Understanding Your Urges: Sexual Tension Between Friends

By: Mary Elizabeth Dean

Updated October 25, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Fawley

Developing a romantic relationship over time through friendship can produce some of the deepest and longest-lasting connections. Taking the time to develop a strong foundation upon which you know, care, and understand each other, lends itself to nurturing a healthy romance.

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You may feel more comfortable interacting with someone that you consider more of a friend than a potential romantic partner. You feel like this person already knows who you are and accepts you. But is what you have just a deep friendship, or is it something more? Do you want something more or different from this person? There may be many more things to consider your initial desires seriously. There are several approaches you can use to cope with these emotions. Some examples include avoiding flirting with this person or making it a point not to be alone with them. We'll discuss these both later in the article.

Defining Intimacy

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 because it's how God made us. We were designed to connect

Dictionary.com defines intimacy as “showing a close union or combination of particles or elements."  It is defined as a positive emotional bond that evokes feelings and behaviors related to understanding and support. Intimacy involves having proximity to another that involves the mingling of souls and the sharing of hearts.  Alain de Botton said, “Intimacy is the capacity to be rather weird with someone – and finding that that’s okay with them.”

It is the relationship with one another, through self-disclosure, mutual acceptance, and valuing one another (or showing respect). Intimacy is associated with positive emotions and is considered by some to be the biggest reward to humans in pursuit of maintaining close relationships.

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Types of Intimacy

With the different definitions above, one thing can be deduced: intimacy is realized within relationships. Definition from the Oxford Dictionary reveals the relationship as to how two or more people or things are connected or the state of being connected. There are different types of relationships- with specific needs that each of them meets. When there are no clear terms to what the closeness of one to another entails, you can get into unnecessary attachments that can lead to intimacy.

We have different types of relationships –family relationships, sexual relationships, friendship. There are different types of intimacy, but the one that most often comes to mind is sexual intimacy between two people. The other types can lead to sexual intimacy as things unfold.

  1. Intellectual Intimacy:

An environment that enhances the sharing of thoughts, ideas, skills, hobbies, and that steers intellectualism will often lead to intimacy. You can have discussions that center on life’s situations, different philosophies, and political ideologies you have with another person gives you the feeling that the person is your cerebral mate.

Having someone who you can have a chat with- when you have brain-cracking problems with the assurance that there will be headway can make you feel connected in profound ways.

You can even be a sapiosexual person- you're attracted to someone because of their intellectual capacity. When you develop this attraction, you may be prone to sexual tension since something draws you closer to each other.

  1. Conflict Intimacy:

The common thought is that the person that you often disagree with is your worst enemy; one may be wrong; however, if that is all you base your judgment. If utilized well, conflict can foster a depth of intimacy; you will be shocked to have. Why? That person could be challenging you to be your best and leave your comfort zone. Both of you can disagree to agree by working out your disagreement in a civilized and respectful manner. The ability to achieve this can make you grow deeper in friendship, with the confidence that there is someone always watching your back.

Once you can achieve the conflict amicably, there should be no other challenges that you cannot weather together.

It should be made clear that conflict intimacy is only achievable when you are intentional about the relationship(whatever form it is)- if you take things with levity, you may grow apart.

  1. Emotional Intimacy

When you are emotionally intimate in a friendship or relationship, it means your innermost thoughts-smart or stupid- is bare before them. You can be vulnerable around the person- not walking on eggshells.

You being in a state of vulnerability can be scary, especially if you have been hurt before. That does not mean you should not throw the baby with the bathwater- there are people worth giving it a try.

To form emotional intimacy, you should be willing to ask open-ended questions, cultivate the art of listening to others' thoughts,  hear them pour out their feelings, not be scared of being judged. Do not also forget to ask to be heard because intimacy is a two-way thing.

On an occasion where you have emotional disconnection in a relationship due to conflict or secrets, you may need to involve a therapist depending on how important the relationship is -BetterHelp counselors do a good job at it. 

If the relationship is rather casual, meaning you don't consider it valuable, it will do you much good coming to terms with what it is now.

  1. Physical Intimacy

Physical intimacy is different from sexual intimacy. You can be affectionate towards someone and yet not be sexually intimate. It is most common within the bounds of people dating. At times, you can have a friend with no form of sexual tension that makes you feel that comfortable with them. You hold hands, cry on each other’s shoulders, hug – these are ways to show physical intimacy. 

It's hard to have this kind of intimacy without developing sexual chemistry continuously.  The body language of subtle touching can increase the sexual tension between yourselves. 

Since these gestures make you feel cherished and nurtured, you can start reading meaning to obvious affection signs if the sexual tension is mutual, good for you! But if it is not, you may have to use the tactic of fight or flight.

I will suggest you seek physical intimacy from platonic same-sex relationships or talk to a counselor at BetterHelp - especially when you are in a vulnerable position. This can help you to avoid being sexually attracted to someone who has no sexual tension towards you.  Your emotions can be manipulated, so cut the physical contact and save yourself from hurt.

  1. Spiritual Intimacy

Spirituality is a personal decision. It is a beautiful feeling when you have a new relationship that revolves around your religious beliefs, habits, and growth. According to studies, partners who share similar spiritual ideologies thrive because they see life through the same lens. Their relationship is strengthened because they can connect on an existential level. People with the same religious background and understanding can refer back to it when life becomes a bit unclear.

Have you seen people in the same niche of religion defend themselves? Some of them do not mind spilling blood to prove to you how superior their religion is. Now imagine you being in a friendship/relationship with someone with an entirely different spiritual background!

