15 Signs of Sexual Tension & How to Move Forward

How do you know if you're sexually attracted to someone?
on June 04, 2024
Read time: 10 mins
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare

Have you ever been in a situation where the air crackles with unspoken attraction? Where every glance, laugh, and interaction seem to carry an undercurrent of something more? 

This enigmatic and often exhilarating experience is known as sexual tension, a complex dance of unspoken desires and subtle cues that can leave you questioning what’s going on.

With this complex combination of feelings (& hormones!), it can be pretty difficult to think straight, as the desire for this person builds and builds. Even though our instinct is to break the tension (we’re only human after all), it’s important to be able to correctly read these sexual tension signs so that you can ensure your feelings are reciprocated! 

And if that’s the case… prepare for quite the release! 

Key Takeaways
  • Sexual tension is the complex, often exhilarating feeling of unspoken attraction and desire between two people, characterized by a buildup of sexual energy due to a lack of physical release.
  • Key indicators include prolonged eye contact, constant awareness of the other person, awkwardness, sweating, blushing, increased heart rate, changes in voice, specific body language, a desire for touch, flirty behavior, and others noticing the chemistry.
  • Sexual tension can lead to physical reactions such as sweaty palms, a racing heart, and an overwhelming preoccupation with the person of interest, alongside a mix of positive and negative emotional effects.
  • Sexual tension can be mutually felt or one-sided. Recognizing mutual signs is crucial for moving forward without misinterpretation, whereas one-sided tension requires respectful acknowledgment of boundaries.
  • Addressing the tension through open, honest communication can clarify mutual feelings and intentions, potentially leading to a deeper connection or helping both parties move forward with clarity. Unaddressed sexual tension can lead to frustration or affect mental health. Finding a resolution, whether through discussion or mutual escalation, is beneficial.
  • When sexual tension is mutual and acted upon with consent and understanding, it can lead to exceptionally rewarding experiences, deepening the emotional and physical connection between partners.

What is sexual tension? 

Sexual tension occurs between two people when they interact and feel sexual desire, but there is no sexual activity taking place. With all of this sexual chemistry in play, this desire builds and builds, and this lack of release contributes to sexual tension. 

All of this sexual energy can lead to an array of side effects, with sexual tension an obvious sign of attraction. Usually, sexual tension continues to build if there are barriers in place that prevent you from taking your relationship to the next level. 

For example, you’re worried about ruining a relationship dynamic (particularly with co-workers) or if you’re trying to work out if these feelings are reciprocated through flirty banter or subtle hints! 

Sexual tension can also exist in a committed relationship, especially if you haven’t done the deed in a while or are simply craving some physical touch!

What can cause sexual tension?

Sexual tension is caused by feelings of attraction and desire, which trigger a release of hormones that compel you to act on these feelings! 

According to research, sexual desire, arousal, and orgasm are a complex combination of interactions of the somatic and autonomic nervous systems operating at the central and peripheral levels. 

Studies show that this process begins with sexual excitement when you first meet someone (those are the butterflies in your stomach!), followed by sexual desire, and then if all goes well — resulting in orgasm. 

The interruption of this pattern results in sexual tension, as while you may have started a flirtation with someone (with many awkward conversations!), you haven’t acted on these desires. This is a very common phenomenon that can occur in both men and women and isn’t limited to just new relationships, as long-term couples can still feel these butterflies building (and is often a fun element of foreplay!) 

How do you know if you're sexually attracted to someone?

Sexual tension usually displays a lot of palpable signs, as your body naturally responds to being near someone you’re attracted to. 

If you’re unsure whether or not your attraction is shared, it’s important to become a pro at reading these sexual chemistry signs — so you don’t put your foot in it! 

What does sexual tension feel like?

Some telltale signs include sweaty palms, increased heart rate, and a preoccupation with this person in your daydreams! Therefore, sexual tension feels quite overwhelming, resulting in both positive and negative side effects. 

However, if you share a mutual attraction with a particular person, and you finally take things to the next level — it’s rumored to result in the best sex of your life! 

