Friends With Benefits? I don’t think so.

The trailer for Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlakes’ movie Friends with Benefits lays out a kind of relationship that may seem controversial to some people, and ideal to others.  Now-a-days in high school and on college campuses it’s common to hear about young people engaging in ‘Friends with Benefits’ type relationships.  A ‘Friends with Benefits’ or (FWB) relationship seems simple enough, casual sex with a friend you feel comfortable with, without all the emotional baggage that comes along with a romantic relationship, seems perfect right? Wrong.

What is this “friends with benefits” thing?

According to Romantic Partners, Friends, Friends with Benefits, and Casual Acquaintances as Sexual Partners a study conducted by Wyndol Furman and Laura Shaffer, friends with benefits are commonly described as “friends engaging in sexual behavior without a monogamous relationship or any kind of commitment”.  They also reported that 79% of the participants did not view FWB any different from regular friends apart from the sexual behavior and 47% viewed FWB as people who did not know each other well.  This suggests that those who partake in this type of relationship often feel comfortable with their partner due to the fact that they already have an existing friendship.  Is this kind of relationship common? Yes actually it is. According to her survey, Sally Law found that at least two-thirds of her participants claimed to have been in a FWB relationship before and 36% said they were currently in one.  This type of relationship is definitely more common than most people think.

This brings me to the question of is it a good idea to risk your friendship just for casual sex?  The New York Times reports that its not, claiming “these types of relationships tend to have little romantic passion” however, they still share same fears that lovers deal with “namely, that one person will fall harder than the other.”  Even with these risks, people continue to participate in this type of casual relationship.  Well then, how does this type of relationship even begin?

The effects that sexual media has on young adults

Whether it’s a half-naked supermodel shown in a commercial, a sex scene featured in a popular movie, or easily accessible free pornography, young adults are exposed to sexual content daily. Is it possible that the overexposure of media has desensitized young adults to concept of sex all together and even driven them to engage in casual sex?  According to the American Association of Pediatrics “New evidence points to the media adolescents use frequently (television, music, movies, magazines, and the Internet) as important factors in the initiation of sexual intercourse”.  Although this may be discomforting for parents to hear, one thing everyone must remember is that today’s young adults and teens are growing up in a different technological era than their parents.  Another thing to consider is that in today’s society people are getting married and settling down later on in life.  This allows young adults more time to experiment with different kinds of relationships, such as friends with benefits.

Do I wanna risk our friendship or not?
Do I wanna risk our friendship or not?

So, how does this even happen?

In her book Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters, Dr. Julia Wood discusses sexual attraction and the difficulties it can cause between friends.  She states that it is important for friends to practice effective communication when these tensions arise in order to protect the friendship.  Guidelines for effective communication help friends draw a line of when and where sexual activity (if any) should occur within their relationship. These guidelines are important for the friend aspect of the relationship and the sexual aspect as well. Wood discusses four guidelines for communication between friends: engage in dual perspective, communicate honestly, grow from differences, and don’t sweat the small stuff.

The two that I am going to focus on are engaging in dual perspective and communicating honestly.  It is important for friends to have communication skills within their friendship before getting carried away with the sexual benefits.  In order to be a good friend, people need to be able to understand their friends’ perspectives, feelings, and thoughts and handle them without judgment; they can do this by practicing dual perspective.  Although not all FWB relationships are planned, for those that are, a great deal of thought should go into them.  If an important friendship is on the line, you probably don’t want to risk a potential termination.  The next guideline, communicate honestly is important for all relationships.  For those in a FWB relationship both partners need to be sure to communicate exactly what they want out of the relationship.

In the article Friends with benefits: The importance of honesty and communication, Alfrella Ryals states that “It’s okay to express what you want from the relationship; whether it’s open or exclusive”. It’s crucial for friends to be honest within the relationship; they can do this by letting the other know their true thoughts and feelings. Sometimes people fear the idea of being honest because they are afraid their honesty will cause them to lose their friend, however Ryals claims that “honesty gives you and your friend the chance to make a clear choice about taking the friendship to the next level”. This means that their honesty will help them avoid bigger issues that may rise in the future.

When issues do arise however, it is very important that conflict is handled constructively and effectively.  We must remember that conflict is natural in relationships. In her book Wood discloses the five principles of conflict.  I am going to focus on principle four: Conflict can be managed well or poorly.  Since FWB relationships are intimate, it is easy for people to get caught up in emotion.  Wood states that “one of the main reasons conflict is handled poorly is because it tends to involve intense feelings”.

According to Lisa Mooney there are a few steps a couple can follow in order to deal with conflict in a healthy way. The third step of managing conflict while in an intimate relationship that Mooney lists is to take turns speaking.  This allows both parties to discuss their thoughts and feelings.  When the couple begins talking, it is important to also follow step five: use positive language. Since there is a friendship at risk in a FWB relationship, handling conflict constructively is essential for preserving the friendship.  So once the relationship rules are laid out and the two people understand how to deal with conflict, what are the effects FWB will have on their friendship?

This is a video that interviews college females and their reactions towards “Friends with Benefits” type relationships.

The reality is, friends with benefits can turn into friends with nothing.

The reality is, friends with benefits can turn into friends with nothing.

Is it worth it?

First, we must look at whether or not this kind of relationship has more positives or negatives. According the article Experiences and perceptions of young adults in friends with benefits relationships: A qualitative study, Angela D. Weaver, Kelly MacKeigan, and Hugh MacDonald found that friends with benefits have both positive and negative characteristics, however it’s the negative effects  that can be detrimental to the friendship.  The article discloses that 92 % of participants feel that the most negative aspect of FWB is the chance that feelings will develop and the relationship would become one-sided.  Another downside that one third of the participants were concerned with is the potential awkwardness and complications that may come along during the relationship and after.  One participant claimed that since there were a lot of “gray areas” in her relationship she and her FWB were having a hard time communicating and this led to their friendship become more complicated. After researching all of these results I have concluded that friends should avoid FWB relationship if their biggest concern is preserving their friendship.  If they aren’t necessarily worried about losing that friend and are only concerned with the frequent sex, then this type of relationship is ideal.

When one is deliberating potentially getting involved in this type of relationship there are many things they must take into account.  First, be aware of the sexual tensions that may be creeping up into current friendships.  The faster the sexual advances are accepted or shut down the better.  Second, if sexual advances are accepted one needs to make sure to think long and hard if this is what they want to do.  Third, guidelines need to be set through communication and honesty.  What both partners want out of the relationship needs to be discussed and agreed upon.  Lastly before one engages in this relationship, the fact that the existing friendship has the potential to be ruined needs to be considered.

Definitely isn't worth it
Definitely wasn’t worth it

Nevertheless, friends with benefits typically start out as just friends, therefore it is important to learn how to draw the line and manage conflict in a healthy way in order to maintain the friendship.  This relationship comes with both positives and negatives (positives at the beginning and during, and negatives usually after it is done). Although there are positive aspects within friends with benefits, it is vital for one to remember the negative effects it have. Society at large needs to be aware of the emotional risks that come along with FWB before they jeopardize their friendship.  I hope to help people become more mindful of this topic. Since I’ve learned more about the perils involved I know that the next time I am greeted with the invitation for a “friends with benefits” relationship I will be sure to analyze my options and think long and hard about the decision I am going to make.

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