The probability of conflict is higher, except if you have learned to respect each other's ideologies and have set healthy boundaries. Without the systems put in place to avoid tension signs, spiritual intimacy is likely not feasible. Share your religious beliefs as soon as you can in any budding friendship. Let them know your stance, listen to theirs, and then choose to draw boundaries to avoid conflict and build intimacy. Even though you are in different phases, when you feel that your spiritual thoughts are understood- not necessarily accepted, spiritual intimacy becomes possible.

Sexual Tension Between Friends

Noticing sexual tension is something you feel or experience rather than explain. The sexual chemistry between friends is noticeable; people comment that there is sexual tension between you and a friend even if you’re in denial. Other people that know you well may have picked up on a change in your behavior. Maybe someone has even commented or mentioned that you seem different around your friend. The signs of sexual tension like prolonged eye contact or how you can’t stop talking about the person or how you respond to the person's touch will make them pinpoint their sexual tension.

Even if you're friends, sexual tension is very natural between two people that find each other attractive. It's up to each person to decide if the sexual attraction you feel is something that you want to or should act on. One consequence of choosing to act on a sexual attraction is that it will complicate the relationship the two of you already have, and there could be positives and negatives to that.

There are many different reasons why some people act out sexual attraction and why people 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 and are 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 towards them. Maybe you are unattached, and the urges you have to make you think of starting a romantic relationship with a person you already know and care about. Or it could be that you have discovered that you are ready to take a relationship to the next level. Either way, it's wise to talk through your feelings with someone you trust to try to help you make sense of what they are telling you.

Why Do I Feel Attracted To My Friend? And Do They Feel The Same?
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How to Cope with Unwanted Urges

What if the sexual feelings you are having are not returned?

Believe it or not, people aren't great at reading each other's behaviors, and we are especially bad at reading minds. Even if you're almost sure that your friend feels the same tension you are when it comes to hooking up, it's a good idea to check for certain before you act. If you think it seems awkward to ask someone, "Hey, I think I am picking up on some attraction between the two of us, are you feeling that too?" then think how awkward it would be to try to make a move on someone who finds it coming from the left field.

The first thing to do that can help you is to accept what you're feeling. Most people remain in denial of what they are feeling; they act like macho's and keep hurting themselves. Accepting 'I feel sexual towards this person' will go a long way. You become aware of the emotions you're feeling and can start asking yourself questions that validate the emotions like why my heart rate increases when we are together? Is the sexual tension mutual? Isn't sex relationships with different people I feel sexual tension towards going to make me look cheap?

You're sexually attracted to someone; that's okay, but keep in mind that sexual tensions or attractions are feelings or impulses. Not all those feelings need to be fulfilled if there are healthy logical reasons for not going down that road.

There could be butterflies in your stomach when there is eye contact between you and your friend. That does not mean the sexual tension is mutual. If you reduce physical contact, you may realize that you may just be infatuated.

After the short separation for you to think, If you have acknowledged that maybe 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" if you think that Could be a bad idea.

  • Avoid being alone with that person (develop a fear of intimacy with such a person)
  • When you are tempted to act on your urges, remind yourself why you cannot be with this person.
  • Do not flirt with or touch them.
  • Talk to the person about what you are feeling and why you think it's a bad idea to act on sexual feelings for each other. While at that, maintain stern eye contact- it shows them you mean what you are saying.
  • Spend less time together as a whole.
  • If you're single, try dating to see if the way you feel has more to do with needing physical intimacy or feeling lonely.
  • When you are alone in your room and can't stop smiling about the person, enjoy the moment, assure yourself it is a phase that would soon pass.
  • Talk to another friend about the tension you are feeling. Be open to them about the sexual tension you feel. At the point of emotional high, they can be your voice of reasoning.

Cards Fall Where They May

Some people come into our lives and become like family, knowing and nurturing us in ways that our biological families sometimes can't. As adults, we get to choose with whom to spend our days, celebrate our triumphs, share ourselves, and create our memories.

The ties of friendship are crafted through the shared experience of walking through life together, and physicality is sometimes a part of this path. Becoming physically intimate with a friend is not necessarily "bad," it just changes things.

If this happens in one of your friendships, the best thing to do is, to be honest with them about what you are feeling and what you hope to get out of becoming closer to each other in a different way. Know that's sexual tension and be willing to discuss it with them. A lot of pain and confusion can be avoided with open communication and respect for one another as people. It’s possible the sexual tension can dissipate when you both understand it is not just a hook-up.

Other Solutions

Focus on yourself. Taking time out of each day for self-care will help you be more in tune with yourself and your emotions. Anything you can do to take time away from thinking about your friend will be a time to distance yourself from the feelings you have toward them. While you are focused on a good part of yourself, improvement will creep in overtime.

Talk to your friends. If you are having trouble deciphering your feelings, having a sounding board can help you. The support system you have behind you will make all the difference as you go down this path.

Find a hobby. If you find yourself spending too much time obsessing over your friend, this is a great option. Channel all that energy into something you are passionate about and watch your outlook improve. Try to make every day a good day.

Seek professional help. If you have found yourself in a confusing situation that you are having a hard time making sense of, or if you feel you could use some guidance about being healthier in your relationships, you are not alone. Interpersonal relationships, whether they involve sexual intimacy or not, can be confusing and can almost seem like minefields.

A mental health professional may be someone to consider speaking to about healthy dynamics of friendships and other relationships and about healthy relationship behaviors. It's okay if you feel like you may need help. The only relationship guides we have are the ones we have experienced or observed, and it can be hard for many people to recognize the qualities of supportive, healthy relationships. Below you can read some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people who have been helped with similar issues.


Feeling sexual tension for a friend can be unnerving. It can be difficult to unpack and decide what to do. But with the right tools, you can work your way toward the answer that is right for you. Take the first step today.

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