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Unresolved Sexual Tension

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"To repress one's feelings only makes them stronger."

Two people are obviously attracted to each other, but some element of the story is keeping them apart. This tension is frequently referred to as UST in fandom, where it is pronounced "oost" or Yu-Ess-Tee. Also known as "Long Unresolved Sexual Tension".

Belligerent Sexual Tension is a way to keep the UST by having the couple fight each other too much to actually get together.

A Relationship Upgrade is what happens when it gets resolved positively (Literally Falling in Love might help). Shipping Bed Death and Strangled by the Red String are when it gets resolved badly; conversely, The Chris Carter Effect may result if it goes unresolved for too long and impatient audiences jump ship.

Compare All Love Is Unrequited, Will They or Won't They?, Just Friends, Moment Killer (a staple of a UST relationship), Maybe Ever After (a more uncertain version) and Cannot Spit It Out.

Contrast Official Couple, when the couple is already together, and Friends with Benefits, where the primary bond in the relationship is sex.

Not to be confused with the University of Santo Tomás (in the Philippines), or the infamous Universidad Santo Tomás in Chile, or the University of St. Thomas (Missouri, Texas, OR Minnesota), or the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.note  Or the file type used in UTAU projects.

Example subpages

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    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • Batman and Wonder Woman have a great of this, enough for Catwoman to dislike Diana over it. It helps that in both pre and post Crisis continuites Wondy is one of the few fellow heroes Bruce consistently treats with warmth and respect. Hell The Power of Love Star Sapphire ring flew to Wonder Woman in Blackest Night when she was thinking of Bruce.
    • The relationship between Dick Grayson (Nightwing) and Helena Bertinelli (Huntress) has paradoxically developed into this because they started off as Friends with Benefits.
    • Under some writers Tim Drake (as Robin) and Cassandra Cain (as Batgirl) prior to their becoming siblings. Word of God from Damian Scott (a penciler of many Batgirl comics) is that the pair "kind of act like they're in love, but just don't know it".
  • Empowered: Empowered and Thugboy are the official couple, but there is mutual UST between both of them and Ninjette. And the Caged Demonwolf likes to point it out.
  • Iron Man and Black Widow generally share a lot this and they both get very nostalgic when they dance together, they’ve had multiple liaisons but have never officially been a couple outside Ultimate Marvel. A lot of the hesitation comes from Tony simply not fully trusting Nat since she was once his enemy, despite obviously caring for her a great deal.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Link and Zelda have this in the Valiant Comics series based on the original two Zelda games. It's only unresolved because she doesn't want to admit she returns his feelings; if it were up to him, they'd probably be married already. At the end of the Nintendo Power series based on The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Zelda tells Link that the link between them was so strong while she was in Ganon's clutches, but now Link is so distant and she is alone. She will never forget the time they were together in their dreams...
  • The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck: Scrooge McDuck and Glittering Goldie.
  • Scott Pilgrim: The series has a massive amount of UST between Scott and his Unlucky Childhood Friend Lisa. There's also some between Scott and Kim, although that does get (more or less) resolved.
  • Seconds: After a quiet breakup, Max moved on but Katie still has feelings for him.
  • Spider-Man: Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel when written by Brian Reed (later picked up by other writers, including Kelly Sue DeConnick in an arc of Avenging Spider-Man). The Web crawler's relationship with Silver Sable have shades of that too, especially in their first interactions.
  • Supergirl: Supergirl and Brainiac 5's "will they or won't they?" lasted 24 years. Then, when it looked like they were finally right for getting together officially, Kara Zor-El was killed off in the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Post-Crisis versions of both characters have this kind of relationship, too.
  • Superman:
    • Superman and Lois Lane had a good 55 year run of this in the comics (although, their Earth 2 counterparts tied the knot decades ago, they got together in the movies, and they had even started dating in the comics current continuity about 6 years prior). Superman was either too Super for an earth woman or too alien or he had to stay dedicated to his mission. Post-Crisis, it was more that he wanted Lois to love him as Clark since he considered that to be his True Self.
    • Superman and Wonder Woman. Supes has always had Lois, but Diana has gone for long stretches without a steady boyfriend (poor Steve Trevor kept getting written in and out of continuity). Elseworlds stories sometimes depict them getting together after Lois and Steve have died, since Clark and Diana may be ageless.
    • Post-Flashpoint, Clark and Lois were back again to be attracted to each other but not in a relationship, and Superman dated Wonder Woman for a while until that particular version of the character died at the end of The Final Days of Superman and was replaced by the Post-Crisis Superman who is still happily married to Lois.
  • X-Men:
    • Quite a bit between Gambit and Storm, despite the former's romance with Rogue. Tellingly, their friendship soured a bit after the latter's marriage to Black Panther.
    • Prior to the marriage, this was the basis of Black Panther and Storm's relationship as well. The two had been very close friends as children and were obviously in love, but their responsibilities (ruling Wakanda and being a member of the X-Men, respectively) made it impossible for them to start a relationship.
    • There's also the Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine love triangle, which was seemingly resolved with Cyclops and Phoenix getting married… then got complicated again with Jean dying several more times and Scott moving onto to Emma Frost with Wolverine still pining hard over Jean. X-Men: The Krakoan Age thankfully just puts all this UST to bed with Jean sleeping with both Scott and Logan with no complaint about the situation from either (Jean’s love is one very few things they actively bond over).

