What Happens When There Is Sexual Tension Between Friends?

Updated September 11, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

We all may be familiar with the song, “And You Say He’s Just A Friend.” In this article, we’ll cover the central premise of that song – sexual tension. In certain scenarios, friends can wonder if there is something more to their relationship and whether other people can sense it. We’ll look at questions like what to do when you notice sexual tension and help you understand why sexual tension can occur between friends. Feeling sexual tension could mean something deeper, or it might not. Read more to figure out what to do when you feel it. 

What Is Sexual Tension – What Does It Feel Like?

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Sexual Tension Can Be Just As Confusing As It Is Thrilling

Do you find yourself wanting to sit next to the same friend all the time? Do you love it when your arms brush past theirs? Is there a spark when you look into each other’s eyes? That’s sexual tension.

Do you tease each other and find different ways to get close to them or touch them? Perhaps you find yourself tickling each other or hugging them for a little longer than you hug your other friends. That’s sexual tension.

When two people interact with each other, and one or both of those people have a strong sexual desire for the other person, but they don’t act on their desire, sexual tension can arise. It’s the feeling that something is about to happen sexually between those two people. This creates a kind of tense atmosphere that usually feels good. 

Sometimes, it feels like the only way to make sexual tension go away is to act on your desires. You might be sexually attracted to your best friend and wish that you could kiss them, and so much more!

What Causes Sexual Tension?

If two people feel sexual attraction for each other, or if one person is sexually attracted to another, many sexual feelings and desires can build up, which leads to sexual tension.

Often, the two people deny their attraction to each other. This denial of feelings means that the sexual desires are not acted upon – neither party makes a move towards doing anything sexual with the other.

Because sexual desires are denied, it creates an atmosphere of sexual tension, especially in group settings. There is sexual chemistry between the two people – they flirt and joke and giggle and touch – but nothing further happens. There is a mutual attraction when experiencing sexual tension with someone.  Sexual tension can be almost better than the actual act of sex itself, especially if it's with a particular person. 

Why Do I feel Sexually Attracted To My Friend?

Sexual attraction is completely normal behavior. Most people will experience sexual attraction to another person, and likely many other people, during their lifetime. Sexual attraction can occur due to physical appearance or because of someone’s personality, or because of both, and can often grow stronger as we spend time with a person. Signs of sexual attraction include:

  • Eye contact

  • Staring

  • Physical contact

  • Smiling

  • Flirting

  • Nervousness and increased heart rate

  • Flirty body language and gestures


Peer reviewed studies have shown that people are likely to engage in more eye contact if they’re sexually attracted to each other. Prolonged eye contact can reveal attraction. They might even stare at each other – perhaps they don’t notice themselves doing it, but it can happen because they can’t stop looking at the person to whom they’re attracted! You can create sexual tension by staring at each other and include subtle touching. Our sex hormones are on overdrive when we experience sexual tension because we want to act on our desires. 

People experiencing sexual tension will likely sit close to each other, touching whenever possible, even if it’s just brushing arms or legs. They will probably smile more, giggle, and make fun of each other.  People can also feel nervous around the person they like because they really want that person to like them back. 

Can You Just Be Friends With Someone When There’s So Much Sexual Tension?

Sexual tension doesn’t have to stop you from being friends. If the feeling is mutual, and both parties are comfortable with sexual chemistry, then there’s no reason why you can’t be friends. If you experience unwanted sexual tension with a friend, it might be helpful to do something about it so that you can clear the air. It might require an awkward conversation, but negative sexual tension doesn't make us feel good, and usually makes us feel uncomfortable especially if it is infringing on our personal space. 

However, if it’s sexual attraction from one person to another – if the other person is not sexually attracted to you, too – it’s important to consider the feelings of the other person. We need to make sure that they feel comfortable being friends with you when they can feel the sexual tension every time you’re together.

Is It Okay To Feel Sexual Tension?

Yes, it’s completely normal! Many people will have strong sexual desires for their friends at one time or another. Don’t feel like you’re alone! Sexual desires can also feel strong when the person is in close proximity and off limits. You might think, “Friends don’t feel this way about each other.” Don’t be so sure. Lots of other people feel sexual attraction towards their friends.

