Sometimes a friendship blossoms over time into something deeper, eventually becoming a romantic relationship. Since the foundation of these partnerships is friendship, they can produce some of the deepest and longest-lasting relationships. Taking the time to develop a strong foundation upon which you know, care for, and understand each other, can lend itself to nurturing a healthy romance.
Not all friendships will (or are meant to) turn into something more than that, though. It’s normal to have romantic tension between those you call friends. Knowing what to do with those urges is what matters.
Catching Feelings For Friends
You may feel more comfortable interacting with someone that you consider more of a good friend than a potential romantic partner. However, over time, romantic feelings may start to grow, which can be disconcerting or confusing.
If you realize that you’re attracted to your friend, know that this is normal. When someone knows you deeply (and vice versa) it can be hard not to become attracted to them; knowing someone for a longer amount of time can increase their attractiveness. Deciding what to do with this tension will be up to you; there is no one right answer for every situation, though there are factors to consider.
The innate desire to be seen as who we are is what steers the emotional attachment termed "intimacy." As social creatures, this is something we all long for in some form. It is defined as a positive emotional bond producing feelings of understanding and support that are backed by behavior patterns. Through mutual acceptance, and valuing one another (or showing respect), we can build intimacy with others.
Intimacy is associated with positive emotions and is considered one of the biggest rewards to humans in pursuit of maintaining close relationships. While it isn’t exclusive to romantic relationships by any means – it is normal to have some level of intimacy in platonic and familial relationships – intimacy is a key indicator of romantic attraction. The distinction comes from which type of intimacy you are experiencing.
Types Of Intimacy
In each kind of relationship, intimacy will look different. Intimacy can be:
- Intellectual: You can have discussions that center on big life questions, philosophies, and political ideologies, which bring about a deeper understanding of a person’s outlook on life and their values.
- Emotional: When you are emotionally intimate in a friendship or relationship, it means your innermost thoughts are bare before the other person. You can be vulnerable around them instead of walking on eggshells, and you don’t feel judged.
- Physical: Physical intimacy means you can be physically affectionate towards someone (without necessarily being sexually intimate). You may hold hands, cry on each other’s shoulders, or hug. It is most common within the bounds of people dating or close family relationships.
- Sexual: Those who have sexual intimacy are often highly passionate toward one another. Usually, this kind of intimacy involves both people physically pleasuring one another. This kind of intimacy can be incredibly powerful and may lead to feelings of vulnerability.
Intimacy can be built over time, and every relationship will move at a different speed. Keeping different boundaries with different people can help keep relationships healthy and thriving.
Signs Of Sexual Tension
Specifically in regards to sexual intimacy, most sexually intimate relationships go through a period during which no sexual acts are occurring or being communicated directly, but both parties are experiencing sexual attraction in an unspoken way. This unspoken sexual attraction is often called sexual tension.
Noticing sexual tension is something you may feel or experience rather than be able to explain.
The signs of sexual tension can be physical, such as prolonged eye contact, continually talking about the person, increased heart rate, or how you respond to the person's touch. You may feel nervous around this other party or giddy to see them. They may also be psychological; you may find yourself imagining sexually intimate scenarios involving that person, or feel a strong attraction to them when you are just thinking about them.
Acting On Sexual Tension
It's up to each person to decide if the sexual attraction you feel is something that you want to or should act on. Choosing to act on a sexual attraction may change the relationship the two of you already have; there could be both positives and negatives to that. There are many different reasons why some people act on sexual attraction and why people may decide not to follow through on these feelings.
One example might be that sexual tension can exist between two people who are already committed. It's unrealistic to think that you'll no longer find others attractive just because you decide to commit yourself to a relationship. Other reasons could be that you work together or are not interested in a long-term romantic relationship.
You may also be worried that sex could ruin a good friendship. You might worry that the person will treat you differently if you get physical, or that you could start acting differently toward them.
