Bonding behaviours signal a primitive part of the mammalian brain to relax, to approach, to trust. Also known as attachment cues, these behaviours evolved to help bond mammals to their offspring to improve survival odds.

Variations on these oxytocin-producing behaviours also bond mates in the few mammal species that pair bond. In humans, bonding behaviours might include the following (assuming lovers engage in these activities with benevolent intent, and not for selfish ends):

  • Smiling, with eye contact
  • Gazing into each other’s eyes for several moments (In the courtly love tradition in medieval Western Europe, eye-gazing was considered the most powerful courtship activity, and scientists have confirmed its potency.)
  • Preparing your partner something to eat
  • Kissing with lips and tongues
  • Stroking or hugging with intent to comfort
  • Wordless sounds of contentment and pleasure
  • Skin-to-skin contact
  • Making time together in bed a priority
  • Gently placing your palm over, or holding, your lover’s genitals with intent to connect and comfort
  • Touching and sucking of nipples and/or breasts
  • Sexual meditation with genital contact
  • Affectionate intercourse
  • Holding, or spooning, each other in stillness
  • Massaging with intent to comfort, especially feet, shoulders, and head
  • Sharing a meal, or a walk, with your attention on each other
  • Synchronised breathing
  • Listening to your partner’s heartbeat for several moments
  • Cradling, or gently rocking, your partner’s head and torso
  • Providing a service or treat without being asked
  • Unconditional forgiveness of momentary lapses
  • Listening intently, and restating what you hear
  • Unsolicited approval, via smiles or compliments

Interestingly, when couples go to sex counsellors complaining of disharmony, counsellors often recommend techniques like “sensate focus.” Such techniques are essentially bonding behaviours (mindful touch) without the goal of orgasm.

If you’re curious about the evolutionary basis of bonding behaviours, watch this short video:



Watch a down-to-earth video by a husband describing the power of these simple gestures in his long-term marriage.

This video shows how bonding behaviours can be employed when intercourse is not desired: “3 Ways to Have Sex Without Intercourse“.


Because bonding behaviours are so powerful, it’s wise to employ them only where partners mutually desire a committed relationship. When mixed with casual sex, bonding behaviours can produce unintended consequences, such as broken hearts and sensations of betrayal. See “The Rewards and Perils of Bonding Behaviours.”

If you both wish to nurture each other, but are not ready to establish a committed relationship, deploy a less intimate version of bonding behaviours, such as this approach, or some other clothing-on, caring activity. Maintain a clear, mutual understanding that you will not combine the activity with sexual activity. If you change your minds, defer sexual activity until a future occasion, after you have thoroughly discussed the issue of commitment outside the bedroom.