Are Friends Really Benefits?

He said over text he didn’t want anything serious, just a “FWB,” and I agreed because I thought that was what I wanted too. He’d come over a few days a week. We’d smoke a joint, have sex, and then he’d leave. But something didn’t feel right to me. The sex was good, and there was a physical attraction. But there was no emotional connection whatsoever. Maybe I should’ve expressed what I needed better but regardless, I wasn’t that into it. We’d have casual conversations while still in bed, but nothing of true substance. When it did almost get serious, someone would stop the conversation immediately. A few weeks later, we stopped texting each other, and the relationship ended. I’ve gotten a few texts from him since then, asking “WYD?” but I’ve been “busy” every time because I just don’t have the nerve to tell him I want more.

Art by Lauren Corrado

After my first, I was curious as to what are the FWB rules, and what did I do wrong in my own experience? Were we actually friends? Should he have been my friend first and then my benefit? If I did it any differently, would it have been successful or lasted longer? What would a successful FWB relationship even look like? These are the questions that have been running through my head since then, and what I’ve wanted to ask others. What exactly is a “friends with benefits” and why is it so appealing?


By definition it is:

"Two friends who trust each other enough to engage in sexual activity without fear of hurting the other's feelings. Ideal scenario for folk who are not interested in a serious relationship, or who do not have time for one. Not a boyfriend or girlfriend; neither party has to refrain from dating other people. Also not a word tool for a player to have sex with women he does not care about. A smart alternative to random hook-ups.


John and I are friends with benefits. We just hang out and have sex. It's easy, now that we've established the ground rules. If we stopped having sex, we'd still be friends."


The problem with this definition is that it was written nearly a decade ago and only accounts for heterosexual couples. Unsatisfied, I did a quick Google search only to find more heterosexual definitions, outdated articles written by much older people, and movie reviews. These articles were not written for today's twenty-something-year-olds who have just graduated college, just started a new job, and are still figuring out who they are.


I wanted my own definition and set of rules. But I’m not nearly experienced enough, so I sought out the help of other twenty-something-year-olds - 27 of them to be exact. I interviewed friends and friends of friends across the LGBTQ+ spectrum in the United States to make sure everyone was included.


I spoke to people who have had all kinds of friends-with-benefits relationships. One girl told me about her “verbal contract” with someone a little older to lose her virginity after she had just turned twenty-one. They continued their relationship as friends with benefits for about four months until he broke their pact which included the two rules of “respect and telling each other if someone develops feelings.” Now twenty-three, someone else told me about a FWB relationship she had when she was thirteen. “My first sexual experience was with a friends with benefits…we didn’t have sex but we would hook up and stuff. It set the tone for how I first thought about sex and relationships.” Perhaps the benefit doesn’t always have to be sex but rather, what you need from that person in the moment.


I was amazed how many people have had a FWB. For some, they tried it once, didn’t like it, and moved on. For others, they prefer it over a traditional romantic relationship. “I feel like sometimes it can be way more intimate than conventional relationships because you get to explore more of the friend-type of relationship and there’s a little less jealousy involved usually,” said a twenty-three-year-old I interviewed.


Of course one of my first questions I had to ask was, “what is a friends-with-benefits relationship to you?” The definitions varied across the board but for most, they agreed that it should be more casual.


“Friends who have the ability to hook up with one another, but keep it platonic in their relationship” - Female, 21


“I think friends with benefits is something people say when they don’t want to admit they’re dating”

- Male, 23


“That ‘let’s just see where it goes’ stage”

- Female, 29


For the purpose of this article, I did some extra research and watched two very similar 2011 rom-coms: Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached. These movies were incredibly clichéd but spoiler alert! It’s a happy ending for both couples. So that got me wondering, “Is there a difference between the label ‘friends with benefits’ and ‘no strings attached?’”


