fellows — who seem like decent, interesting, thoughtful people — on a more sincere level.

Honestly, guys get monotonous when they think they’ve caught a whiff of the pussy train. There’s a script to flirting, & it can be a fun one to enact sometimes, but not always. For one, I don’t want to bone every guy I’ve had a 5+ minute conversation with in the room. For another, I often just want to go home alone & watch Top Chef & maybe dwell on all the fascinating things I learned from that great conversation I had at the party.

What can I do to direct the conversation to less-flirt more-substance, but still keep it fun & interesting?

– Platonic Ideal

What should P.I. do? Let her know in the comments below.

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  1. We can blame Hollywood, or girlie magazines, but the popular media seems to teach females that all they need to attract a man is to be beautiful.

    You won’t get very far in life on looks alone. Shallowness breeds shallowness so looking only at the “hot” guys and turning away from those who aren’t particularly physically appealing but with whom you might get on really well will only lead to these sort of encounters. If you let your personality shine, talk about things that interest you, you are going to attract likeminded people. If you demonstrate that you are interesting as a person, the right people are going to notice.

    Good luck!

  2. Aw shucks. I found my way back here through the Comment of the Week post on the 20th, and didn’t realize there had been more responses. Alisa, I heard what you were saying in your original post, and found it to be believable. I’m touched that you heard me in return.

    Regarding Chin Up, Chest High’s response, I guess for the most part I agree with him – at least for the aforementioned “non-douchey” people. I think it’s informative that you brought up the importance of being attractive(visually) right after mentioning the issue of wanting people to like you. For me, visual attractiveness has two main components: inherent looks and facial expressions/body language. I believe you when you say you’re attractive, i.e. inherently good-looking. Perhaps it’s also become routine for you to complement your looks with expressions and such during a conversation. This is the touchy part. First off, I don’t think it’s particularly necessary to stoke your attractiveness in this way. A man will find you plenty attractive from across a room even if you’re spacing out, transfixed by an intricate crown molding. Second, it can be hard to know how we come across to other people. A smile that you think is an affirmation and an attractive expression as well, might seem to him like the kind that’s often followed by a wink. To test if your physicality might be betraying you, maybe have a friend observe you in conversation out of earshot. What does she think you’re communicating? So, you can be a bit more matter-of-fact when you converse, as long as you don’t seem robotic – geeky is hot too!

    All that being said, I also realize that being attractive and feeling secure are two different things. Some very attractive people have been very insecure as well. I have no idea if that is part of the issue here, and if it is, it’s outside the scope of this thread. The only thing I could feebly offer in response to this possibility is to say that, based on what I’ve read above, well, face it, you’re a fucking catch!

    – Dave

  3. ” I believe lots of guys like and respect women they find attractive,”

    It is the other way around… men are attracted to women who are likeable and have things other than her body to attract a man. Ambition, character and a sense of humour are incredibly sexy to us. If you have at least one of these things you will get the sort of attention you desire from the men you want attention from.

  4. Hi All,

    Original letter writer here – thank you for your replies & suggestions. Some useful content (esp from Dave W), some critical but reasonable questioning given the info you had in the original letter to go by.

    To address a couple points people brought up: Yep, I do think a major part of the issue is that I want people to like me. I believe lots of guys like and respect women they find attractive, take their thoughts seriously, have good rapport with them…I also think oftentimes the first instinct for a lot of these guys is to try to sound a woman out for sex, especially if she has a friendly demeanor. I have a good sense of my physical boundaries and don’t let things escalate in that regard, but I am looking for practical ways to check and redirect conversations early on; to feel fully in mastery of how I represent myself from the get-go.

    To re-emphasize, it’s hardly “THE WORST THING EVER” if the conversation gets too flirty. It just isn’t optimal, if that makes sense? Like, if that guy has fascinating opinions about, say, American longform essayists, or geeks out about urban transit planning, I’d like to hear his opinions on that. And these topics are more likely to go untapped if a significant component of our conversation is flirting.

    Anyway, thanks again for your comments. Over & out!


  5. If you want to start meaningful conversations with men that don’t involve a hookup, maybe you should meet them in places other than hookup spots.

  6. My initial response is that you have more control over conversations than you think. Stick to the topics that you want to discuss. If they start to veer off into sex stuff, hold your ground. If they dip their toes in that water again, hold your ground once again. They’ll get it and play on your turf if they’re worth getting to know more. If they seem insistent on “going there”, then move on. It’s not the worst thing in the world to disappoint a guy who doesn’t respect your boundaries. I suppose it can be hard to get past the mentality of wanting everyone to like you. But I think it can often steer you in the wrong direction. You only want the non-douchey people of the world to like you, and of course, your personal “Mr. Right”. I guess my advice is to work through the feelings of being rejected based on the other person’s notion of bad conversation. This will train you to plot your own course rather than submit to the whims of others. Be strong, be original, be awesome!

  7. Start the conversation with, “so what do you think of the House Republican’s willingness to temporarily raise the debt ceiling?” If he can’t give you an intelligent answer, walk away.

  8. In my experience, there are some guys who will take any conversation with a woman as “She wants to do me,” and there’s nothing you can do on your end short of flashing a huge diamond (and that *might* work) to get them to not go there mentally. I wish there was, but there really isn’t a way to fend that off.

  9. Can people not have conversations without it being sex-related? Just talk about everyday things like work, hobbies, celebs. If it gets a bit flirty it gets a bit flirty. It doesn’t have to lead to sex. Most friendships have a bit of flirting anyway once you get comfortable being around a person. It’s also a bit presumptuous to assume every guy wants to sleep with you as well.

  10. Or it may be the other way round – perhaps the letter writer can’t help flirting with guys because she’s afraid they won’t find her interesting otherwise?

  11. While confidence is a good thing, I’m wondering if this person is a bit borderline delusional- everyone doesn’t want to have sex with everyone- I have more guy friends than I do female ones and I’ve never started any conversation wondering how to make it clear that I don’t want to have sex with them-it’s just a mutual friendship!

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