Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Friends With Benefits (FWB)

Friends with benefits--Two good friends who have a sexual relationship without being emotionally involved. Typically two good friends who have casual sex without a monogamous relationship or any kind of commitment. (definition taken from the Urban Dictionary)

Are these kinds of relationships good or bad? Well, it depends on your perspective.

The NYTimes published an article about FWB yesterday. Although they don't make an explicit judgment call on the properness of FWB relationships, they seem to imply that it's fine as long as both people are aware of the potential downsides. According to a recent study, sex in a friendship can become a bit of an albatross: it's always there, but never spoken about. The fear in a FWB relationship is that one person will become more invested in the relationship than the other person. That someone will fall in love - or at least in more than lust - and both the friendship and the sexual relationship will be ended. The study found that 60% of Michigan State students had been involved in at least one FWB relationship.

Here's what the study says about how these relationships end:
  • 1 out of ten became romantic relationships
  • 3 out of ten stopped the sexual part but remained friends
  • 2.5 out of ten stopped both the sexual and friendship part of the relationship
  • 3.5 were still in a FWB relationship
So back to our original question: are these kinds of relationships good or bad?

Well, as a general kind of relationship they're fine. They offer a way to be sexual without the emotional distractions and inherent issues of a romantic engagement and without the safety issues involved in hook-ups or one night stands. And let's be honest: most college students are sexual. So FWB widens the options to have safe, respectful sex.

On the other side, some may argue, sex belongs in a monogamous, committed relationship. Maybe even - gasp! - only after marriage.

But that's just not how people in their 20's are having sex these days. And the critical part of our sexuality is that it feeds our soul and supports us as we learn more deeply about ourselves and those we are in relationship with. And FWB is one way to do that.

So what is your experience? Have you ever had a FWB? How did it end up? How do you perceive the relationship with the increased clarity of hindsight?

7 comments:

Alice said...

I had one, and it worked well because we were able to be very honest with each other: "I like you a lot, I'm glad you're my friend, I'm extremely attracted to you, but you have almost none of the qualities I would look for in a mate." "I'm glad you said that, because I feel the same way about you."

Joan Price said...

I haven't seen my 20's in four decades, but I've had several "friends with benefits" along the way. In my experience, when true friendship was the foundation, they worked very well. We respected each other, enjoyed each other's company out of bed as well as in, and provided sexually satisfying companionship.

During long stretches of not having an emotionally bonded partner, my FWB kept me from doing stupid things, like going to bed with the wrong person out of lust and/or desperation.

I think it takes maturity to be able to sustain a FWB relationship, though, and I look forward to reading comments from readers in their teens and 20's about whether they've been able to make it work.

Thanks for the provocative topic!

Joan Price
Author of Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty (Seal Press, 2006, http://www.joanprice.com/BetterThanExpected.htm )

Join us -- we're talking about ageless sexuality at http://www.betterthanieverexpected.blogspot.com

Crystal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joan Price said...

I appreciate Crystal's honesty. I can feel her regrets.

> what if one does eventually move on...do they tell their new partner...

In my situation, I was always up front before I got involved with a new person. When I met Robert, the man who would become my husband (and the motivation for my book about sex & aging!), I told him, "You know that J is my close friend. I need to tell you that he and I also share sexual intimacy sometimes." Robert had many questions, which I answered honestly, and finally he told me that he could only get involved with me sexually if I were no longer involved with someone else.

So J and I ended that part of our relationship and remain close friends. Robert and I fell in love. In my case, it worked out beautifully. As I said earlier, I think it takes a lot of maturity and introspection to be able to indulge in a FWB relationship without pain during or afterwards.

I'm really glad that Crystal felt free to share her experiences.

Joan Price
Author of Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty (Seal Press, 2006, http://www.joanprice.com/BetterThanExpected.htm )

Join us -- we're talking about ageless sexuality at http://www.betterthanieverexpected.blogspot.com

C4bl3Fl4m3 said...

