Understanding Your Urges: Sexual Tension Between Friends

By Nicola Kirkpatrick

Updated February 28, 2019

Reviewer Lauren Fawley

Letting Life Take the Wheel

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Developing a romantic relationship over time through friendship can produce some of the deepest and longest lasting connections. By taking the time to develop a strong foundation upon which you know, care, and understand one another, it lends itself to nurture a healthy romance. You may feel more comfortable interacting with someone that you consider more a friend than a potential romantic partner, so 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 other than the pleasure you would experience at the moment.

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 and 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 human beings in pursuing and maintaining close relationships. There are different types of intimacy, but the one that most often comes to mind is sexual intimacy between two people. It can be confusing when a friendship starts to feel like something more intimate, and those situations can be tricky to navigate. Sexual attraction does not follow the logic, and sexual tension between friends can sometimes be hard to recognize or understand.

Sexual Tension Between Friends:

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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. Sexual tension is very natural between two people that find each other attractive, even if you are friends. It is 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 other times; people decide to not follow those feelings through to action. One example of such a reason is that sexual tension can exist between two people who are already committed. It is unrealistic to think that you will no longer find others attractive just because you decide to commit yourself to a relationship. Other reasons could be that you work together or you 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 are making you think of starting a romantic relationship with a person that you already know and care about. It could be that you have discovered that you are ready to take a relationship to the next level. It is wise to talk through your feelings with someone you trust to try to help you make sense of what they are telling you.

How to Cope With Unwanted Urges

What if the sexual feelings you are having are not returned? Believe it or not, people are not great at reading each other's behaviors, and we are especially bad at reading minds. Even if you are almost sure that your friend is feeling the same tension you are when it comes to hooking-up, it is a good idea to check that out 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?", just think how awkward it would be to try to make a move on someone who thinks it is coming from left field.

Keep in mind that sexual tensions or attractions are feelings or impulses, and not all of 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 him or her
  • Talk to the person about what you are feeling and why you think it is a bad idea to act on sexual feelings for each other
  • Spend less time together as a whole
  • If you are 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

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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 help 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 really changes things. If this happens in one of your friendships, the best thing to do is, to be honest about what you are feeling and what you hope to come out of getting closer to one another 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.

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. The only relationship guides we have are the ones we have been in or observed, and it can be hard for many people to recognize qualities of supportive, healthy relationships of all kinds.

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