On the other hand, it may be appealing to think of starting a romantic relationship with a person you already know and care about. You may discover that both of you are ready to take a relationship to the next level. In that case, communicating your feelings may lead to a healthy romantic relationship that both of you benefit from.
Either way, it's wise to talk through your feelings with someone you trust to try to make sense of your urges.
Coping With Unreturned Urges
What if the sexual feelings you are having are not returned? People can’t always read other people’s behaviors, and we are especially bad at reading minds. Even if you're almost sure that your friend feels the same tension you do, it's a good idea to check for certain before you act on anything. While it may be awkward to take that risk and ask, it could save you from uncomfortable or more hurtful situations down the road.
Your friend might feel differently than you do, and rejection is never easy. If you are rejected, it is important to accept how you feel and validate your own emotions. Being sexually attracted to someone is normal, but those desires don’t need to be fulfilled every time they are experienced. You may consider logical reasons for moving on instead.
If you have acknowledged that a sexual relationship with a certain person is unwise, then what do you do with the feelings of attraction you can't seem to shake? Here are some helpful tips to avoid "getting physical:"
- Avoid being alone with the other party.
- When you are tempted to act on your sexual desire, remind yourself why you cannot be with this person.
- Do not flirt with or touch them; "friend zone" yourself.
- Spend less time together.
- If you're single, try dating other people to see if the way you feel has more to do with needing physical intimacy or feeling lonely.
- Talk to another friend about the tension you are feeling and let them be your voice of reason.
- Focus on yourself – your hobbies, needs, and interests.
- Talk to a mental health professional.
Communication Is Key
The most important thing you can do about sexual tension in a relationship is have an open, honest, and practical conversation with your friend about your emotions. Whether or not you choose to pursue the relationship, letting the other person know about the situation can help you both avoid awkward and uncomfortable situations and reach a mature decision on how to proceed.
Becoming romantically intimate with a friend can change the relationship you have. If this happens, be honest with them about what you are feeling and what you hope to get out of becoming closer to each other in a new way. You may be able to avoid pain and confusion with open communication and respect for one another as people.
Online Therapy With BetterHelp
Interpersonal relationships, whether they involve sexual intimacy or not, can be confusing. If you have found yourself in a situation that you are having a hard time making sense of, or if you feel you could use some guidance in your relationships, you are not alone. Speaking with a therapist through BetterHelp could be beneficial for your mental health.
The only relationship guides we have are the ones we have experienced or observed, and it can be hard to recognize the qualities of supportive, healthy relationships. It can be helpful to have a support system to lean on as you work through your feelings. A therapist from a service like BetterHelp can provide you with the tools and resources you need to move forward productively. Though you may not have healthy friendships you can turn to in difficult times, you can message your therapist at any time throughout the day for advice.
The Effectiveness Of Online Therapy
If you’re experiencing problems in your interpersonal relationships, you may develop mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Online therapy can be an effective option to help you move forward. One study found that online therapy benefitted people with both anxiety and depression, as well as those with emotional distress. In this study, the results showed that online therapy was just as helpful as traditional face-to-face options.
Is it normal to have sexual tension with a friend?
Research has found that many friendships involve romantic or sexual tension. In friendships between a man and a woman, men are more likely to experience attraction toward a woman friend. However, a smaller percentage of women have also been found to experience attraction toward friends.
In one study, about half of people reported having had sex with a friend with whom they weren't otherwise romantically involved. Sexual tension in friendships appears to occur more commonly at a younger age and less commonly as people grow older.
How do you deal with sexual tension between friends?
If you are experiencing sexual tension toward a friend, it's up to you to decide what you want to do about it. If you or the friend are in a committed relationship with someone else, not acting on the attraction might be best. Sometimes attraction is short-term and passes with time. In other situations, attraction might be ongoing, and a person might decide they need to have a conversation with their friend about it.
If you suspect you're noticing sexual tension between other friends of yours in group settings, for example, it is also up to you to decide if you want to address it or not. Your friends might feel uncomfortable if you point out that you sense they have sexual chemistry.
