Understanding Your Urges: Sexual Tension Between Friends

By Mary Elizabeth Dean

Updated March 24, 2020

Reviewer 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 with this person? There may be many more things to seriously consider beyond your initial desires. 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

Intimacy is defined as a positive emotional bond that evokes feelings and behaviors related to understanding and support. Relationships are enhanced by our interactions with one another, through self-disclosure, mutual acceptance, and by 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. There are different types of intimacy, but the one that most often comes to mind is sexual intimacy between two people.

Sexual Tension Between Friends

Noticing sexual tension is something you feel or experience rather than explain. 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. 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 a sexual attraction and why other times people decide to not 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 that you're 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 are making you think of starting a romantic relationship with a person that 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.

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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 is feeling 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.

Keep in mind that sexual tensions or attractions are feelings or impulses and that not all those feelings need to be fulfilled if there are healthy logical reasons for not going down that road.

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 would be a bad idea.

  • Avoid being alone with that 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.
  • Spend less time together as a whole.
  • If you're single, try dating to see if the way you are feeling has more to do with needing physical intimacy or feeling lonely.
  • Talk to another friend about the tension you are feeling.

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.

Why Do I Feel Attracted To My Friend? And Do They Feel The Same?
Ask An Expert. Chat With A Licensed Relationship Counselor Online Now.

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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. A lot of pain and confusion can be avoided with open communication and respect for one another as people, not just a hook-up.

Other Solutions

Focus on yourself. Taking time out of each day for self-care will help you to 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 you can distance yourself from the feelings you have toward them.

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.

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 how to be healthier in your relationships, you are not alone. Interpersonal relationships, whether they involve sexual intimacy or not, can be confusing, and at times, 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 to 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.

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Counselor Reviews

"Mark has been extremely attentive to everything that I disclose. He's not only provided me support but insight and encouragement to let me know I'm on a good path to self improvement and discovery. Furthermore, Mark has provided me valuable insight on my romantic relationship, specifically with learning more about the relationship dynamics and how to build a stronger, healthier relationship."

"I've worked with Jamie for a number of months and he's helped me with everything that life has thrown my way. Difficulty in work, my relationship, and other stresses that I've struggled to navigate by myself. He listens and he helps. I always feel validated and supported. He gives me tools and perspectives that have made a big difference in my overall happiness."


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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