Different people might experience sexual tension differently – perhaps some people feel sexually attracted to one or more of their friends. Still, their friends don’t feel the same way, and so nothing happens, and nothing is said.

Perhaps some people have sexual chemistry with a friend – they are both sexually attracted to each other, and their other friends feel the sexual chemistry between them and even comment on it and joke about it.

Some people might have experienced sexual tension so strongly with their friends that they’ve acted on it, and their friendship might have changed because of it. Whether friendship changes for the better or worse will depend on the two people involved, their friendship, and how they respond to what happened.

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Should I Act On Sexual Tension?

The answer to this really depends on you and the person in question. What do you want to come out of it? Do you want a relationship with this person, or do you enjoy being around them and the sexual chemistry you feel when you’re together?

What does the other person want? Have you asked them? It might feel awkward to ask them, but you might never know what it could have been if you don’t have that conversation. Maybe they are also wondering if they should make a move.

Do you want to stay friends with this person? If this is the case, then acting on your feelings could jeopardize that relationship. This is why it’s important to talk to your friend, to see how they feel and what they want.

A study in 2000 found that sexual activity between friends can actually improve the relationship. What’s more, the study found that many friends who engaged in sexual activity did not go on to start a romantic relationship. Individuals interact in many ways, and sometimes sexual tension can build. 

What’s important is, to be honest with your friend – you both need to understand how others feel and respect each other’s feelings. If one of you wants a romantic relationship, and the other only wants to have sex, it’s not wise to act on your desires, and doing so could have a detrimental effect on your friendship. If you act in a sexual way and your friend doesn't reciprocate it, this might cause awkwardness in the relationship. 

If the person you like is of the opposite sex, it might help you study the sexuality of the opposite sex and learn about how it works. Particularly with women, there may be a societal shame or misunderstanding around sexuality. But understand that there is nothing wrong with sex or sexual desires. Look for scholarly articles and do research aside from talking with your friends. Understanding the other person and how their sexuality works may only benefit you in the long run.

Perhaps one or both of you are in committed relationships with other people. It’s important to make sure that you don’t act on your desires if this is the case, because you could end up hurting other people and yourself. If you both wish to be together, it is important to end your current relationships out of respect for your partners. It is very likely that this will be a difficult process, but being unfaithful might convey to your friend that you will also engage in infidelity if the two of you ended up starting a relationship.

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Sexual Tension Can Be Just As Confusing As It Is Thrilling

Can Other People Sense Sexual Tension?

Can your other friends feel the sexual tension between you and this person? You might not want to explain to your friends what happens when you see the object of your attraction, but it’s likely they already sense it. When there’s a lot of sexual tension between two people, other people who see you together might well notice it.

This depends a lot on context. Sometimes the sexual tension feels so obvious to you that it seems shocking that others would not notice. However, you’d be surprised how little the people around you notice, especially when it comes to small, specific cues. Sometimes a very intuitive friend might notice, but if you are worried about people seeing, you can usually rest assured that the smallest cues of sexual tension remain between you and the other person.

Once your flirtatious cues become more obvious, other people may begin to notice the sexual tension. People notice sexual tension when it becomes slightly physical. Sometimes, if you want the other party to notice that you are flirting, you need to make your advances clear.

If other people are noticing the sexual tension is a source of concern or stress for you, then you can keep flirting with a friend in discreet. But remember that you aren’t doing anything wrong. Sexual tension is human, and it’s a natural response that most people will experience in their lives.

Sometimes sexual tension even happens between same-sex friends. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, and similar sexual tension has existed since the beginning of humanity and will continue to exist. Again, you’re not doing anything wrong.

What Should I Do If This Sexual Tension Feels Wrong?

If you find that the sexual tension between you and your friend feels wrong, like it’s getting in the way of your friendship, or is too much for you to manage, you might not know what to do. You might feel that you need to hide those feelings away. But there’s nothing wrong with being sexually attracted to a friend. Below are some things you could consider trying if you don’t like what you’re experiencing.

Talk To Your Friend

Explain to your friend how you feel. Sexual attraction is natural, and they might even be flattered. "Does my guy friend have feelings for me" keeps you pondering and talking things out with them is a great way to clear the relationship’s tension if you feel you can do it.