    Comic Strips 
  • Flash Gordon: The main character and Princess Aura. It never happens though, and that's for the best. She marries Prince Barin, Flash stays with Dale, and they all manage to remain friends.

  • The Yaghan people of South America actually had a word for this trope. It's 'Mamihlapinatapai' and roughly translated, it means, "A look shared by two people with each wishing that the other will initiate something that both desire but which neither one wants to start."

    Films — Live-Action 
  • There is a lot of it between Newland and Ellen throughout most of the 1993 film of The Age of Innocence, particularly when Newland unlaces Ellen's glove and kisses her hand while they are in May's carriage on the way to Ellen's grandmother, and when Ellen taps Newland's knee with her fan.
  • All This, and Heaven Too is all about the doomed romance between Theo the married duke and Henriette, governess to his children. There are longing looks aplenty and passionate speeches, but they never get farther than Theo kissing Henriette's hands, before Theo kills his wife in a fit of rage.
  • Riker and Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation. They eventually get married in the last TNG movie.
    • Picard and Crusher-Never resolved in the films. They get over themselves in one of the novels, though, and the last episode of the series reveals that they married and then divorced.
  • Repo! The Genetic Opera has Amber Sweet and Luigi. It's particularly evident at the beginning of "Mark It Up".
    • A bit squicky, but Graverobber for Shilo in "Needle Through a Bug". When asked by a fan if "smack it" was meant to be a sexual innuendo, Terrance Zdunich said everything in the entire song was sexual.
  • In L.627, a French film directed by Bertrand Tavernier, narcotics cop "Lulu" Marguet is in love with HIV-positive prostitute Cecile, but they are kept apart by the disease.
  • In the Mood for Love is entirely about UST. The leads are two neighbors who form a bond after learning that their respective spouses are having an affair with each other. The leads agree not to have an affair themselves out of a sense of moral superiority. They hang out, eat noodles, role play scenes from their spouses' affair as they imagine it, and collaborate on a martial arts serial. The looks are sidelong, the music is achingly longing, but they nonetheless staunchly keep their hands to themselves. Worried their landlords will think they're having an affair, they go so far as to rent a love nest where they go to have their not-affair without being seen — and still keep their hands to themselves while they're there!
  • The Avengers (1998), between Steed and Mrs. Peel. They flirt throughout the movie, but can't get together because (as in the original series) Mrs. Peel's husband is missing (and presumed dead), so he could show up at any time.
  • Star Wars: For the first two films, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. In light of, ah, later revelations, it is a very good thing that nothing comes of this.
  • In the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, Raphael develops a crush on April some time after he rescues her from the Foot; he's noticeably bashful when she thanks him for rescuing her and she returns the favor by staying by his side when he's put into a coma to make sure he doesn't get killed. But the tension between them is not brought throughout the rest of the movie or any of the sequels.
  • Cairo Time. Unresolved sexual tension is the plot of the movie. Seriously, nothing happens but sexual tension. Absolutely nothing. And yet it's lovely. In that Brief Encounter sort of way.
  • In the film I Know Where I'm Going! there's a bunch of UST between our main characters, Joan and Torquil. To add to it, Torquil recites a Scottish folk song to Joan.
    Torquil: That's a fine song: Ho ro my nut-brown maiden, Hee ree my nut-brown maiden, Ho ro ro maiden, (looks directly at Joan) You're the maid for me.
  • Drinking Buddies explores UST between two old friends who also happen to be in relationships with other people.
  • Lost in Translation: The entire movie is about Bob and Charlotte's sexual tension and them trying to resolve it despite both of them being married.
  • Frantic, the 1988 thriller by Roman Polański. There's loads of unspoken sexual tension between Harrison Ford's character and French smuggler Michelle, but as Ford is desperately searching for his kidnapped wife nothing happens.
