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You know that flip your stomach does — it feels amazing and awful at the same time — when you’re in the company of a certain person? That’s sexual tension.

It happens when your brain decides that you’re attracted to someone in a sexual (versus platonic) way, even if you don’t fully realize it yet.

According to research, your brain knows what type of relationship it wants to pursue almost immediately after meeting someone. That physical response you feel is what motivates you to pounce. Grrrrr!

Most of the time, sexual tension is positive. It’s that sweet anticipation you feel in the throes of new lust when you want them more than a handful of chocolate chips and can’t wait to get a move on and see what happens next.

Sometimes, sexual tension is shrouded by negative feelings. In extreme cases, this could be feelings of anger or shame that stem from a traumatic sexual experience, such as sexual abuse.

Negative sexual tension can also come in the way of insecurities related to body image or sexual performance.

Even if they’re the last person you ever expected to be attracted to, you’ll know by the way your body and brain responds that you’re feeling something.

All those feels can be confusing when they hit you at once.

If you want to figure out what exactly it is you’re feeling, start taking note of how you feel when they’re around. Here are some hints to help:

  • You get butterflies when you think about or see them. A one-off flutter in your belly could be the result of a bad lunch, but if happens every time you see or just think of them then you’ve got it bad.
  • Your heart rate increases. Attraction causes a boost in the chemicals oxytocin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. This surge of chemicals can make you feel euphoric and cause physical reactions like making your heart race faster.
  • You get a little sweaty. Norepinephrine is also a major player in your body’s fight-or-flight response, which is why you sweat when you get all worked up around someone you’re sexually attracted to.
  • You can’t stop smiling or laughing. It’s those damn chemicals again! They make you feel giddy, which translates to acting like a smiling fool around the object of your desire.

Face it, the look of love really is in your eyes just like the old song says.

Even if you’re trying not to look, it’s almost impossible not to when you find someone appealing and vice versa:

  • Eye contact. The coy gaze where you make eye contact and then look away is a common nonverbal flirting cue, according to a 2014 study that looked at flirting styles. Eye contact is also the best way to establish instant intimacy.
  • Staring. Staring is an obvious sign of attraction. It’s hard to look away when you like (and want) what you see.
  • Checking them out. If you want to do the dirty with someone, you can’t help but be drawn to their eyes, lips, breasts, pecs, butt — you get the idea. And if they’re checking you out, too? High five! They’re totally hot for you!

It’s about more than just words when you’re talking to someone that you’re lusting after:

  • It feels awkward. Awkward conversation is only natural when you’re worrying about coming up with witty things to say while most of your blood has taken up residence between your thighs.
  • Everything has a flirty context. When there’s sexual tension, no sentence is off-limits from becoming flirty banter. Teasing each other is a common flirting tactic that people use to provoke playfulness.
  • It always feels like there’s something left unsaid. This could be a deliberate tactic to lead you to making a move or it could be them getting tempted to take things further, but chickening out. Either way, it’s an indicator of sexual tension that’s getting harder to control.

Sexual tension can be pretty plain to see in the way you act when you’re around each other. For example:

  • You’re highly aware of any physical contact or subtle touching. Their hand brushing against yours as you both reach for the ketchup is enough to set your imagination and your naughty bits ablaze. Sexual tension makes even the slightest touch feel like a lightning strike.
  • You both respond to touch by leaning in or getting closer. When there’s a mutual attraction, both of you will act on touch by leaning in and getting as close as possible. It ups the intimacy and takes your connection to another level.
  • You always wind up next to each other when you’re in group settings. Oldest trick in the book. If you keep “oops” ending up next to each other at meetings or social functions, there’s probably no “oops” about it.
  • Your hugs last longer than with other people. You don’t linger in the arms of someone for nothin’. If your hugs last more than a couple of Mississippi’s, then someone doesn’t want to let go.
  • Your voices change when you talk to each other. It’s scientifically proven that the pitch and tone of your voice changes in the face of attraction. Don’t let this make you self-conscious; speech directed at someone you’re attracted to has also been found to make your voice more appealing to others.

Sexual tension isn’t easy to shake, especially when you have yet to scratch the itch.

It’s no wonder that they’ll pop up in your thoughts, conversations, and even your dreams:

  • You keep bringing them up in convos that really have nothing to do with them. It’s called “mention-itis” and if you have sexual tension with someone, chances are you’re guilty of it.
  • You’re daydreaming about them. You know you do it and anyone who catches you staring off with that stupid grin knows you do it, too. Sweet dreams!
  • You go somewhere and hope you run into them. Who wears full makeup to the gym at 6 a.m. or wears their lucky drawers to a marketing meeting? Anyone hoping to run into the object of their crotch’s desire. That’s who.
  • You keep wishing they would kiss you. You’ve pictured it so many times you can practically taste it! It’s the reason you don’t hear a word they say even though you’re constantly staring at their lips.
  • You have sex dreams about them. Most of our dreams are linked to thoughts we had in the previous day or two. If you’ve got sexual tension with someone, then having sex dreams about them is pretty much a given.

You don’t need to be a genius to notice when two people have sexual chemistry.

If you’re feeling it, then you can bet your horny bottom that others can see it. For example:

  • People comment on how good you’d be together. When the sparks are flying between two people, others can’t help but marvel at how amazing you’d be together or at the very least joke that you two should “get a room already.” If others have commented, then you’re definitely not imagining it.
  • If you’re already in relationship or otherwise attached, your partner may have commented about your friendship with this person. If your partner has taken notice of your acquaintance with this person, then the chemistry between you must be obvious AF.

How you proceed totally depends on what you want to get out of the situation. Having sexual tension doesn’t mean you need to act on it. And signs of sexual tension aren’t a go-ahead to cross any lines.

If you definitely want to see where it can go

If you want to pursue it, then you’ll need to keep a cool head about you and go with the flow.

Respond to the signs that you’re picking up on with obvious signs in return. Reciprocating their flirtations sends the message that you’re open to more.

If sending out your own signals doesn’t get them to make a move, then it’s time to take mature route and ask if what you’ve been reading is right.

Yeah, it might be a bit awkward, but still a lot better than crossing boundaries and risking forcing your affection on someone who doesn’t consent.

Be open, honest, and clear with them so there’s no confusion as to what you’re hoping for. Then give them the opportunity to decide what they’d like to do with this juicy admission.

If they’ve been feeling it too, they’ll likely take this opportunity to act on it. If nothing happens, then you need to walk away and let it go.

If it can’t go further

Sexual tension isn’t limited to the single and ready to mingle. Any blue-blooded human can feel sexual chemistry with another person, even if they’re already committed.

Having these feelings doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to change or end your relationship, though it could be a sign that something is missing.

The important thing here is to not let your sexual desire take control of your senses and cause you to make a decision you’ll regret.

It’s easier said than done when you’re raging with sex hormones and in close proximity to the object of your attraction.

You’ll need to summon the strength to keep your distance while you work through your feelings before making any decisions.

If you think your sexual tension is the product of being a little bored in your relationship, then have an honest talk with your partner about what you want from them.

If you decide that you’re not happy and want to move on, then that calls for honesty, too.

Even if you’re 1000 percent positive that there’s a sexual vibe between you, it’s crucial to get a clear go-ahead from the other person before you make any explicit moves.


Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.