The real reason mood lighting works like a romantic magic trick


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Photo: Getty Images/Kathrin Ziegler

My very favorite cocktail bar is nearly a dead ringer for for Miss Havisham’s dilapidated mansion in the 1998 remake of Great Expectations. The main difference between the two venues? Candlelight. That’s presumably because when it comes to setting the mood, candlelight is a GD game-changer. Without it, I surely wouldn’t repeatedly stumble into the venue for a nightcap with my boyfriend (because, again, it would look like Miss Havisham’s dilapidated mansion). So I have to wonder: Is gaining the desired effect of mood lighting solely reliant on a material good you can buy en masse at Dollar Tree, or is it more so a state of mind?

Unfortunately there’s not much by way of scientific evidence to explain why the common mood since the beginning of romance itself is that candlelight is the move for when you mean business regarding matters of the heart. But, as one pro points out, there’s a good chance human beings have been into the amber glow for entire eras in large part because it makes you look good. “In general, most people tell me they like warm tones that feel soft and flattering against the skin,” says psychotherapist and sex therapist Vanessa Marin. And really, who doesn’t feel good when they feel they look good?

Setting the mood with lighting appeals to self-confidence

From my scientific research of introspecting about my own opinion and unofficially polling my friends for theirs, it’s clear that being intimate with the lights on full blast isn’t a popular desire. And at least one real recent scientific finding backs me up here: Results from a national online survey conducted by Harris Poll and commissioned by medical aesthetics company Cynosure note that 62 percent of participants prefer sex with the lights off. And 23 percent of the women who indicated a lights-off preference say it’s because they don’t want their partner to see their body.

Sure, it would be nice to be so Lizzo-level confident that you can feel in the mood even under the damning fluorescents of a Marshall’s dressing room. Like, really, amazing. But self-love and body positivity is a process, not a destination. The reality is that many of us don’t feel gorgeous every moment of every day, and as plenty of research has shown, worries about body image can negatively impact female satisfaction from sex.

So, with all of this information on the table, setting the mood with lighting can clearly function as a self-esteem compromise of sorts. “For a lot of people, having nice lighting is about feeling confident in their own skin,” Marin says. “Soft lighting helps them relax, and turn off their self-conscious brains.”

Sometimes this so-called “flattering” lighting can help with feeling present enough to enjoy the moment, and that extends to more than simply having sex. You could be in public, at dinner, eating spaghetti, and these feel-good vibes still apply. Lighting, it seems, can be a means for enhancing the mood in any sort of romantic-leaning situation.

How can I best illuminate my room?

When it comes to setting the mood for creating romance, let’s not forget all the sources of of light at our disposal beyond that from a candle. Preferably, far less flammable options. “I love Himalayan salt lamps for their warm glow,” Marin says. “I also like colored light bulbs. I have a Philips Hue light in my bedroom that I can control with my phone to be any shade I want. My husband and I have had fun experimenting with different shades and seeing how they affect our mood.”

And if you’re looking to play with the rainbow, there are more than a few hues to get you going. Bathing in an orange glow can help bolster your sex drive and playfulness, while purple is considered the sexiest bedroom color. And really, whatever you choose, the point is setting the mood with lighting isn’t sexy for the sake of being sexy. It’s about a flick-of-a-switch way to feel great about yourself—and setting the room to whatever brightness level and color makes you feel your best.

So, your favorite flavor is also a secret aphrodisiac: Garlic can rev up your sex life. And if you don’t know why you’re not in the mood recently, sexperts have some ideas of what might be tampering with your libido.

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