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She opens her heart. He opens his fly. That might be the immediate, superficial reaction to a Friends With Benefits (FWB) relationship. But is there more under the covers?

FWB relationships (aka sex buddies or a booty call) typically involve two friends who "hookup" for casual sex without any significant emotional involvement or commitment (other than the commitment of your body). It's a "no strings attached" relationship. It's for those who are looking for the pure pleasure of the physical act. Friends don't typically setup a relationship at the beginning as such. You might say "it just happens."

Some consider FWB as just a form of casual dating. Casual dating is simply irregular dating without obligation or commitment - an open relationship "where the partners give each other the freedom to see and have sexual relations with other people." Those who date casually don't have permanent relationships and may date several people at the same time. However, FWB seems to focus just on the sex - not on the dating.

Let's face it: relationships can be wonderful but can also have many negative aspects, such as messy drama, expensive dates, and hurt feelings. They can sometimes even hold you back from life goals (e.g., career advancements, relocations). So it's understandable that some would turn to non-committal relationships. After all, we're human and have sexual needs. Some are so proud of their FWB relationships that they even blog about it.

But, just as we have sexual needs, we also have emotional needs. While FWB is intended to be a relationship without "baggage," there aren't any guarantees it will stay like that. Many have a hard time limiting their emotions as, after all, it's difficult to have emotionless sex. Long-term friendships can be destroyed when deeper feelings develop that aren't shared mutually. There are also the health risks associated with casual sex, not to mention the risk of unwanted pregnancies.

Is it really possible to have casual sex without emotional attachment in some way? Have you ever had an FWB relationship? What values did you (do you) get from it? What was (is) the code of conduct, if any, around things like discretion, location, romantic/emotional expressions, communication, sex, etc.? Should having a sexual relationship with someone require some kind of obligation or commitment? What do you give up when you have an FWB relationship? Is it possible that FWB relationships can actually help committed relationships? What are the safe ways to explore an FWB relationship? How much relationship experience should you have before trying FWB?

1. Males. Over sixty percent of the men (63.7%) compared to slightly over half (50.2%) of the women reported experience in a friends with benefits relationship. While not statistically significant, McGinty et al. (2007) also found men more likely participants and concluded that, "men focus on the benefits, women on the friends" aspect of the friends with benefits relationship. Previous research comparing men and women has emphasized that men think more about sex, report a higher number of sexual partners, and engage in more frequent sexual encounters than women (Michael et al., 1994).

2. Casual daters. Respondents who were casually dating different people (76.3%) were significantly more likely to report experience in a FWBR than those emotionally involved with one person (49.3%) or not dating/involved with anyone (49.9%). It is clear that while the respondents were having sex with a friend, they did not define the relationship as a dating relationship that was going anywhere. To the contrary, the participants had a dating life (or were open to one) with different people that was separate from the friends with benefits relationship.

3. Hedonist. Undergraduates selecting hedonism (82.2%) as their primary sexual value were significantly more likely to be involved in a friends with benefits relationship than those selecting relativism (52.3%) or absolutism (20.8%). Unlike relativists who prefer sex in the context of a love relationship and absolutists who won't have sex outside of a marriage relationship, hedonists are focused on sexual pleasure, not the relationship with the person.

4. Sex without love. It comes as no surprise that participants in a FWBR were adept at having sex independent of love. Indeed, over 80 percent of participants in a FWBR reported that they had had sex without love, compared to 13.4% of non participants who preferred sex in the context of a love relationship. This difference was statistically significant.

5. Nonromantic/realist. In contrast to romantics who believed that there is only one true love/love comes only once, nonromantics (also known as realists) viewed this belief as nonsense. Analysis of the data revealed that undergraduate realists who believed that there were any number of people with whom they could fall in love (57.9%) were significantly more likely to be a participant in a friends with benefits relationship than were undergraduate romantics who believed in one true love (44.7%).

In effect, nonromantics believe that they would have many opportunities to meet/fall in love and that a friends with benefits relationship would not cancel out their chance of doing so. Hughes et al. (2005) also found that persons involved in a friends with benefits relationship had a pragmatic view of love.

6. Question deep love's power. Participants were less likely than nonparticipants to believe that deep love can help a couple get through any difficulty. Slightly over half (52.7%) of participants in a FWBR reported they did not believe in the power of deep love compared to over 60% (62.3 %) of nonparticipants who did believe in such power. We interpret this finding as another example of participants being nonromantic realists who were not focused on romantic love in their relationships.

7. Jealousy. Undergraduates identifying themselves as a jealous person (58.8%) were significantly more likely to be involved in a friends with benefits relationship than those who did not view themselves as jealous (51.1%). We are not sure how to interpret this data as we would assume just the opposite. Nevertheless, the data show that participants are more jealous. Perhaps those having sex with a friend wonder how many other sexual partners their "friend" has and want to feel that they are "special" and "unique."

...References:

Puentes, J., Knox, D. & Zusman, M.E. (2008). Participants in 'friends with benefits' relationships. College Student Journal, 42(1), 176-180.

Friends with Benefits

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Original posting by Braincrave Second Life staff on May 4, 2011 at http://www.braincrave.com/viewblog.php?id=547

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