  • The sexual tension between Mia and Vincent in Pulp Fiction causes Vincent quite a bit of alarm, given that he believes her husband threw a man off a second-story building just for giving her a foot massage. He even has a Mirror Monologue to give himself the strength to leave her home without screwing her. Ultimately her overdose kills the mood anyway.
  • The Audrey Hepburn film The Nun's Story has UST between Sister Luke (Hepburn) and the doctor she works for, Dr. Fortunati (Peter Finch), while she is in the Congo.
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, between Kirk and Dr. Gillian Taylor (Catherine Hicks). "Like they say in your century, I don't even have your telephone number."
  • In the In-Universe books in American Dreamer, Rebecca and Dimitri have this, despite Dimitri being gay.
  • There was a lot of lesbian sexual tension in the film Black Widow (1987) between Alex and Catherine. Given that one is a serial killer and the other a federal agent trying to catch her, it also counts as Foe Romance Subtext.
  • James Bond's UST with Moneypenny is one of the staples of the series, though theirs is more lighthearted than most examples.
  • One of the many things The Searchers is famous for is the completely silent interactions between Ethan and his sister-in-law, which most people interpret as an unspoken form of this trope.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe
    • Thor and Sif of Thor. Intentionally done by the writers, since the people who worked on the film wanted to be able to have the option of writing Thor/Sif into the sequels, should they later want to.
      Jaimie Alexander: (about Thor and Sif) But there is a reason that we sort of subtly hinted to it in the first film. Just so that there is a door. If we want to go through that door, we can. They like to cover all their bases at Marvel.
    • During an interview, Chris Hemsworth referenced this when speaking about their relationship in the sequel, as well as what it was throughout the first movie.
      Chris Hemsworth: In the comic books there's obviously an attraction with Thor and Sif, or what have you. And there was little peppering of that, I think, in the first one. Little hints at it. There (in the sequel) may be… might be more indication…
    • Iron Man: Tony and Pepper. For years. It's implied that the only reason Pepper stuck around for so long was because she was in love with Tony. That being said, they never had a romantic relationship because of Tony's commitment issues and less-than-stellar personality. They finally became a couple in Iron Man 2.
    • Captain America: The First Avenger: While it's unclear how far their relationship went, Steve and Peggy definitely had some between them in the beginning. Whether they resolved it or not is ultimately rendered moot thanks to Steve's inevitable fate.
    • Captain America: Civil War: Steve and Sharon Carter. The Winter Soldier indicates there was an attraction even before Steve knew she was a SHIELD agent, let alone Peggy's grandniece, and Civil War suggests that there's something between them. It's partially resolved with a kiss, though whether they can have a lasting relationship is yet to be seen.
    • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): In the first movie, Star-Lord meets and is smitten by Gamora, evidenced by how he was willing to give his mask to keep her alive while exposed to the vacuum of space. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which is six months later in-universe, Peter keeps mentioning the "unspoken thing" between them, citing Cheers and Sam & Diane as an example. Gamora, obviously, doesn't have any idea what Cheers is.
    • Spider-Man: Far From Home: When Peter has to go to Berlin to tell Nick Fury about Mysterio, he changes into his suit in front of MJ. Embarrassed, he tells her to turn around but she can't resist turning back to look at him shirtless.
  • Between Wu Luan and Wan in Legend of the Black Scorpion. This tends to come out in their Insistent Terminology behind her relation to him as his stepmother in order to maintain the necessary distance between them.
