woman and two men dancing in a club with pink lighting
Illustration by Marta Pucci

Signs of Sexual Tension and What to do About it

Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Katherine Hertlein,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
7/18/2022
Last updated:
7/25/2022
Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Laura Vowels,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
7/18/2022
Last updated:
7/25/2022

TL;DR

  • It is very common to experience sexual tension despite being in a long term relationship, it doesn't necessarily mean there is a problem.
  • Some physical signs of sexual tension are an increased heart rate, flushed face, higher blood pressure and sweaty palms.
  • You may feel you want to make eye contact with the person, stand close to them, or display flirty body language - these are all telltale signs. 
  • If you feel uncomfortable or are already in a happy relationship, you do not need to act on your feelings. You can simply have an open, honest conversation and walk away if that's what you choose to do.

 

From the age of 10 to 110, we’ve all met someone with whom we feel that sudden and inexplicable spark of sexual chemistry; that frisson of electricity. Someone who catches our gaze across the room and who lingers in our mind long after they’ve walked away.

Whether it’s accidentally bumping into a colleague at the water cooler, noticing a mutual attraction with a friend of a friend, or a feeling of closeness with an ex we’ve never quite managed to get out of our head. Sexual attractions can hit us when we least expect them. But when does this spill over into sexual tensions and when should we act upon them? 

How to recognize sexual tension?

You spot them across the crowded room, your heart rate increases, you feel your face flush, you start to feel warmer. You notice you have sweaty palms as a nervous grin breaks out on your face. You can’t resist making eye contact. Repeatedly. If they’re standing nearby, you might flirt a little, touching their arm, positioning yourself just a little bit closer than you probably should. You feel drawn to them, wanting to engage in conversation, catch their eye and share their jokes.

These are all common signs of sexual chemistry, a feeling of attraction that you can see they are feeling, too. What’s more, the other people around you can also see it. They’ve spotted how you’re looking at one another and talking to each other. Overly familiar. Overly friendly.

And then, later, you find them popping into your head, you drift off into a daydream in which they have the starring role. And you find yourself wondering when you’ll see them again.

Is sexual tension always a positive thing?

We’re conditioned to see sexual tension as something that’s exciting. We see it in films and TV shows, enjoying the moment when our favorite character meets an attractive, sexy stranger across a room and sparks fly.

But what happens if you’re already in a romantic relationship? Or if you’ve experienced sexual trauma in the past? Or if having sexual feelings for someone else makes you feel uncomfortable? 

If you don’t want to engage, the good news is you don’t have to. 

If you’re in a longer term committed relationship, however, it might be worth asking yourself why you are feeling this way about someone else. Of course sexual attraction is normal, it’s unlikely you’ll never feel this way with another person again simply because you’re coupled up with someone. But there is a chance it’s a warning sign. A sign that there is something missing from your current relationship. Particularly if you find you’re perhaps encouraging the flirty banter. Or at least not walking away.

So how should you proceed?

The difficulty comes when there is sexual tension with someone you see all the time, like a colleague or someone in your social circle.

Our advice is to ask yourself a few questions about how you’re feeling and why. And be honest with yourself about the answer. Then think about what you’re going to do. The sooner the better really, if you are already in a relationship, so that you don’t string along your current partner unnecessarily.  

As we see it, you have two options:

  1. Give it a go. If you decide the sexual tension represents an opportunity that is just too exciting to miss, and if you’re not currently in a relationship or feel something is lacking from your current relationship, then go for it if that’s what you want to do.
  2. Talk it out. If you decide you don’t want to pursue the connection, try talking. You’ll be able to reduce the tension by being open and honest. This may feel like a slightly awkward conversation, but if you’re confident the other party can feel the sexual tension too, go for it. Explain that you’ve noticed sexual chemistry signs but you won’t be acting on them because you have a family / you’re married / it’s not the right time, etc. You don’t need to be rude to the other person, this is an adult conversation and hopefully they will appreciate you being honest and opening up to them.

While sexual tension may make you feel fun and flirty, it's important to make sure no-one gets hurt. Think about whether it is appropriate to enter a relationship with the person in question.

If you're currently in a committed relationship, you probably owe it to your partner to try to resolve things before pursuing another partner. Or if the sexual tension is happening in a work context, be careful that it won't impact your career either now or in the future. 

Sexual tension is an obvious sign of attraction but whether you act on that is something only you can decide. 

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