(Note to Joan above: I'm 25 and have been having sex since I was 17 and have been having FWBs since I was 19.)

FWBs is my standard modus operandi. I've had many many of them. Most of my friends, I've either dated or just had sex with at some point. In fact, I have few friends whom I haven't had sex with. I remember I had a winter holiday party one year. It was still early and only 5 people had shown up, but I remember looking around the room and going "wow. I've had sex with everyone here but 1 person."

Let me try to think back here:
B and I dated for a tiny bit, then became FWBs, and then when we realized that we were too incompatible in bed, we became just friends. He's my best friend today, and we've been friends over 3 years.

R#1 and I have been FWBs for years now... I guess well over 2, when I think about it. R#1 was in a committed, non-monogamous partnership with S#1 at the time I met him. (In fact, S#1 & I were FWBs at the time. She was the first girl I ever had sex with.) So it was always given that R#1 and I would be FWBs. As the years have passed, we've never wanted to be more than friends. This is an unspoken agreement with us. However, at some point, we realized that we loved each other, not in a romantic way, but in a deep caring way. And so we decided to say "I love you." to each other. We had an estrangement, became friends again, and we hang out some, and occasionally do some form of sexual activity.

D & I were desperately in love with each other and were sexual for some time. We broke up rather messily, but months later, started hanging out again and having the fantastic sex we used to have. Now D's a dear dear old friend of mine. I'm not attracted to him sexually anymore, but we're both kinky (I helped him realize his kink and made him comfortable with pursuing the path of learning about himself and his kinks) and we'll still do kink play together. I don't see him very often, as he lives far away from me, but when we do get together, we have fun with crops and such (he's such a pain slut!) I love him to pieces, not romantically, but as a dear dear friend.

R#2, I met through a hacker event. We became good friends when he came and visited me for Pride one year. (He's straight but an Ally.) And after Pride, we were hanging out and watching a movie and just having a good time and it turned sexual and we had sex. It was fun. Since then, it's never really happened again, but we're comfortable around each other naked, we've been known to cuddle naked and occasionally make out a little bit. And we're still the best of friends.

I met L at a bi pride event this year during pride. We're friends and I enjoy playing the gentleman with her and wooing her (she's a femme). One night I packed a light gourmet picnic with all the trimmings and treated her to a picnic in the park near our workplaces (she happens to work about a block from me). We're both kinky and we've both had fun in the bedroom together and at the local BDSM club. And she's even helped me explore my femme side, working with makeup, etc.!

In the kink scene, it's common to have people you'll do kink with (which may or may not include "conventional" sex acts) and are friends with but you aren't dating.

I like to always have at least 1 FWB, one person that I can make a "booty call" with when I'm horney. It helps relieve my sexual tension, it helps me from going crazy with lust, and it keeps me from doing what Joan said above, going to bed with the wrong person out of lust or desperation. (Which I have done a few times, I must admit.) It keeps me from feeling bad or regretting it the next day.

Even when I have an emotionally bonded partner (I like that term... mind if I steal it? I'm shortening it to EBP), I keep my FWBs, for I'm non-monogamous. It's helpful when your EBP isn't in the mood or for when you're wanting a different kind of sex than your EBP can provide. Or for when you're out of town or when your EBP is out of town. Having a "lover in every port" can be quite helpful.

And I think that FWB is such a common occurrence for people in our teens and 20s now that the lines blur between those and EBPs sometimes. Especially when an EBP turns into an FWB. Feelings ebb and flow.

I guess my greatest regret isn't that I've had so many FWBs, its that more of my friends AREN'T them!

Alice said...

My husband is amused by my former FWB. "You remind me of Jerry and Elaine on Seinfeld." My former FWB's girlfriends seem equally amused by me.

Kala said...

What an interesting post - my friend and I was just discussing this *blush*
Thanks for the post - I enjoyed reading the responses as well!