  • Molly and Nomi of Showgirls. The two constantly cast longing glaces, become inexplicably close friends almost immediately, lounge around in their underwear and intimate that they have masturbated together. This is parodied in the off-Broadway parody "Showgirls: The Musical!", in a song called "Best Friend Song". Lyrics include: "Men don't know how to write female intimacy/unless we are finger-banging or scissoring/So let's hang out in our underwear, let's hang out in our towels/We'll spend all night masturbating because we are best pals!"; and "We're best friends now, we probably should have sex/'Cause that's what best friends do when the writers are men!"
  • Nell and Theo of The Haunting (1963). In the remake, this is more overt, as Theo becomes explicitly bisexual, whereas in the original, it was only implied.
  • In the German/Australian film Lore the eponymous protagonist after losing her Nazi parents ( her father is implied to be a war criminal) is traveling with all her siblings through divided Germany to reunite with her grandma. The only one who will help those helpless children is Thomas, a boy few years older than Lore with a Mysterious Past. The boy is after them because traveling around with children could provide him food but sure his attraction to Lore is one of the other reasons. Lore herself is quite attracted (and it's her first time) but treats Thomas with contempt most of the time because he is Jewish internee from Buchenwald ( or maybe he's posing as one to escape the Americans) and she's taught to hate Jews. Because of few misunderstandings and prejudices they never resolve their UST but is also thanks to him thar her arc actually consist in to learn what her beloved Führer did and realizing that the world as she was told by her parents is a huge lie.
  • Adrian and Jack from Apartment Zero have an unspoken, but mutual attraction that lasts throughout the movie.
  • The Princess Diaries: Queen Clarisse and her head of security, Joe. It's implied that they've been in love with each other for years, but Clarisse's marriage to King Rupert and devotion to Genovia stayed their hand. Judging by certain comments made in the sequel, this fact is not a secret to anyone in court or even most of Genovia — when Clarisse and Joe get married at the end, even the archbishop mutters "finally".
  • Very prevalent in both the film Once and its stage adaptation. The two unnamed protagonists, both estranged from their significant others, form a deep connection through writing and recording music together. Initially, their goal is to make money to send the Guy on a plane to America to reunite with his ex. However, Guy and Girl find themselves developing feelings for each other in the few days they've spent together. The Girl even confesses her love to him — just in Czech, which Guy doesn't understand. Ultimately though, the two go their separate ways, choosing to get back with their exes. But before he leaves, the Guy buys the Girl a new piano.
  • Happy Together: There are strong hints that Lai and Chang are deeply attracted to each other but they ultimately never act on their feelings.
  • Ethan Hunt and Ilsa Faust in the Mission: Impossible films. Their attraction to each other is instant and obvious and she is referenced in Fallout as one of only two women he has ever had serious feelings fornote , but as secret agents their missions regularly conflict despite her being a genuinely good person.
  • Loving Annabelle: The entire movie up until the climax and prompt ending has this by Annabelle with Ms. Bradley.
  • The Lover. The unnamed Chinaman falls in Love at First Sight with a fifteen-year old French girl he sees at a car ferry, so offers her a lift to Saigon in his limousine, where they go from touching fingers to Holding Hands to Intertwined Fingers, and by the time they get to their destination they're both covered in sweat and his hand has reached her upper thigh. They spend the rest of the movie resolving that tension, if not their other issues.
  • A Few Good Men: Kaffee and Galloway become attracted to each other as they work on the trial together. However, other than Galloway asking Kaffee out on a date, nothing comes of it, and the ending implies that they'll go their separate ways now that the trial is over.
  • Escape Room: Tournament of Champions: Zoey and Ben have become Fire-Forged Friends because of their shared survival in the previous film, but haven't had a Relationship Upgrade. The sequel does hint that they're attracted to each other, especially in the motel scene.
  • Carry On Abroad: Rob and Nicholas have a rather... close relationship. Rob seems to be crushing on him, but Nicholas is too busy with Lily to notice. note 