Can other people sense sexual tension?

“You can cut the sexual tension in here with a knife!”

This famous phrase might answer your question, as oftentimes sexual tension can feel palatable in the air. While it may not be written on your faces, or you haven’t acted on anything, the chemistry can often be super visible. 

For example, if you’re experiencing sexual tension with a colleague, your other co-workers might be able to pick up on this tension, especially if you’re in a cramped office set-up. 

Signs of sexual tension to look out for! 

1. Eye contact

Research shows that eye contact has also been a clear sign of reciprocating interest, as it’s a clear signal sent out to effectively communicate with others. Therefore, if you consistently hold sustained eye contact with someone, it’s denoting clear interest and intention. 

Furthermore, studies show that individuals showcased the highest degree of arousal while making clear eye contact with someone they were attracted to. So eye contact not only denotes a sign of attraction but also spurs feelings of sexual tension. 

2. Constant awareness

When you’re experiencing sexual tension with someone, you’re constantly aware of their presence and find yourself gravitating towards each other.

If they’re around, you may find yourself being self-conscious or fidgeting, as you’re more aware of how you appear to them. This kind of awareness showcases your attraction towards this person, as you’re clearly crushing hard! 

3. Awkwardness 

What’s a crush without a dollop of awkwardness? 

If you’re experiencing sexual tension with someone, all of these emotions often have some more embarrassing side effects. Even though you’re trying to get your flirt on, it can result in a lot of awkward conversation, usually because you’re skirting around what things you really want to say (or do!) 

4. Sweating 

When you’re around this particular person, you might notice your body temperature rising and yes, you will probably start sweating!

(It’s getting hot in here…) 

Research shows that sweaty palms are a telltale sign of attraction, as your hormones start to go into overdrive. If you’re worried about sweaty palms, remember to practice some deep breathing and you can always wipe your hands on a napkin. 

5. Blushing 

Another side effect of your temperature rising around this person, you're also likely to blush in their presence!

With all the flirty banter and proximity, it’s natural for your cheeks to get a little rosy. If your partner enjoys making you blush, then it’s likely that they’re enjoying the chase too… 

6. Increased heart rate 

When your partner approaches you, research shows that it’s normal for your heart rate to spike, as your overall body temperature reaches new highs!

This rise in heart rate usually heightens your self-consciousness and makes it much harder to focus. As your heart rate increases, it’s like your desire is pumping around your body… with the obvious side effects of arousal for both men and women. 

7. Voice changes 

With all of these feelings and physical side effects, it’s impossible to escape without a little bit of embarrassment! 

As the sexual tension rises, you might even find it hard to string a sentence together without a shift in your vocal patterns, or even stuttering as you try and keep it together. This is another sign that you’re struggling to play it cool around this person. 

8. Body language 

When you’re near this person, it’s difficult to hide how you feel, with your body language naturally showcasing your desire for closeness. 

You naturally want to be in their personal space and desire close proximity to them at all times. 

9. Desire for touch 

When you’re around them, you constantly find yourself subtly touching them. Whether it’s grazing their hand, or playfully touching their shoulder, this desire for physical contact is too much!

This subtle touching is a clear physical sign that they desire to be close to you too. If they do touch you, it’s common to experience a charge or rush of electricity, as all of the sexual tension suddenly rises to the surface. 

10. Flirty behavior 

Everyone loves a bit of flirty behavior, especially when you’re trying to gauge if your sexual desires are reciprocated by your partner. 

It goes without saying that flirting is one of the most noticeable signs of attraction, as you’re both participating in cheesy jokes and flirty banter — which is noticeable for anyone to see! 

11. People teasing you 

If you’re experiencing sexual tension with someone, likely, other people will eventually start to notice. 

You might experience teasing from your friends in group settings, with comments like ‘God you could cut the tension in here with a knife!’ or that you guys ‘Clearly belong together!’ While these comments are meant in jest, they usually serve to heighten the tension even further, as your clear attraction is out in the open for all to see. 

