I once had a crush on someone and every pause in our conversations or extended look or lingering hug would have me analyzing the intention behind it for weeks after the fact. When I eventually confessed my feelings for them (I'm not super disciplined when it comes to secrets), it all came tumbling out. "But don't you also feel the sexual tension?" I asked.
Reader, they did not.
And that was when I packed up all my sh*t and moved out of New York and into the Alaskan wilderness. (JK-but-not-JK, if you feel me.)
Sexual tension can be a confusing, anxiety-inducing feeling, and that's even before you factor in the possible rejection. Can sexual tension be felt by just one person? Or is it only sexual tension if both people feel it? Here to explain if what you're feeling is classified as sexual tension, we asked experts to break it down.
What does sexual tension feel like?
As for whether or not sexual tension has to be mutual or if it can be one-sided, there's no black-and-white answer. Some people believe feelings can only be classified as sexual tension if both people are feeling it, while others, like Carmel, personally believe that it can be both one-sided and mutual. "When you have unrequited feelings for someone, you can still feel a need to resolve your inner tension by having a sexual moment with that crush. It still makes you nervous, clammy, and feel as if you have a secret," she says.
"It's not a scientific term, so I think there is wiggle room for people to define for themselves whether it has to be mutual or not to be considered sexual tension," adds Jill McDevitt, resident sexologist for CalExotics.
How do you know when sexual tension is mutual?
You can tell when sexual tension is mutual through prolonged eye contact, says Jess McCann Ballagh, author and relationship coach. Jess, who is of the mindset that you really need both parties to be involved to feel sexual tension, says prolonged eye contact can feel like a mini-date that no one else can see or get in on. "It feels great and you don't want to break away from it," she adds.
On the other hand, when sexual tension is more one-sided, the party that's not feelin' it would likely dodge eye contact to otherwise communicate that they're not into it, says Carmel.
Another way of gauging sexual tension is by how outsiders view you and your partner's interactions. "It's nearly unavoidable for people to notice when both parties are feeling something for each other," adds Carmel. So if all your friends pull you aside after watching you and your crush interact like, "What was that?!?" then that's another good indication.
How can I stop sexual tension?
By definition, tension of any kind is going to require a resolution, Carmel says. Someone who wants to stop sexual tension likely has two options: either resolving the tension by giving in to your desires or squashing the tension by acknowledging it openly. Either route you choose will ideally provide some relief.
If outright talking about it isn't something you want to do yet, you can also try to keep the butterflies at bay by telling yourself nothing will happen and telling the other person that nothing ever will. Bring up a new relationship around this person to see if that helps curb the feelings. While this might be a softer and easier, face-saving approach, Carmel does add that this doesn't make the tension go away completely the way that talking openly about it would.
You can also try some mental tricks to un-sexify that person in your mind. While the old adage of picturing someone in their undies to calm your nerves might work for giving a school speech or something, that's pretty much the opposite of what you wanna do here. Instead, picture the person doing something silly or objectively not sexy, like blowing their nose, flossing, picking their toenails, says Jess.
If it's more of a purely physical thing and you also know you're going to see the person later and want to try to minimize your feelings, Jess also suggests masturbating before you have to see them. That way you're at least not supes pent-up.
How do you know if you are sexually attracted to someone?
The clearest way to tell if you're sexually attracted to someone is to ask yourself whether or not you physically want to have sex with them. If yes, you're sexually attracted to them! You might even feel this tension as a physical sensation in your genitals, says Carmel. "People who are involved in platonic relationships with friends don't have an urge to be close to them in a sexual way," she says, "Nor do they feel their sexual zones intensify or activate with their platonic friends are around."
What are some common signs of sexual tension?
According to Carmel Jones and Jill McDevitt, here are a few signs of sexual tension.
- Eye contact
- Lingering touches
- A feeling of secrecy
- Sweaty palms
- Finding yourself in close proximity to each other in group settings
- Other people noticing or commenting on your tension
- Butterflies in your stomach
- Your voice subtly changing pitch when you speak to each other
- Your heart rate increases
- Smiling more
- Feeling physically turned on (your genitals getting aroused and swollen
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.