  • The music video for Wham!'s Club Tropicana provides a twist on this, when George and Andrew are revealed to be airline pilots, and backing vocalists Dee and Shirlie are flight attendants.
  • Happens between Haruki and Mio in Confession Executive Committee ~Love Series~ . The two liked each other, and they go out together so often that their friends think they are already dating, but both are too shy to confess to each other, and in the end, neither did confess until they both graduated high school and moved on from each other.

  • William Shakespeare. Benedick and Beatrice, Romeo and Juliet in their first scenes, Viola and Orsino, Viola/Cesario and Olivia... this is a staple of his comedies. In his tragedies, sex seems to fall by the wayside (Hamlet notwithstanding). This is rather tricky of him to pull off, considering the women were played by boys probably half the age of the men's actors, since in his age only men were allowed to be actors.
  • In Cirque du Soleil's KOOZA, sparks fly between the Trickster and trapeze artist, but she plays hard to get. In some shows, however, it is reported they did kiss.

    Visual Novels 
  • Quite a bit of it between Mal and Natara in Cause of Death. Not really helped by a powerful case of Everyone Can See It (especially with Mal). It finally gets resolved at the end of 10-8...only for Sálazar goons to kidnap Mal.
  • Except in the True Ending for Kara no Shoujo, Toko and Reiji have immense amounts of UST that is picked up on by the rest of the cast, who come to the conclusion that they must be sleeping together.

  • Pleasure Bon Bon, plenty of it between William/Wilson and Mary, the former of whom is posing as gay to keep a job as a butler for the latter's overprotective father, and the former of whom .....really wants some tube steak in her
  • Gallons of this between Gil and Agatha in Girl Genius. Almost to the point of parody.
    • There's also tension between Agatha and Tarvek. It's not for nothing that one of the images for the Girl Genius website's main page has one of Agatha's clanks running off with her diary, shedding love letters to both Gil and Tarvek.
    • Many fans think there is some between Gil and Tarvek as well.
  • Parodied in El Goonish Shive with Agents Cranium and Wolf who in the words of the author: They have, they will again, and they utterly fail at hiding it. Pay attention to the picture underneath Wolf's FBI card. It's a picture of Cranium.
  • The early Questionable Content strips had this entirely between Faye and Marten, later some appeared between Marten and Dora as well as a particularly fierce example between Faye and Angus. All three got resolved to an extent, though not without leaving a few question marks.
  • Sequential Art, most obvious example being here, complete with She Is Not My Girlfriend and Vanity trying to play The Matchmaker. It seems to be gradually cracking later. It even appears obvious to others what is happening.
  • This has been simmering awkwardly between Bob and Voluptua since the beginning of The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, despite his relationship with Jean. Eventually ends up in the open, though it caused a big Love Triangle mess.
  • Emily and Ash from Misfile. Twelve books, over 1200 strips, and three kisses, only one of which was actually consensual. Not to mention extremely awkward.
  • In It's Walky!, to such an extent between Joyce and Walky that when it was finally resolved, it nicely mimicked the effects of a small thermonuclear device. The collateral damages were... significant.
  • There's a good bit of this in The Space Between, between the protagonist Jack and his childhood friend, Sam. It starts to come out when Jack and C.J. hook up at their house party.
  • The three protagonists in Platinum Grit are swimming in unresolved sexual tension. Jeremy is too repressed to admit to anyone that he fantasizes about Nils. Kate is too embarrassed to admit to anyone that she's developing a major crush on Jeremy. And Nils is too defensive to admit to herself that she's falling for Jeremy.
  • Ansem Retort: There is possibly-unintended tension between Zexion and Namine. Namine was impressed when Zexion sold territory to Mexico for a new name, Zexion knew immediately who had swapped his cyanide pills with Mentos, he detoured from his booty call with Belle to brag to Namine, and Namine has developed a psychic "Zexion-sense" alerting her that he was in trouble (though she didn't feel the need to DO anything about it). They claim to hate each other but spend a lot of time together anyway, and it's been noted that Zexion likes his women "blonde, dumb, and not totally dead inside"— Namine fits two out of three (after Zexion, she's probably the smartest cast member, despite being introduced as a Cloud Cuckoo Lander). Eventually, Zexion threatens to have sex with everything Namine loves... and Namine retorts that she loves herself. The next time we see them, they've... resolved their tension.
  • UST in Errant Story persisted for literally years between Jon and Sarine, until there came a deliciously ironic subversion/twist: it finally got, one would say, resolved ... but things became so uncomfortable afterward that Sarine used some mind magic to de-resolve it. And then it was back to more years of UST, which was still there as the story approached its end.
  • From Homestuck:
    • There's some of this between Dirk and Jake. But while Dirk is definitely seriously about wanting to go ahead with it, Jake has doubts, and isn't sure whether his feelings are actually strong enough. There was also some between Jake and Jane, but when Jane claimed she didn't actually have a thing for him, he admitted he was actually kinda relieved they could just be friends.
    • Karkat and Terezi. Their complicated dance of attraction, friendship, romance and enmity defies human comprehension, especially since both of them have had Ship Tease with at least two other people.
  • Magick Chicks:
  • Cobweb and Stripes: The attraction between the two leads starts to become palpable near the end of chapter 14.
  • Snarlbear has Flint and Narcissico, who start out argumentative, but after facing a motal enemy together and being given a chance to talk about their feelings, they turn into this trope.
  • Subverted in The Heroes of Crash when Belt Boy and Titanium Maiden start dating.

