Some advice based on an interesting psychological effect: basically, don’t make dating decisions based on exciting kinky scenes. It’s better to wait a little.

excitation transfer kink

Joshua Earle


One of the things I love the most about my psychology courses is that I’m learning all kinds of stuff about different biases, effects and models. I had an inkling that my actions and choices weren’t totally in my control… but I didn’t realize how much out of my conscious control most of what we do is.

Think your opinions and beliefs are unbiased? Think again. Believe that when you do a good thing it’s because you’re a good person, but when others do good things it’s because circumstances led them to it? Everyone believes the same. I could go on and on about all these interesting biases, but that’s not what I want to talk about today.

When I learned about this specific psychological effect, I was stunned at how much it reflected an experience from last year that I hadn’t quite fully deconstructed. Apparently, I based an entire relationship on something called excitation transfer.

What is excitation transfer?

First, let’s watch a scene from Clueless.

Aside from the fashion choices (OMG THAT HAT), what’s happening here? Dionne is driving her car, and freaking out on the highway. (Highways are nerve-wracking. I avoid them.) And that kind of stress does things to the body, like raise your heart rate, increase your blood flow, and quicken your breath.

You know what that kind of arousal also feels like? That’s right, sexual arousal.

As Dionne is trying to calm down, she interprets how her body is feeling as sexual arousal, rather than stress arousal. That is, it makes her horny, and as Cher narrates, “Dionne’s virginity went from ‘technical’ to ‘non-existent'”.

Basically, Dionne went through an arousing experience, transferred that excitement on her boyfriend, and ended up having sex.

There’s a more complete description of the theory on Wikipedia if you want to read the technical details in psychological language, but I think this explains the general idea rather well.

Why should kinksters care?

When I learned about excitation transfer, I right away went back to that scene with C. that officially started our relationship. When I reread the post, though, it smacked of misattributed arousal. The signs that we weren’t really that compatible were there early on: the lack of connection in vanilla settings, my original gut feeling at the first party we were supposed to play together, and finally the apparent “snapping in place” of the relationship once I ended up tied to the St. Andrew’s cross having a knife dragged over my body.

In short, the scene aroused me, and I attributed the arousal to C. rather than the scene itself. C. is not a bad guy. He’s a pretty good one, actually. But I shouldn’t have based my decision to start a relationship with him based on a scene that went well. In my head back then, good scene = person I’m romantically compatible with. But it isn’t so.

Although I haven’t asked other people about this, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only kinkster who’s experienced this. Play together at a party; feel aroused; start a relationship (or at least go on a date after).

And since many of us aren’t aware of this effect, we can fall for people with whom we really shouldn’t have relationships.

Even vanillas use this strategy all the time. Roller coasters, horror movies, bungee jumping: these are all date ideas that use excitation transfer to make people feel more attracted via excitation transfer. Life Sexual also mentions the roller coaster thing as a way to attract a partner. It’s classic excitation transfer.

As with all psychological effects, it’s not good or bad. It’s in how you wield the power of knowing about it that matters. And I wish that more kinksters were aware of this, so that they can protect themselves from people who would manipulate them into having sex, or starting relationships that they were reluctant to pursue in the first place.

If you go on the play floor and have a really good scene with someone, it’s normal to feel aroused and even attracted to your play partner, even though you didn’t feel attracted right before. You’re doing something kinky, something possibly sexual, and something that arouses your body. Your mind tries to find a source for the arousal, and latches unto the other person.

However, deciding to pursue a relationship with someone based on a single, arousing scene would be a mistake. This doesn’t mean that you can’t date a person you scene with. That would be silly. It just means to be careful about the decisions you make in the grip of scene arousal. Wait a little while, maybe the day after, to consider your options. Do you like this person outside of the play floor? If you don’t know, maybe going on a few vanilla dates would be best.

If I had made my decision about C. just based on our vanilla dates, I wouldn’t have decided to date him—and that would have been a better decision, in hindsight. I changed my mind in the throes of post-scene excitation transfer.

Enhance your relationship with excitation transfer

Here’s the good part: for those of you currently in relationships, you can use excitation transfer to your advantage. If you feel like your relationship needs a boost of passion, do something exciting together. There’s a reason that couples who work out together stay together: they have frequent occasions to assign their post-workout physical arousal to their partner’s presence.

But you don’t need to start running marathons. Kinky scenes are great—that’s how I manage my long-term sexual attraction to my partners. But you can also do other exciting stuff. Take a parachuting class. Race in go-karts. Register to an urban treasure hunt. Ride horses. These kinds of activities will make you feel closer together, because you’ll attribute your physical arousal to your partner. And when you get home, if you’re not too tired, you’ll probably have great sex.

Ain’t psychology amazing?

Good advice? Helpful information? Thank me with a coffee!