Friends with benefits relationships (FWBRs) consist of two friends that have sex together without defining their relationship as romantic. They are very common, particularly in adolescents and university students. Between 49 – 62% of people at this age have been in a FWB arrangement. Considering the high proportion of people in these relationships, it’s possible that you may end up in one. Read on to equip yourself with what you need to know!
When it comes to FWBRs, certain people are more likely to have them than others. Namely, people who are hedonists, nonromantics, casual daters, have sex without love and regard financial security as their top value; these all seem pretty clear as to why. These relationships are also most likely to be initiated when alcohol is involved. This may be because of the university-age setting (with prominent drinking culture) or the dissolving of inhibitions associated with alcohol consumption, making the suggestion less frightening. Something interesting I found is that those who view porn more regularly are more likely to be involved in FWBRs and have more diverse partners. These associations weren’t changed by biological sex and there was actually a slightly stronger relationship for women.
Although there can be a myriad of reasons for it, a FWB arrangement is usually desired because it offers a safe environment where someone can have sex while avoiding romantic commitment. One study found that sex is a more common motivation for men to start these relationships whereas an emotional connection was more common for women. Despite these differences, the two genders were more committed to the friendship than to the sexual aspect. This is supported by another study which measured men’s experience of FWBRs against what traditional masculinity determines. The men in this study had great variability in their relational scripts with few men embracing the hypermasculine experience and creating their own to allow for greater relational connection. These men also did not have entirely positive experiences and experienced emotional connection, opposite of what a traditional FWBRs scripts suggests. Despite this, it has been found that women are more likely to want the relationship to become romantic than men are; another study confirms this but shows the desire to be neutral. Higher commitment to the FWBR is often associated with a stronger desire to initiate a romantic relationship. If a FWBR does become romantic, research shows that relationship satisfaction and communication quality are going to be lower compared to those in relationships that weren’t FWB prior; this was a slightly larger effect in men. I think this may be due to the fact that men are more likely than women to compromise on their standards, especially in FWBRs. This may lead to an okay FWB partner but a very poor romantic match. Both genders may also pay less attention to non-physical attributes in FWB partners, making poor romantic matches more likely. So I would advise, don’t get into romantic relationships with people you view only as a FWB partner (unless you have also paid attention to other aspects and thought logically about the romantic match). I should also mention, going into a FWBR expecting for it to evolve into a relationship is probably a bad idea. Only agree to a FWBR that you want to evolve into a romantic relationship if you have discussed it beforehand and it seems probable that the relationship will become more. With regards to feminist identity, one study has found that people who identify as feminists still have the same rates for FWBRs as those that do not. However, it was found that women with stronger feminist identities were less likely to enter FWBRs for sex and were less likely to report overall satisfaction than those with weaker identities.
Just as reasons for getting into a FWBR can be varied, so can the relationships themselves. Research has documented five main types which include true friends, just sex, network opportunism, transition in and transition out. True friends consist of close friends that have multiple sexual experiences together, often expressing love, trust and respect to each other. Just sex is an almost exclusively sexual relationship, there is little contact that isn’t sexual. Network opportunism is the strangest sounding one; it is essentially sex between people who share social links and see their FWB partner at social events where two connecting social groups meet. In this scenario the FWB partners may not be particularly close. Transition in and out are more straightforward. In is the use of a FWBR to initiate a romantic relationship and this can be subdivided to successful, unintentional and failed. Out is categorised as sexual interaction between those that were previously in a romantic relationship. Now you know the different ways in which a FWBR can manifest, let’s move on to what happens when you’re in them.
Despite there being compelling reasons for getting into a FWBR, there is one thing which is very harmful for the relationship. That thing is an avoidance of explicit relational negotiation, talking about what each person wants and expects. Although this is such a common problem, almost all participants in one study said rules to the relationship are the most important thing. Communication problems can cause issues in any type of relationship, it’s best to be clear about what you want from your relationships. When negotiation does happen, topics such as publicising the relationship, contact and monogamy (sexual exclusivity) are all things which should be discussed. Researchers have found that usually, those in FWBRs are monogamous although, other research shows 65% of those in a FWB arrangement didn’t expect monogamy. Other common rules include no hand holding, staying the night or cuddling; participants said this was because these things are common of romantic relationships. In public spaces, behaviour between partners typically follows more of a friendship-style script, public displays of affection are uncommon. When it comes to publicising the relationship, women did not want to for fear of being judged but men wanted to tell other men but not other women. This is a fear that stems from the sexual double standard in which men are praised for casual sex and women are stigmatised for it. Research shows that men are more likely to endorse this idea and give sexual advice that reinforces it. If you are a heterosexual man and only get advice from other men, I advise getting your advice from women. If you’re advising other men and reinforcing the sexual double standard then stop yourself, women are entitled to sexual pleasure as much as you are and are not worth less for doing so. There are many possible rules which should be set before entering a FWBR. If rules are broken, one partner usually becomes upset and this can damage the friendship and the hopes for being friends after. These relationships actually use less maintenance behaviours than friendships which reduces liking, commitment and relational satisfaction. Drops in these things no doubt shorten the life span of the relationship. If you’re looking to keep a good FWBR going, make sure to communicate and adjust to your partner’s needs. Just remember, if there are certain things which you don’t want, you need to make that clear and if no common ground can be found, it’s best to stop being FWB.
