Friday, August 10, 2007

Desire and Denial, True Sexual Tension

So 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.

Mal: Inara.

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 uncertain whether they will ever get the chance to speak of their attraction/longing for each other.

Sexual tension comes around from the old want to but can’t scenario. 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 na├»ve. In this scene Mal heading for bed finds Saffron in his bed—nekkid. Now 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.


Gwen Hayes said...

Great article,Jass.

I think another problem with the "will they/won't they" tension is that when they finally do, it becomes difficult to maintain the chemistry.

Sam and Diane (Cheers)
Maddie and Dave (Moonlighting)
Mork and Mindy
Joanie and Chachi
Lois and Clark

I think a key is that when you finally let them consumate...there needs to be a "yeah, but...."

Angel and Buffy fall in love, despite all odds. She is the first woman he has loved in 250 years and when they tumble into bed, he loses his soul and becomes a demon again.

So keeping the tension has to be as well planned as creating the tension, or your book pretty much ends when the clothes come off.

Sarah Jo said...

Wonderful blog Jasmine

I love to read or watch shows with good sexual tension, if it's done right, it can be as good as or better then the act itself. :-)

Mima said...

the gap between expectations and reality is more mental in sexual tension, isn't it? what fears or morals the character has internally are what they're processing.

Jass said...


Thanks Gwen, glad to know the information is being read.

I agree. I think keeping the tension between characters takes as much attention to plot as any other aspect of the story.

In the instance of Buffy and Angel, after Angel's soul was gone there wasn't any real "sexual tension" until the moment he got it back and they had that moment before she was forced to send him to hell. There was angst and heartache aplenty, but I don't think I'd call it sexual tension. Just that moment when he said and meant "Buffy, it's me." And she said "I know." Kissed him and then stabbed him with the sword.

Jass said...


I think it is more often mental, but not always. Let's see if I can list a few samples that are external rather than internal.

1) Being interrupted. (Kids, the dog, a rival) Think of all those screen kisses that almost happened and then are interrupted.

2)Getting turned into something not human. Leia and Han kiss and then Han gets frozen in the carbonite.

3)The Romeo and Juliet syndrom. They wanted to be together but external forces were in the way.

4)Related but slightly different is Sneaking. Being in a public place and going beyond PDA.

5)Unavailability. I'm thinking love letters can be very sexy. Heck even phone sex between too people who want each other very much but aren't in the same local.

6)Incompatability. Thornbirds, anyone?

You think so too?

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