Here is a loose definition for tension. It is to create a strain, either emotional or physical. Readers enjoy experiencing stress or pressure when they read, so writers have to use a reader’s desire against them to create an engaging story. To do this, writers may use sexual tension. This isn’t a necessity, but this tension does add to the “stress” that a reader feels when engaging with the text.
It’s all about suspense
The purpose of using sexual tension is to create suspense. Much like a mystery novel needs unsolved questions, a romance needs a problem that exists between two characters. These problems should be something that everyone can relate to.
For readers to enjoy the suspense in a novel, writers have to utilize common experiences that everyone has, and they have to pace the story well. Here are some experiences that I have had and that you may have experienced:
- Growing up, I always wanted someone that didn’t want me back
- 50% of the time, I sought advice from a friend that did like me
- I was once in a long-term relationship with someone that wasn’t good for me
- At least three girls that were better for me held onto crushes secretly
- A friend asked, “Are you two dating?” To that, I replied, “Hell no!”
- The girl rightfully assumed that I meant to disrespect her. In reality, I thought she was out of my league. (Side note: My stupid response ruined our friendship. And [despite her unbelievable beauty] I didn’t mind not dating her. She was a super good friend.)
Look at that list again and compare it to your experiences.
- Have you ever want someone that didn’t or couldn’t like you?
- Ever been in a bad relationship?
- Have your anxieties ever worked against you?
In short, writers and readers have a lot of shared experiences. A writer’s job is to use those experiences and evolve them.
To create sexual tension:
- Use a reader’s prior knowledge
- Create a common obstacle that many people have experienced
- Place a tension between your main characters that prevents them from being together
Sexual tension has little to do with physical desire, and everything to do with an emotional strain. It isn’t just raging hormones and running your hand up a skirt. No. It is a classy and delicate flower, so treat it like a lady.
In the past, I used too much physical desire. However, have learned the value of what we can’t see. Click here to read about why I changed.