Something very important to know is the outcomes of these relationships, including satisfaction and mental health. Both men and women have reported that they perceive more positive outcomes than negative ones by being in a FWBR; this is more apparent for men. People with more feelings of constraint in this type of relationship also reported more negative feelings. When comparing sexual satisfaction to other relationships, romantic partners had higher sexual satisfaction than FWBRs, most likely due to the greater levels of sexual contact and sexual communication in a romantic relationship. Participants in various studies have cited benefits such as: improving sexual skills, improving sexual knowledge of self, independence, sexual gratification, lower risk for STIs than casual sex and easier time management. Negatives of the situation often concern things such as increased STI risk (if non-monogamous), unrequited love, potential social stigma and poor communication. In one sample, 22% of people in FWBRs developed romantic feelings which was a strong predictor of negative outcomes. When asked if they would enter a FWBR again, 40% of people said that they would not, 35% said they would and the remaining 25% were uncertain. FWBRs also have real problems when it comes to safe sex. The use of contraception is often reduced and if there is a wish for a romantic relationship, even more so. I have to emphasise that it’s a very good idea to use contraception. STIs are not cute and babies are time-consuming and expensive, they can also make you sadder and worsen your relationships (more on this another time). Mental health has also been measured in relation to FWB arrangements. The researchers found no reduction in mental health as a result of this type of relationship compared to romantic relationships. There’s everything about the outcomes of these relationships, I’m going to finish by talking about being friends without the benefits after.
Concerns about ruining the friendship between you and your FWB partner after the relationship ends is a common concern for many. Fortunately, friendship after the relationship has been measured. Only 18.5% of people reported that they were no longer friends with their old FWB partner, pretty good odds. For those that did stay friends, 31.5% said they were less close while 35% said they were just as close and 15% said they were even closer. So according to that study, you have a 50% chance of damaging your friendship. The researchers did note that they don’t know the quality of friendships before the FWBR was initiated so it may be that those who were no longer friends or became less close had little friendship prior. There are also other factors to consider such as rule breaking during the relationship. So if you are going to be FWB with someone, think about what will happen once that relationship ends. Also consider the implications if you enter into a romantic relationship with a poor match: relationship satisfaction has been shown to greatly influence life satisfaction which is linked to mental health. When you get into this type of relationship with someone, remember that all the information I’ve presented are averages. People are incredibly complex and their individuality is astounding. Leave any stereotypical assumptions you may have behind and learn about your partner for who they are, what needs they have and what they like and dislike, you’ll be better off for it.
http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-007-9211-2 – negotiating FWB
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10570310500034154 – attitudes to love, social support
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00224490902775801 – men’s experience (against typical masculinity)
http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-010-9611-6/fulltext.html – gender differences and satisfaction
http://search.proquest.com/openview/560ca7f124ea6daf8b816b31f63b92a9/1?pq-origsite=gscholar – those who are likely to be in FWBRs
https://live.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/article_files/4123109.pdf – emotional consequences
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00224491003721694 – sex differences throughout stages of FWB
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3163778/ – different types of friends and sexual behaviours
http://english2010information.pbworks.com/w/file/fetch/84700384/Experiences%20and%20perceptions%20of%20young%20adults%20in%20friedns%20with%20benefits%20relationships.pdf – qualitative (benefits/negatives) perceived double standard
https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Justin_Lehmiller/publication/263265915_Commitment_in_friends_with_benefits_relationships_Implications_for_relational_and_safe-sex_outcomes/links/57a89f8108aed76703f86111.pdf – condom use and transition
https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Paul_Mongeau/publication/51764114_Identifying_and_Explicating_Variation_among_Friends_with_Benefits_Relationships/links/54c80e080cf238bb7d0cf66c.pdf – types of relationship
https://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar?q=relational+maintenance+behaviours+FWB&btnG=&hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C5 (first result) – maintenance
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00224499.2012.719167 – sexual communication vs relationships
https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Frank_Fincham/publication/258189815_Friends_with_benefits_relationships_as_a_start_to_exclusive_romantic_relationships/links/00b7d5294b2578bfb5000000.pdf – FWB as start to relationship
http://fincham.info/papers/2013-friends%20after%20FWB-asb.pdf – friends after it ends
https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bente_Traeen/publication/257771333_Identifying_friends_with_benefits_Scripts_Among_Young_Adults_in_the_Norwegian_Cultural_Context/links/00b49525f9bdacd4f3000000.pdf – Norwegian scripts
http://www.biomedsearch.com/article/quantitative-study-friends-with-benefits/302109618.html – gender differences and outcomes
http://www.utpjournals.press/doi/abs/10.3138/cjhs.2128 – double standard
http://content-calpoly-edu.s3.amazonaws.com/psycd/1/documents/Williams%20%26%20Jovanovic%20Sexuality%20%26%20Culture.pdf – motivation, satisfaction and some correlates (feminism)
http://laypals.yolasite.com/resources/We%20Are%20Friends,%20Lets%20Have%20Sex!%20by%20Nick%20Carozza.docx – alcohol initiation, rules, gender differences
http://sanchezlab.com/pdfs/RudmanSDS.pdf – sexual double standard