There are countless ways to express your feelings to someone. You could say, “I have feelings for you,” “I’ve been interested in you for some time,” or even, “Have you ever thought about being more than friends?” Start gently to open the conversation, gauge their reaction, then move things forward from there. Revealing your emotions can be effective in deciding what to do from there. 

It can be a relief either way to know how your friend feels about you. Don’t just ask your friend how they feel; ask them how they want to move forward. If they don’t feel the same way, it might be a good idea for both of you to take some time and space. But there’s also a good chance that they’ll feel the same way. Many of the best relationships start with friendship, which could be an exciting shift for both of you.

If your friend doesn’t feel the same way, don’t take it personally. Rejection can sting, but it’s more often a reflection on the other person and their tastes more than you and your personality or looks. It’s possible to remain friends with this person; maybe take some time of separation to sort out your feelings before the friendship returns to how it was. Who knows, maybe your friend will even help you find a romantic partner in the future.

Relationships change and evolve. Friendships change, romantic relationships change, people fall in love, and people fall out of love. These are part of the natural cycles of life, and the most we can hope to do is enjoy the ups and downs.

If this person truly is a good friend to you, they will not make you feel humiliated or insecure about your natural feelings. Speak openly and honestly, but most importantly, treat each other with the utmost respect. This is your friend.

Talk To Friends In The Same Group

If it doesn’t feel right to talk to the friend to whom you’re sexually attracted, try talking to your other friends. There’s a chance that they’ve noticed the sexual tension, too, so they are likely to understand your feelings.

If it frightens you to address your friend directly about your feelings, an easier alternative could be speaking with people in your friend group. A socially adept friend of yours might be able to gauge this person’s feelings for you gently, or maybe they already know!

This could give you an answer about the other person, but remember that information that comes through other people is always second hand, and it’s not entirely reliable. It could be best to speak directly to your friend. If friends are coping with situations of the same nature, they could be really useful in figuring out what to do.

Talk To Friends Or Family Who Don’t Know Your Friend

Try explaining your feelings to someone who knows you well but doesn’t know the person in question. This can help because you might be less embarrassed to explain your feelings if they don’t know the person about whom you’re talking.

A good friend with a cool head can lead you in the right direction. More importantly, a good friend will be there to support you. If this other person knows what is going on in your romantic life, then they can be there to cheer you up if things don’t work out, and they can be there to celebrate with you if they do.

Talk To A Counselor

It might also help to gain impartial advice from a counselor if you’re struggling with these feelings. You could talk to your doctor or go straight to a counselor, or family therapist, or you could try online counseling services like Regain. Regain offers a free consultation, and after one session, the counselor can let you know if they recommend more meetings. From there, you can schedule therapy sessions at convenient times and attend meetings from any location with a secure internet connection.

People don’t have to live with a diagnosed mental health condition to reap the benefits of online therapy. Numerous people have sought online therapy for relationship-based challenges, and results from studies show no major statistical differences in efficacy between face-to-face couples therapy and online couples’ therapy. In one study, couples facing relationship issues experienced improvements in relationship satisfaction and reductions in symptoms of stress, depression, or anxiety. 

Your therapist is in your corner and will never tease you or make you feel silly for having sexual feelings toward a friend. Consider them a sounding board or detached third party. They have nothing to gain from your decision to pursue or not pursue a romantic relationship with your friend and may give advice to help you make clear decisions. If you’re curious to hear about others’ experiences with online therapy, consider reading some reviews of Regain therapists below.

Counselor Reviews

“Shannon is very knowledgeable, and skilled in knowing how to use that knowledge to help others. She is also very compassionate and encouraging. I was skeptical about using a counseling service, but this experience has been incredible. I highly recommend Shannon to anyone who needs guidance or helps through a difficult time in life. I gave her some enormous challenges, and nothing has been over her head. She has been a tremendous help to me.”

"My experience with Priscilla has been immensely helpful in better understanding myself and providing me with the tools to see my life and relationships with more clarity and compassion."

Takeaway

Our bodies are designed to work in a certain way. We are, after all, animals. Although we do not behave in the same way as wild animals, our genetic makeup and hormones control our reactions to different stimuli. Sexual attraction and tension are completely natural behaviors and we will likely feel sexual tension at various points in our lives. Should you need help in determining whether to act on sexual tension or not, know that you can turn to a licensed therapist at Regain for nonjudgmental support.

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