What Is Sexual Tension?

Is It Ever Healthy?

Beautiful young seated skater couple holding hands close

Hello Africa / Getty Images

Sexual tension occurs when two individuals interact and feel sexual desire, yet no sexual activity happens. Sexual tension is more about everything leading up to sex than the actual act of having sex.

This phenomenon is a very common experience. It often happens in the work setting—some co-workers have secret hookups and don't want everyone in the office to know, some strictly flirt, while others feel awkward because they haven't acted on their sexual tension.

Keep reading to learn the causes of sexual tension and how to spot it. We also explore ways to determine if sexual tension is healthy, how to avoid unwanted sexual tension, and to increase your understanding that sexual tension is normal.

Causes of Sexual Tension

What's behind the sexual tension that we sometimes experience with another person? A high level of sexual energy can be caused by:

  • Our natural biological instinct to survive, especially if we don't get enough physical exercise to burn off these "instinctual energies"
  • A need for more human contact or affection, such as if you feel alone or have a fear of being on your own
  • Having a belief that we should be free to satisfy all our sexual desires, leading to an increased acceptance of sexual tension feelings (and actions)
  • The media's portrayal of sexual tension as a lead-in to romantic love

Is Sexual Tension the Same as Love?

While both feelings can feel very powerful, they are not the same thing. With sexual tension, the desire is to engage in sexual acts with the other person. When there is love, the desire is to develop and maintain a meaningful relationship.

Signs of Sexual Tension

Most everyone has experienced sexual tension from a crush at school or work at least once. But what does sexual tension feel like?

Signs of sexual tension include:

  • You feel butterflies when they're near
  • You think about them nonstop
  • Your body heat rises with any level of physical touch
  • Your eyes can't help but reveal your sexual desire

You Get Butterflies

No matter how hard you try to hide it, that person always succeeds when it comes to making your heart flutter. It could be the smell of their perfume/cologne, the way they walk, or their smile. Whatever it is, you get caught in the rapture every time.

You Can't Stop Thinking About Them

It never fails; your brain is always stuck on that particular person. Distractions are pointless, and keeping busy is a challenge. Let's face it, you're crazy about them.

Any Physical Touch Gets You Hot

It could be a handshake or a hug. Whenever they are near, you are guaranteed to feel warm all over. There is no doubt you are under their spell, effortlessly.

Eyes Say It All

Your eyes say everything you can't. They say eyes are the windows to the soul, but in this case, eyes are the words to your libido!

Is Sexual Tension Healthy?

Initially, sexual tension comes off as harmless. Flirting, teasing, and wanting to be near that special person are all a part of the process; however, it's worth addressing this feeling from all angles. Is sexual tension healthy? According to professional matchmaker and relationship expert Steven Ward, there are some cons:

Steven Ward, professional matchmaker and relationship expert

Sexual tension can create stress and animosity if one partner uses it to lever the other. If one person craves sex and the other is using it to exert power over and control of the other, it can lead to bigger problems such as anger, resentment, and hostility.

— Steven Ward, professional matchmaker and relationship expert

Additionally, sexual tension can be dangerous when it comes to sexual assault. One person can misinterpret the way someone is dressed or flirting. They may over-fantasize into thinking it's something that it isn't.

"When sexual tension is created deliberately, it makes the one who is being forced to abstain upset and vengeful," says Ward. "Often that person may act aggressive or passive-aggressive toward the other to communicate their discomfort and disdain for the sexual tension."

There have been countless rape victims and/or instances of sex trafficking and abuse in certain circumstances like these. The numbers go up daily in kidnapping and homicides, many of which started from sexual attraction.

If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can contact the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to receive confidential support from a trained staff member at a local RAINN affiliate.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Safe Ways to Avoid Unwanted Sexual Tension (Harassment)

These tips should help alleviate unwanted one-sided sexual tension. Practice these safe gestures to avoid uncomfortable situations.

  • Keep a safe distance from strangers (in all locations)
  • Carry pepper spray or a taser for safety
  • Speak up for yourself and be clear about your intentions
  • Don't be afraid to call for help
  • Always be aware of your surroundings
  • Try not to go places alone

Realize That Sexual Tension Is Normal

Do you remember all of that built-up adrenaline when your crush noticed you? Or on prom night? And not to mention those raging hormones that no one seemed to warn you about effectively at a critical point in time. We experience sexual tension as teenagers when we have no idea what to do with such energies.

Inevitably, sexual tension is normal. People will always be attracted to someone, so it's something you can't escape or run from. While you can't control who likes you, you can protect yourself from unwanted advances.

Sexual tension can be good or bad. As humans, we have the right to express ourselves, but not when it makes someone else uncomfortable. As with all things, respect should be the key component when addressing someone.

Sexual tension is merely a part of life that focuses directly on desire. We have many desires in life, but we only act on a few—and that's not a coincidence.

Tips to Move Forward With Sexual Tension Responsibly

People will only treat you the way you allow them. And in most cases, you have to teach them how to treat you. That means:

  • Setting the standard
  • Letting them know what is and isn't appropriate
  • Standing your ground

When you lay the foundation, there's little to no room for error. And as far as sexual tension is concerned, if it's a no, then make it a firm no!

"Communication is crucial to ensuring that sexual tension doesn't erode the emotional bond between you," adds Ward. "Very often, sexual tension is the result of oppressed feelings for someone. If those feelings are discussed and shared, it may relieve the sexual tension."

A Word From Verywell

Life is a game of pull and restraint. Our desires shouldn't outweigh our morals. Each decision we make can alter our entire life in an instant. Sexual tension can be cute and fun but can also be dangerous if misperceived. The best thing to do is be respectful of other people's space and communicate effectively, so there is no confusion. And if the feeling is mutual, enjoy it!

Spread this knowledge to the youth because they need it the most. Young boys and girls especially need to know about parameters and personal space. It starts early, and adults/parents can teach them the importance of having a voice and using it by example. Sexual tension can either be three things: harmless, harmful, or hazardous. Choose wisely.

1 Source
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lombard CA. From sexual instinct to channeled love. AAP Psychosynthesis Quarterly. 2021;9(4):6-12.

Additional Reading
  • https://hellorelish.com/articles/telltale-sexual-tension-signs.html

By Candis McDow
Candis has been a mental health advocate since 2014. She has written several articles about mental illness, and her memoir Half the Battle (available on Amazon and candisymcdow.com) encompasses her journey of living with bipolar disorder.