“In my experience, no strings attached has just been someone looking for a pump and go. But then again there’s that Ashton Kutcher movie where they’re basically FWBs so it’s a semantics thing”

- Male, 23


“No strings attached is typically the ideal that most FWBs want but struggle to achieve”

- Female, 24


“I think that no strings attached is an essential part of any friends with benefits relationship” - Female, 22


This fascination of friends with benefits in the media led me to think everyone wanted one. After my first round, friends with benefits were no longer appealing to me - maybe in the future if I set better boundaries and clear rules, but not right now. Apparently, some people were like-minded and after a few tries, seemed to grow out of it:


“It used to be appealing to me, but after doing it a few times I realized that I wasn't getting much out of it. The thrill of relationships and sex to me is the emotional connection. I wanted to be the type of girl who could hook up with whatever hot guy she wanted casually, but that just isn't me. I love the flirting, and nervousness, and buildup of a real relationship”

- Female, 22


“No, it’s not appealing because it is extremely hard to maintain a friends with benefits situation without developing an emotional connection - unless you're a robot”

- Male, 24


“Not really, since I’m more of a relationship person, and I feel like it would be hard to not catch feelings in some way or another”

- Female, 23


I would say that out of all the people I interviewed perhaps two-thirds of them did in fact find friends with benefits to be an appealing scenario and would try it again:


“Yes, my friends with benefits have ended up being some of my best friends who I still talk to even after we stop sleeping together”

- Female, 22


“It’s appealing because it’s less intense. My previous relationship felt like marriage, and we both hated it. I think putting that much pressure so early messes up relationships. My dating relationships always end up a shit show, but I’m still friends with every single one of my friends with benefits”

- Female, 23


“What you want out of sexual relationships can change depending on where you are in life. What was appealing about it was that I didn’t have to give any more of myself than I was comfortable with at that moment”

- Female, 22


In my personal experience, we were friendly but never actual friends. Maybe that’s where it went wrong. Maybe, the emphasis needs to be on “friends” and not the “benefit.” Everyone’s experience is completely different so I asked, “are friends with benefits actually friends?”


“We’re best friends”

- Female, 23


“In my case, yes they are always friends. However, sometimes I think that sleeping with them comes first and the friendship comes later”

- Female, 22


“I don’t think they can be friends because there’s that level of intimacy. 'Friends' is not the right term for that, maybe it’s a different type of friendship”

- Non-binary, 24


My understanding before starting these interviews was that friends with benefits remained strictly in the bedroom. But after hearing everyone else's definitions, I learned that the relationship was not confined for most people. So I asked them, “can you do other ‘friend’ type of things like go out to eat?” For those who were actually friends, the answer was simple:


“Of course!” - 18/27 interview participants


“Our friend group is really open and ‘modern.’ We’re all just a bunch of beautiful lesbians and so we’ll all kiss each from time to time”

- Female, 23


It seems more delicate in heterosexual couples when it comes down to who pays:


“Mmmmm that’s a conversation to be had. From a woman’s perspective, I feel like we sacrifice the most so I’m just like ‘you pay for it!’ But sometimes if he’s doing something nice, you feel like you need to reward him so it gets tricky”

- Female, 26


I continued to ask them about some inappropriate callouts and what would make it borderline a romantic relationship? Taking photos? Cuddling? Staying overnight?


Taking non-romantic photos seemed to be allowed, but most people said they’d never actually post them. Or if they did post it would most likely be with a group of other photos. Depending on personal boundaries, cuddling can be allowed but maybe not all the time.


“Cuddling is allowed only after the deed is done”

- Female, 28


Staying overnight is fine, and some people even thought it would be rude to kick them out post-sex, but lingering around doesn’t seem like the best idea.


“Staying overnight is allowed because you're probably both drunk anyway. But if they try to hang around the next day, you're veering into relationship territory”

- Female, 22


Some other major no-nos that everyone seemed to agree with included: pet names, traveling together, fancy dates, jealousy, being possessive or clingy, and constantly asking them who else they’re seeing.


A less common one was:


“Small acts of kindness because if you start giving him things there’s going to be the expectation of him giving things in return”

- Female, 22


Because in my own experience we never left my apartment, I assumed no one would ever see me with my FWB, but I was curious, “how would you introduce them?” For most people, the answer was generally the same:


“This is my friend!” - 24/27 interview participants.


But there were also a few exceptions:


“We just fuck around, we don’t really care so we call each other whatever”

- Female, 23


“That just wouldn’t happen”

- Male, 27


Then in the interviews, we got into “when is it right to start a friends with benefits relationship?” Mine came out of boredom, and maybe a little need for sexual exploration. Many of the people I interviewed thought the same way, but I also heard some other responses:


“I think sometimes sex happens first and then you realize that you really enjoy the person and you want to keep hanging out with them. If the friendship is there first then I feel like it's situational. In some cases, it might be boredom or a simple need for sex, but in some cases maybe it's just an ongoing build of sexual tension that needs to be explored”

- Female, 22


“When you feel like you don’t have time to commit to an actual relationship but you want the consistency of one person”

- Female, 27


For me, I picked my friend with benefits out of a mutually-shared physical attraction and not much else. So I was curious, for friends with benefits to actually work, does there need to be more than attraction? I asked my 27 interviewees, “how do you pick a friend with benefits?”


