Posted On May 31, 2013 by Print This Post

Building Sexual Tension with Vonda Sinclair

After the second glance and before the first kiss, something magical happens between the hero and heroine. But how do you achieve that electrifying snap, crackle, and pop? 

Today’s Visiting Professor, Vonda Sinclair, explains the basics of creating sexual tension.  

Welcome, Vonda!

Sexual tension is one of my favorite elements in romance. I love reading it and I love creating it in my own stories.

What is sexual tension? It isn’t sex. Nope. Sexual tension is the anticipation, the chemistry, the excitement, the wanting, and the waiting that may eventually lead to sex. Or maybe not. Tension and suspense are created when the outcome is unknown. Will they or won’t they? There is a push/pull synergy going on in sexual tension. The two people are drawn together, but something also pushes them apart.

Laying the groundwork for strong sexual tension means thinking about the conflict that already exists between the hero and heroine when they meet. Are they from different social stations? Are their families/ clans/ countries enemies? Are they from two different worlds and won’t be allowed to stay together? Did they have a major conflict in the past? If you make sure this stumbling block is big and realistic, then strong sexual tension will be easier to create.

The first appearance of sexual tension in a story is often that first glance between the hero and heroine. They notice each other and are attracted. They each want to move closer to the other person and talk or touch. The more the hero learns about the heroine, the more he wants to know. With each scene, the sexual tension grows and heightens until the characters and the reader can hardly stand the suspense any longer. Will they kiss? Will they get together? Will they confess their feelings for one another?

Many elements of fiction will help you create strong sexual tension. For instance, the five senses can bring sexual tension to vibrant life on the page. When two people are physically and emotionally attracted, they notice tiny details about each other—sexy scents, the exact shade of blue of his eyes, how soft her skin is, how hard his muscles are, how sweet her kiss is. Dialogue is another tool you can use to heighten sexual tension, as you will see in my example below.

Emotion lights the fire under sexual tension and gives it power. Without emotion, there might be sexual attraction, but that will burn out fast without the corresponding emotions to keep it alive.

Something as simple as the touch of a hand can create an inferno of sexual tension, longing and arousal in the hero and heroine. But sexual tension is more than arousal. It affects people in physical, emotional, and visceral ways. If we’re talking about your heroine, maybe her heart pounds, her stomach aches, her breathing grows shallow, her skin flushes, and she feels feverish or has chills. The emotional and the physical are tied together, creating something powerful. Once sexual tension and emotion build higher and higher, this leads to falling in love. And this is what romance is all about.

My Darling HighlanderHere is an example showing several of the things I’ve talked about, an excerpt from my latest book, My Daring Highlander.

The blurb explains their external conflict, or the large stumbling block, that keeps them apart for most of the story.

Beautiful and fiercely protective of those she loves, Lady Seona Murray captured Keegan MacKay’s attention when she first set foot in Dunnakeil Castle. Though she is a chief’s daughter and forbidden, Keegan has fallen in love with her from afar and burns to possess her. But so does the clan traitor, Haldane, an obsessive outlaw bent on murder and kidnapping.

Sinfully handsome, Keegan MacKay is a fearsome guard as well as the chief’s cousin, but Seona’s father would never consider him a worthy husband for her because he is not a titled laird. Seona has secretly watched the sensual, tawny-haired warrior from across the crowded great hall for months, but when he is tasked with escorting her across Scotland, back to her home, their simmering attraction flames into sizzling passion with just one kiss.

Though she fears she is endangering Keegan’s life, Seona cannot resist his seductive charm or his spellbinding kisses. Keegan sets fire to the memories of her sad past and shows her what it means to truly live. But her father has other plans. He’s arranged for her to marry a wealthy Lowland laird. Is Keegan daring enough to steal her away? Or will the vindictive Haldane snatch her first?

Example/ excerpt of sexual tension from My Daring Highlander:

Seona stared after Isobel as she disappeared up the steps, a bottle of wine and flask of whisky in one hand and the lantern in the other. What was she up to, leaving Seona alone with Keegan in the kitchen?

Well… Seona knew Isobel wanted her and Keegan together. She encouraged her at every opportunity, because she wanted Seona to have a happy marriage like she had. But Seona did not see how that could happen.

Her gaze darted back to Keegan. He watched her as an osprey watches a salmon, with a concentrated focus that might be called hunger. Aye, she hungered for him as well.

His brows quirked in a wee, concerned frown. “Are you afraid?”

“Nay.” Did she look afraid? She tried to smooth out her features. She certainly didn’t fear Keegan. Only what he represented—everything she wanted, standing before her, just waiting. She still wasn’t sure she was brave enough to grab hold and face down all the obstacles.

“Good. I would never want you to be frightened of me, Seona.” His deep, soothing voice was spellbinding.

“I’m not. I trust you more than anyone.” ’Twas the truth and she was not shy about admitting it to him.

“That means more to me than I can say,” he whispered. “But ’haps you shouldn’t.”

His words should have alarmed her, but they didn’t for she suspected she knew what he was about to say. “Why not?”

His gaze grew more penetrating. “Because I wish for things I have no right wishing for.”

Another kiss?

“When I’m alone with you…” he said, shaking his head, “I find I want to…” He blew out a sharp breath and glanced away. “Hell, why am I telling you this?”

