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Have you ever been on a date and just felt a spark—like a jolt of electricity coursing through your body, even if just for a moment? Some people call that chemistry, or sexual tension. To be sure, there are signs of sexual tension to look out for so you can tell whether the feeling is mutual (and to figure out whether you’re not the only one having those, ahem, NC-17 thoughts.) According to Nicole Prause, Ph.D., CEO of Liberos, sexual psychophysiologist, and neuroscientist, this type of tension is “our pleasurable interpretation of the general body arousal and preparation to engage.”
Meet the Expert
Nicole Prause, Ph.D. is a sexual psychophysiologist and neuroscientist. She is the CEO of Liberos where she conducts research and provides treatment using brain stimulation to alter sex drive.
To be clear, we typically experience two kinds of sexual tension, says Prause: Positive, which is the type we described above (in which we feel a spark and desire for another person), and negative, which is when you feel “angry, sad, or anxious” thinking about a sexual encounter with someone. Since we’re focusing on positive sexual tension, we’re referring to what Prause says is “the ‘risk’ or not knowing what might happen, even with an established partner.” Yes, even couples who've been in an established relationship can still can’t feel excited about what might happen.
When you’re so into each other that you can’t stop staring into each others’ eyes and you don’t feel like you need to look away (and don’t want to either), that’s when you know the chemistry is there.
On the flip side, the beginning of any relationship (fling or otherwise) comes with uncertainty. The beginning of a new relationship is about figuring out if you’re both attracted to each other, and the good news is that with a few little tips, you can learn to spot the signs of sexual tension. Keep reading to learn what they are (and maybe keep them in the back of your mind on your next date).
When the Eye Contact Just Won’t Stop
We’ve already discussed how eye contact can make you feel joy instead of fear and sadness (yes, a study proved this.) But when you’re so into each other that you can’t stop staring into each others’ eyes and you don’t feel like you need to look away (and don’t want to either), that’s when you know the chemistry is there.
When There’s Subtle Touching
A touch on the knee, brushing their hand against yours… you catch the drift. It might not be a blatant arm around the shoulder or holding hands, but for a split second, you imagine what it would be like if your contact lasted longer than that. Personal space? Who needs that?
That Feeling When You’re the Only People in the Room
It can be easier to feel the energy when it’s just you two. But when you’re in a crowded room—especially doing your own thing—and you feel a pull toward that person, that’s when you know.
When Your Hugs Last Longer Than Normal
There are usually social norms regarding how long you hold a hug (for your friend, a certain amount of seconds; for a friend’s partner, maybe less than that.) So when you go in for an embrace and no one lets go, chances are that the sexual tension is there. Bonus points if they give you a bit more of a squeeze than normal.
When You Take Longer to Get Ready Before Seeing Them
We’re not saying that you try on 10 outfits before deciding on one, but when you put serious thought into your clothes, hair, you name it, it's saying something. And what you're likely saying is that you want to impress that person, which isn't a bad thing. If they do the same for you, then you’re golden.
When Your Mind Won’t Stop Wandering
All over the place. Okay, fine, to one place: The bedroom. It’s perfectly normal for your thoughts to drift while you’re with that someone special, whether it’s your first date (or if you’re already a couple.)
When Your Voices Change
It’s a scientific thing: Sexual tension can modify a person's pitch. See how they speak to other people (friends, family) and then compare it to your conversations. One of the best parts? It’s something neither person can really hide.
When you go in for an embrace and no one lets go, chances are that the sexual tension is there.
When There’s Winking—And It’s Not Weird.
Winking somehow gets a bad rap. But when you’re into each other, it’s playful and cute. Chances are that it will just happen while you’re talking. And if you’re both into it, then you know things are going well.
When They Star in Your Fantasies
Whether you’re daydreaming or actually dreaming, when they’re the object of your attraction rather than your celebrity hall pass, that’s a sign. It basically means that you want them more than someone you view as close to perfect yet unattainable. And guess what? Reality is better than dreaming.
When Silence Is Okay
You know how when you first meet someone, you can’t let a moment pass without talking? With someone you’re attracted to, you often don’t feel that way. There’s a comfort level with them that’s just indescribable—and maybe it’s because your actions (like gazing into each others’ eyes) speak louder than words.
When You Have to Let It Linger
Hesitating a bit at the end of a date means that you don’t want to go. It can be in the form of an embrace that lasts longer than normal or stalling near your doorstep after a date (remember that one scene in the movie Hinge?) If you notice that happening, you can tell you’re probably lusting.
Hietanen JK. Affective Eye Contact: An Integrative Review. Front Psychol. 2018;9:1587. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01587
Leongomez JD, Binter J, Kubicova L, Stolarova P, Klapilova K, Havlicek J, Roberts SC. Vocal Modulation During Courtship Increases Proceptivity Even in Native Listeners. Evol Hum Behav. 2014;35(6):489-496. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2014.06.008