Understanding Your Urges: Sexual Tension Between Friends

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated May 3, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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 - - research has indicated that romantic relationships based on the “storge” love style, a love style based on friendship and connection, can be a predictor of well-being and contentment. Taking the time to develop a strong foundation upon which the two of 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 friendship, though. It can be normal to have romantic tension with people you call friends. Knowing what to do with those urges is what matters.

Should I tell my friend I’m attracted to them?

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 emerge, 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 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.

Defining intimacy

The innate desire to be seen as who we are is what steers the emotional attachment termed "intimacy." As social creatures, intimacy 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 close relationships. While intimacy 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 lies in which type of intimacy you are experiencing.

Ilona Titova/EyeEm

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 won’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:People who share 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.

Sexual tension is perfectly natural and can happen in scenarios where no sexual relationship is directly desired. Instead, two people may simply find each other attractive and be of compatible sexualities.

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. Signs 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 experience 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 such a change. 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 to monogamous relationships with other people. 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 to avoid sexual intimacy with this person could be that you work together or may have different expectations around a potential 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.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Should I tell my friend I’m attracted to them?

Coping with unreciprocated feelings

What if the sexual feelings you are having are not mutual? People can’t always interpret other people’s behaviors accurately. 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 where you are having a hard time making sense of a relationship, or if you feel you could use some relationship guidance, you are not alone. Speaking with a therapist through BetterHelp could be beneficial for your mental health.

It can be hard to recognize the qualities of supportive, healthy relationships, and 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. 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 people experiencing emotional distress. The researchers' results indicated that online therapy could be just as helpful as traditional face-to-face options.


Feeling sexual tension between you and a platonic friend can be confusing, but it’s a common experience. However, it may still be difficult to decide what to do with your feelings. With the right tools, consideration, and support, you can work your way toward a decision you feel confident about. Should you need guidance while you make choices about your relationships, online therapy may be beneficial.
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