Desire, Denial and True Sexual Tension

This was my first requested blog, coming from at least two people. So how could I say no? Thank you, ladies, for thinking that I might have some insight on this. I’ll try and not let you down.

Sexual tension, you know it when you read it, but how do you create it? Is it simple lust? You know I’m going to say, no. Right? Is it two-sided or can it be one-sided? Again, no, it can’t be one-sided.

I know, let’s look at the two words. Sexual. In this context we aren’t talking about the act of sex specifically but more about mutual desire. And Tension we are going to equate with uncertainty. So what creates sexual tension is mutal desire that is complicated by denial or uncertainty. To that end sexual tension is not that complicated.

So let’s look at a couple of scenarios. The first one I’m going to take from the series Firefly by Joss Whedon. The episode is Serenity. There comes a point when the core group is being chased by Reavers (crazy warped individuals that if you are lucky will rape you to death, eat your flesh and sew your skin into their clothes and if you are very lucky they will do it in that order). Mal the ship’s captain is seeing to the safety of the ship’s civilians and runs into his tenant, Inara (the geisha with a heart of gold and tongue like a whip). Now in the earlier interactions between these two, they have traded verbal barbs and we know they are attracted to one another. So anyway these two meet in the gangway.


I want you to get in your shuttle. Get the civilians and be ready to go


We can’t just leave you here.


Thought that was the plan?


Mal, don’t—


We get boarded you take off, head for town. We might be able to stop them from following.


They’ll kill you.



(Just saying her name says more than he probably ever meant to. He puts his hand on her shoulder…

And pushes her away)

Mal Con’t:


Now I can’t emphasis this enough, this 20 seconds of film screams with sexual tension because they care for and desire one another even though it is unspoken, especially because it’s unspoken, and because it’s uncertain whether they will ever get the chance to speak of their attraction/longing for each other.

Sexual tension comes from the old&#8212want to but can’t&#8212scenario. I think it’s ‘the can’t’ that gives most folks trouble. Can’t flows out of character, but most people try to contrive can’t out of some horrible happening in a person’s past. They look to drive the can’t over a long period of time with the same reason. But the moments happen individually. In the above case, in a moment of danger these two people realize that they haven’t told the other what they feel, yet in the middle of a crisis isn’t the right time either so their subtext sings (plus the actors were awesome, especially Nathan Fillion, you would not believe how much he conveys in just saying her name.) They must move to meet their responsibilities.

Now, let’s look at another scene in the Firefly series, this time from the episode Our Mrs. Reynolds. In this episode, Mal finds himself, unexpectedly, with a wife, a young girl that seems sweet, innocent and naïve. In this particular scene, Mal is heading for bed, and finds Saffron there&#8212nekkid. In this scene, the sexual tension comes in the form of Saffron in a very innocent but provocative way trying to entice Mal into “giving her her wedding night.” Mal, is more than a bit tempted by her “innocent” seduction, yet he keeps telling her ‘No, this isn’t the morally right thing for me to do, and while I find you deliciously attractive…I can’t.’ It’s a wonderful scene with some very funny dialogue.

Now nekkid or not if Mal had zero interest in Saffron, the scene would have zero sexual tension, because the answer then becomes obvious.

Sexual tension comes from the will they/won’t they question. It’s just a matter of finding the gaps (remember those?) that create a believable reason why they want to, but can’t. Now the next question is how to you maintain the sexual tension after they’ve “done the deed” and the answer doesn’t change, something must interrupt the desire. Married people will tell you that children in nookie alert mode can leave them panting and very frustrated.