“If I’m going to have any type of relationship, I need to actually like you. I always want to pick people who I think will advance me and who I think I can help too”

- Female, 23


“I think it usually picks you. I don't think I've ever had a friend who I was like yeah we're going to be friends with benefits. Instead, I think life just happens”

- Female, 22


“You should be mostly sexually attracted to them and get along. But you can’t get along too well.”

- Female, 27


“They need to be chill, easy-going, and love the same sex positions as you”

- Male, 27


Can you be friends with benefits with someone you’ve dated in the past? As you might’ve guessed, most people replied with a harsh NO or that they’ve tried it and it didn’t end well. If they did say yes, they included some kind of cautious warning that old feelings/issues could (and probably will) come back. However, there was one exception:


“My college sweetheart and I decided to become friends with benefits after we broke up. It wasn’t working with us as a monogamous relationship, but we were so comfortable with each other and still wanted to be a part of each other’s lives… we dated for five years and then were friends with benefits for a year and a half. Because we already knew each other, we were focused on what it was going to be from the start of our agreement”

- Female, 26


In the movies where they start out as friends with benefits, they always end up realizing that they’ve fallen in love with each other and start romantically dating. So I was curious, is this realistic? Can friends with benefits try to be more?


“I think they can try to be more, but they always run the risk of one person feeling more because they both came into it without a romantic attraction”

- Female, 22


“Yes, it's a great way to test out the waters before starting a relationship. I think every romantic relationship should start out as friends with benefits”

- Male, 25


“No, if you came into the relationship without this expectation, I don’t think it’s meant to be”

- Female, 29


The question of feelings always seems to be a complicated one. We tend to overthink and question ourselves too much. “What if I tell him I have feelings but he doesn’t feel the same way?” or “I was too scared to tell him how I actually felt.” But in an ideal world, we’d be honest with each other, right? So what do you do if you develop feelings?


“If you develop feelings you have to tell the other person so you can either stop sleeping with them and just be friends or if they return the feelings decide where you want to go from there. If you start lying to yourself or the other person about how you feel it's just a matter of time before someone gets hurt and the friendship is ruined”

- Female, 22


“I still need a lot of growing to do, and I’m not ready to be in a relationship so I’m very strict with myself about not being in one. When I start to develop feelings is when I’ll ‘pop the question’”

- Female, 23


“Ask if they’re ready for the next step”

- Male, 25


Just as in a traditional romantic relationship, more often than not, a friends with benefits relationship needs to come to an end. When do you know it’s time to move on?


“When one person has caught feelings that go beyond friendship and the other doesn't return those feelings, or when you both have realized that you simply enjoy your friendship more without sex”

- Female, 22


“The second that one of us feels like we’re bending too many of our morals for each other in a way we’re not happy with and it becomes self-destructive, we have to stop”

- Female, 23


“When someone starts catching feelings or the sex isn’t good anymore.”

- Male, 27


Lastly, I asked, “Do you tell your friends about your friends with benefits?” This question for me was obvious because I’m an open book with my friends. Most other women I interviewed also seemed to feel the same as me but for men, they seemed to have different ideas:


“I tell my friends everything, so it's likely that they'll know all the dirty details about my FWB”

- Female, 22


“I may not go into all of the sex details but I am very open about my sexuality”

- Female, 23


“I don’t think you share this information as it can lead to issues such as the other person wanting more. The less information shared the better”

- Male, 24


“We don’t kiss and tell but I’ll say I have a friend with benefits without revealing their identity”

- Male, 25


Everyone has their own definition of friends with benefits. To truly make it work, constant communication is necessary. Although I don’t think it’s for me, it didn’t hurt to try, and I’m grateful for my newfound knowledge. From my own friends with benefits experience, I learned that I’m secretly (and somewhat embarrassingly) a romantic at heart. From the 27 interviews, I learned that everyone is different and what works for one person might not exactly work for you. But without a doubt, our twenties are for finding ourselves - mentally, emotionally, and sexually.


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