“I want you to tell me.” She yearned to know his every thought. “I couldn’t sleep.” That was her confession. Surely he would understand her meaning—she couldn’t sleep because thoughts of him kept taunting her, especially after he’d consumed her mouth earlier.

“Would one more goodnight kiss help?” His expression remained serious. Passionate.

Her heartbeat thumped in her throat. “Aye.” ’Twas a lie. The kiss would not help her sleep; it would keep her awake the rest of the night. But ’twas the one thing she craved most, as a starving person craves bread.


Please let me know if you have any questions about sexual tension and how to create it in your own writing. One lucky commenter will win a copy of My Daring Highlander. 


RU’s weapons expert, Adam Firestone, returns on Monday, June 3rd. 


Bio: Vonda Sinclair’s favorite indulgent pastime is exploring Scotland, from Edinburgh to the untamed and windblown north coast. She also enjoys creating hot, Highland heroes and spirited lasses to drive them mad. She is an EPIC Award winner, a past Golden Heart finalist and Laurie award winner. She lives with her amazing and supportive husband in the mountains of North Carolina where she is no doubt creating another Scottish story. 

Connect with Vonda via her website, her group blog Fierce Romance, and on Facebook and Twitter

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23 Responses to “Building Sexual Tension with Vonda Sinclair”

  1. Hi Vonda,

    Sexual tension keeps the reader engaged. Television shows are good examples. In Castle, the attraction is immediate, but obstacles appear every week.

    Great cover!

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | May 31, 2013, 6:52 am
  2. Morning Vonda!

    I love a story with good sexual tension…those are the kind I find hard to put down!

    What can you do to keep up the tension, however, once they have already had sex? I think that’s when a lot of books give up on keeping the tension alive..


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | May 31, 2013, 8:57 am
    • Great question, Carrie! After they’ve had sex, it’s important to bring genuine conflict back into the equation again to increase sexual tension. It’s also good if sex creates more problems for the couple instead of solving problems. That can also heighten sexual tension again. Thanks!

      Posted by Vonda Sinclair | May 31, 2013, 11:43 am
  3. Good morning, Vonda. Thank you for being here. Great post. It’s going right to my keeper file!

    I think my favorite part of reading romances is the sexual tension. It’s great fun to watch the characters struggle with their emotions.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | May 31, 2013, 9:44 am
  4. I love books that do sexual tension well. I’ve read yours so I know you know what you’re talking about.

    There’s nothing better than watching characters deal with attraction to someone they believe they shouldn’t want. It’s why I read romance.

    Posted by Tamara | May 31, 2013, 11:25 am
  5. Thanks for letting me visit with you at RU today!

    Posted by Vonda Sinclair | May 31, 2013, 11:40 am
  6. What a mesmerizing excerpt. To me, the simple statement, “She yearned to know his every thought” says it all, and more. I’ll reread the scene a few more times. Each reading of it gives me another gem. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge of the craft. Wishing you great success with sales.

    Posted by Gemma Juliana | May 31, 2013, 12:48 pm
  7. Nice post, Vonda…gotta have that sexual tension!

    Posted by Randy | May 31, 2013, 12:48 pm
  8. Hi Vonda!

    What struck me about your excerpt is that there weren’t any physical references (swelled bosom, kissable lips, etc.) or physical contact and yet the tension between the H/H is obvious, proof that the biggest sexual organ is the brain. 🙂

    I’ve learned a lot from your example. Too much emotion/internal thought can distract from the scene but you’ve captured Seona’s thoughts perfectly.

    The exchanged glances and her reaction to the timbre of Keegan’s voice (which is a subtle reference but it tells me she’s teetering on the precipice!) add to the tension. Also, what’s left unsaid between the two makes the scene more powerful.

    Thanks so much for blogging with us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | May 31, 2013, 3:43 pm
    • Jennifer, thanks so much for noticing the details. 🙂 I love subtlety and specific, necessary (and hopefully unique) details in scenes. I try to make the reader feel as the point of view character feels. I agree about the biggest sexual organ being the brain. 🙂 Thanks for inviting me to be here! I love this site!

      Posted by Vonda Sinclair | May 31, 2013, 4:27 pm
  9. Great post, Vonda! Sexual tension can be really hard to write – I think it’s especially hard to avoid sounding either clinical or cliche. I think it’s especially hard for authors to pull off in short stories or novellas, when there’s not a lot of room to build up emotional tension.

    Thanks so much for the excerpt – I do like those Highlanders!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | May 31, 2013, 10:22 pm
  10. Hi Vonda. Thanks for a great post. While external conflict, such as the ones that have you identified in your post, can amp up the sexual conflict, could internal conflict be used in the same way? For instance, the Hero or the Heroine may have had a failed marriage or love affair?

    Posted by Adite Banerjie | May 31, 2013, 11:54 pm
  11. This is a great article, but I’m having trouble with writing and maintaining sexual tension in the story. I used to be good at this but I’m so lost.

    Posted by Kara | June 19, 2013, 11:19 am
  12. Um. Okay, I just need… okay, I don’t want there to be a lot of SEXY sexual tension. Two straight male characters might never have sex, but they have a lot of sexual tension, and that’s what I want to figure out, but I can’t find anything like that. It doesn’t have to be sexual to be tense, and if it is sexual, nothing has to come of it. I just want to learn how to write Unresolved sexual tension between two straight male chars.

    Posted by NiktheKnight | March 20, 2014, 5:05 pm


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