But, if you perceive awkwardness in your friend group because of sexual tension, you might want to request to set a boundary. For example, if friends are being very touchy-feely with each other and you feel uncomfortable with it, you could ask that they engage in less physical contact in front of you.
Can people feel sexual tension between each other?
Sometimes, when a person feels sexual attraction toward a friend, they show it in small ways. For example, sexual tension might become obvious because a person flirts, teases, or makes sexual comments to the friend to whom they're attracted, but no one has explicitly acknowledged it yet in a direct way.
Like other mammals, humans may also release pheromones when they feel sexual attraction. Pheromones are chemicals released from a body and they can communicate with another body. Pheromones cannot be seen. They may produce an odor, but most people likely aren't consciously aware of it. More research is needed to confirm if humans communicate their sexual attraction through pheromones.
How do you know if there is sexual tension between people?
Sometimes sexual tension becomes obvious, because people begin flirting with each other or go out of their way to interact or engage in physical touch. Body language and subtle touching may indicate a person may feel sexually attracted to a particular person.
That said, if you feel sexual attraction toward someone and are wondering if there's mutual attraction, that might not be easy to determine without a conversation. Research shows that when people feel attracted to a friend, they sometimes falsely believe the friend feels the same way. They may pick up on signs of friendliness and misinterpret them as flirtation or desire. Talking directly with a person can help identify if sexual attraction is mutual.
What is a strong sexual desire for someone?
Lust is the word commonly used to describe a strong sexual desire for someone. Lust may create the desire to see someone as often as you can. If you have a strong sexual desire for someone, you might find yourself daydreaming about them or wanting to touch them when you are near them.
Although you may feel a strong sexual desire for a friend, it's important to make sure the feeling is mutual before acting on it. Unless a person has indicated mutual sexual attraction, it's important to respect their personal space and not initiate sexual activity until receiving enthusiastic consent.
How much physical touch is normal between friends?
The amount of physical touch in a friendship can vary widely depending on what type of physical connection people have with each other. Some friendships involve a fair amount of physical touch, like hugging, patting each other on the back, giving high fives, putting a head on one's shoulder, etc. Other friendships may involve less touching, such as the occasional handshake, or no touching at all.
People interact differently in different cultures, which also greatly impacts the amount of physical touch in friendships. For example, in some cultures it is customary to give long hugs or to kiss on the cheek as a greeting. In other cultures, this would be considered unusual or would be reserved for close friends or a romantic partner.
Can you feel sexual energy from someone?
You may be able to feel sexual energy from someone if they are acting flirtatious through their comments, touch, body language, or eye contact. That said, if you feel attracted to someone, you might also be more likely to assume they feel the same way, even when they are just being friendly.
While you may not enjoy the sexual tension, it's best to address it with a conversation first, before attempting to do something sexually. Even if the sexual attraction isn't reciprocated, it's better to have an awkward conversation than to touch someone without their consent.
Why is my guy friend so touchy?
If people experience sexual tension, they may try to convey that through flirting, which could include touching. Otherwise, a person may be touchy because that is just how they interact. Different cultures and different families within the same culture can have different norms when it comes to human touch.
Why do I feel sexual tension with people?
You might feel sexual tension because you feel sexual attraction toward people and don't yet know if that attraction is mutual. Often, people feel sexual attraction as a result of a person's physical appearance. However, sexual attraction can result from a variety of factors, including a person's intelligence, age, personality, and income.
How long does sexual attraction last?
There is no universal amount of time that sexual attraction lasts. In some instances, a person might feel attracted to another for only a moment. In others, a person might feel attracted to another for many years or decades.
Research has found that sexual boredom in a long-term relationship isn't necessarily due to sexual attraction fading because of the passage of time. Instead, a person may become bored sexually because their sexual desire is greater than their partner's, or because they want something sexually that the relationship isn't providing.
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