12. Sexual dreams 

While it’s common to daydream about someone you’re attracted to, as the sexual tension grows, they’re also likely to appear in your dreams! 

As your sexual fantasies start to feature this person, it only serves to enhance the tension between you, as you imagine various scenarios in which you are finally together… 

13. Frustration

If sexual tension carries on over a long period, there can start to be a build-up of negative emotions, as you get frustrated with the situation. 

This build-up can start to affect your mental health, as you crave the release of oxytocin that this interaction offers. As you long for release, it’s best to step away from the situation and try to clear your head, especially so you don’t take out your frustrations in a negative way. (Or, on your crush!) 

14. Smiling 

With all of the embarrassing side effects, there are some more pleasant ones too!

When you’re around this person, you naturally find yourself smiling and laughing together, as your attraction grows and grows. 

15. Butterflies

Ah, the infamous butterflies in your stomach!  

While they feel like butterflies, these feelings are a result of the burst of adrenaline when this particular person appears. These butterflies are responsible for wreaking havoc on your emotional responses, and while they usually suggest nervousness — they can signify sexual tension when accompanied by some of the other signs. 

What to do if you feel sexual tension with someone? 

If you have sexual tension with someone, there are likely reasons why this tension hasn’t been broken. Therefore, it can be difficult to know how to proceed! 

However, if you don’t address these feelings, they have the potential to develop into sexual frustration — which can have several unwanted side effects. Therefore, sexual tension needs to be released, whether that means through physical intimacy, or just communicating your feelings. 

Even though it may be the last thing that you want to address, it’s important to bring up your feelings to this person. While we all want to play it cool, expressing your feelings of attraction makes your intentions clear, and also gives the other person the opportunity to express themselves. 

This prevents any actions or intentions from being misinterpreted, and could spare you a lot of blushes down the line! If the person expresses a mutual attraction, then it’s also a good opportunity to discuss what you might want from a relationship — whether it’s a casual fling or something more serious. 

“If you think this sexual tension might be something epic, remember to take care of other things that might have been in the way of the sex actually happening, such as another relationship that needs to possibly end, or real conversations about other consequences if you have sex,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Expert at Paired.

“If you have those conversations and the sexual tension goes away, it can be a clue for you that the tension was wrapped up in the feeling that you can’t complete the desire and is less about the person. Now if you have those conversations and it only goes up……well you might have something magical here.”

Once all of this is cleared up, and you’ve gotten the green light to proceed, go for it! Breaking that sexual tension will often have some incredible results, with your natural chemistry influencing your intimate interactions! 

With the sexual tension finally released, there’s bound to be some fireworks! 

Can sexual tension be one-sided? 

While in some cases, your feelings can be reciprocated, sometimes it may not lead to the kind of fireworks displays you were hoping for. 

Even though you might feel that there is sexual chemistry, these feelings could be one-sided, and your crush might turn your advances and express the desire to keep things platonic, or they may not know what they want to do yet! 

However, it isn’t necessarily a bad ending, as sometimes getting these feelings off your chest can be a good place to start, so you can both move forward.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between sexual tension and sexual attraction?

    Sexual tension is made up of many elements of desire, including sexual attraction. If you’re sexually attracted to someone, you’re sexually drawn to them and want to pursue a physical relationship with them. If this emotion is not fulfilled and is allowed to build over time, this results in sexual tension.
  • What is the relationship between sexual tension and sex?

    The relationship between sexual tension and sex is complex and multifaceted, as sexual tension builds and builds without the presence of sexual release. Thus, while sexual tension involves unfulfilled sexual desire and often a complex interplay of emotions and circumstances, sex is the act where such tensions might be resolved.
  • Is there sexual tension between me and my friend?

    Only you and your friend can answer this question! While there might be the urge to just lean in and break the tension, this can lead to disastrous results, especially if you’ve picked up on the wrong cues. While it might feel a bit uncomfortable, it’s important to have an open and honest conversation with your friend to see how this person feels about acting on these strong sexual desires — or if they feel this way at all!
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