[some applicable trigger warnings: talk of hypothetical scenarios of sexual assault, (non-graphic) mention of actual experiences of sexual violence, musing on post-truama psychological effects and some internalized victim-blaming]
The only way I’ve ever seen the term “sexual tension” used is to refer to this scenario: two people with mutual sexual interest in one another, whose interactions are tinged with “tension” as a result of other interests/circumstances/obstacles/anxieties precluding them from acting on their erotic feelings for one another. Or, basically, when people really wanna bang, but don’t.
As I’ve told the copilot, I don’t think I’ve experienced that.
But, if you want to get technical, I have experienced a sexual “tension” of a different kind.
I’d always just kind of attributed it to my worrywart personality that, sometimes, in perfectly amenable and nonthreatening circumstances, a thought will leap into my head of the person I’m talking to sexually assaulting me. Not necessarily as a coherent line of reasoning, either, not set off by anything in particular, but more of this uneasy, semi-petrifying skinfeeling of anticipation from nowhere.
The only rhyme or reason I’ve found to it is that it tends to occur around people with some kind of material or social power over me — even if they’ve been perfectly nice, even if I think of them as friendly and trustworthy, even if I feel I know them well enough to reasonably rule that out as a possibility.
It’s like I just get nervous. These what ifs pop into my head and no matter how soon I dismiss them, it still makes me feel tense and want to put more distance between us because no matter how unlikely it is or how much it doesn’t make sense, it’s still too easy for me to envision it happening, and by then it can be kind of hard to get my mind off it or keep it from coloring my interactions with them.
And when I think too hard about it, I start asking myself, for example — why are you imagining that person grabbing or trying to have sex with you? Is that what you want? Do you secretly want that?
No. I don’t.
Then why are you still thinking about it, Coy? Maybe you’re wrong about yourself. Maybe you’re just in denial. Maybe the fact that the thought makes your stomach twist in knots and make you want to escape is just your way of experiencing desire.
That’s my experience of sexual tension. Having random-seeming anxieties about being trapped and assaulted.
And I didn’t really know what to make of it, and had been mostly ignoring it and attributing no significance to it and/or assuming everyone got these kinds of thoughts, until I read a post by a rape survivor mentioning her intrusive thoughts about the possibility of being sexually assaulted by her boss.
And in the context of recently deciding, “hey, you know, that thing that happened when you were a kid, that’s kind of like the experience of a CSA victim a little bit,” I realized, oh. Maybe that’s part of it, actually.
I’d never thought to connect it to that.