    Web Animation 
  • Discussed in Terrible Writing Advice where J.P. Beaubien recommends to use this trope as long as possible, even recommending Moment Killer if the couple is too close being together.

    Web Original 
  • Classic Alice: SO MUCH TENSION. Especially through the ENTIRETY of books 1-7 season - the long looks, the accidental touching, the SHOE EPISODE. Every time Alice & Andrew are in a room together it feels like one or the other is desperate to touch the other person. They're clearly in love, but they just can't see it.
  • Sexy Secretary Sandra Telfer and Sad Clown Raimi Matthews in Broken Saints, which unfortunately, stays unresolved due to untimely demise.
  • Angry Joe's Hotel Awesome series suggests that there's some of this between him and The Nostalgia Chick.
  • Echo Chamber features an entire episode dedicated to UST, in which Dana lets her hair down and Tom voices his approval. He gets flat out rejected, but The Stinger indicates that that rejection may have been a front.
  • Thalia's Musings has this between Thalia, the Muse of Comedy, and Apollo, Governor of the Muses.
  • The Autobiography of Jane Eyre: There is strong UST between Jane Eyre and her older boss E.D. Rochester. In episode 11, their hands keep getting really close and they are almost touching. In episode 13, Mr Rochester is visibly smitten with Jane, and grateful to her for her gentle care when she takes broken pieces from his wound and bandages his bleeding arm. Jane probably likes him too already, but her feelings are more mixed because he has a kid, is her boss and is obviously troubled with something serious. It's based on Jane Eyre, so the resolution might be guessed.
  • Team JNPR, having two sets of potential couples, gets a lot of this. Fans have actually nicknamed them 'the double date team.' (One side's got dorky Jaune and Pyrrha, the other has Nora and Ren.) Oh, and the four share a room. Sadly Arkos has been sunk with the death of Pyrrha but Sloth is going strong.
  • Dark Souls Misadventures has this between Lautrec and the Darkmoon Knightess. As of 2016, this has yet to be resolved thanks to the third episode still not airing. Though they do have their share of Ship Tease moments, particularly in the "Waltz for the Moon" and 2014 Christmas Special episodes.
    • Also from the 2014 Christmas Special, Artorias and Ciaran seem to have something going on, but it's ambiguous whether they're Just Friends, already dating, or exes who still pine for each other.
  • Tales From Dev Null in A Torrid Martian Night It's a joke. And not the only one.
  • Kontrola: The series teases all throughout whether Natalia will end up with Majka. Even at the end it isn't certain, though implied they do.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): UST


She Saw It

Dal-geon gets so excited about figuring out Oh Sang-mi's dying message that he charges out of the shower, naked in front of a shocked Hae-ri. She denies seeing anything at first, but later admits she did.

How well does it match the trope?

4.4 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / NakedPeopleAreFunny

Media sources: