Monday, August 9, 2010

Friends With Benefits

Two days ago, my article briefly touched on the idea of friends with benefits. Today, we are going to go a little deeper into this topic.

What is a "friend with benefits?" It is generally defined as a sexual relationship that lacks emotional commitment. Sometimes, a friends with benefits relationship is quite light on the friendship. They key definitional factor is that there is a physical relationship without a significant romantic emotional attachment.

Every relationship is different, especially this kind of relationship because there are so many different forms that a friends with benefits relationships can take. This article is just a broad overview of some concepts and examples of friends with benefits relationships.

Etymology and Phraseology 
Many people object to this phraseology for a few reasons. First, it makes it sound like friendship is lacking something and needs benefits. It also diminishes the value of the term "friend" because many people in that kind of relationship are not what one might call "friends" if they were not sleeping together, although many are.

Thought I should point this out before I get comments about how terrible a term this is. The problem is that I don't really know of a better term for it, although I would be happy to hear suggestions.

Dominick says: Whenever I hear the term "friend with benefits," I feel like it should include health insurance or 401k or something.

Why would someone be interested in a friends with benefits relationship? There are a number of reasons why a friends with benefits relationship might appeal.

Many people find themselves to be at a place in their lives where they are not ready to dedicate the kind of energy it takes to maintain an actual relationship, but they still want to find physical satisfaction.

Sometimes a friends with benefits situation develops when two people find that they are very sexually compatible, but realize that they would be awful in a relationship. They can enjoy their physical compatibility without their other foibles getting in the way.

The biggest danger in a friend with benefits arrangement is that it is often not inherently stable as a relationship structure. It is entirely possible for one person to become more attached to the other than was intended. Sometimes, this is not a problem. If two single people are friends with benefits, and it blossoms into a relationship, there is nothing wrong with that, unless, of course, they were friends with benefits because they knew that they were romantically incompatible.

It is a problem, however, if one party develops more serious feelings and the other does not. This is where communication is very important. If one person thinks that they are developing more serious feelings, or if they feel that the other person is, it is good to talk about it. Sometimes, in talking about it, they will realize that they both want to take it to the next level. Sometimes it will come out that one person is more attached than the other, but this is not necessarily a problem as long as everyone understands the true situation and is honest with themselves and each other.

Friends with Benefits and Polyamory
This is a fairly common structure in polyamory. Often, someone in a relationship will have a friend with benefits. This might occur because the person is quite emotionally satisfied in the main relationship but finds sexual satisfaction with the other person. This is a fine and often very stable situation if both people have other relationships.

If one person is in a relationship, and the other is not, there is a potential for instability. For some people, it is a fantastic situation. For example, imagine someone coming out of a bad relationship who certainly does not want to get into another but desires physical contact. This would not necessarily be a long term relationship, but it could be quite satisfying for all parties.

On the other hand, a single person might get into this kind of arrangement with a person in a relationship, believing that they can handle it, then find their emotions running away with them, causing some discord.

What  if...?
Now, to rain on your parade just a little bit. Whenever one is in a sexual relationship, it is good to give at least a moment of thought to what you might do if an unexpected pregnancy developed. I'm not prescribing any kind of answer, just that it is something that you might want to give a quick thought to because nothing is worse than encountering something like that completely flat footed.

The moral of the story is that a friends with benefits relationship is a relationship like any other. It requires good communication and thoughtfulness about the needs of one's partners, just like any other relationship.


  1. ... but fwb is specifically *not* a relationship, or it would have rules. until it crosses the line of "relationship" -- which, for one or more of the people involved, it specifically is being barred from, for reasons of their own.

    one of the biggest problems that occurs in a fwb scenario is that one of the people involved wants more than just fwb -- they are trying, or hoping, for an actual relationship. while low on the dishonesty scale, it is still a pretty good misrepresentation. frequently, people who hate the term, other than those who just argue about terminology for linguistic elitism's sake, are people who expect more than what it is.

    commonly, "friends with benefits" is used by people who develop a physical relationship (for lack of better term) with a friend, but who only want friendship and sexual behavior, not necessarily intimacy or any emotional ties. some people do this due to frustration, some out of boredom, some from curiosity, and some from whatever problem/damage/issue prevents them from forming a more conventional relationship. there are often rules, but the same can be said for any friendship; and if you were using a defined usage of "relationship" to specifically include any personal contract of action, then you would be correct. if, however, you consider that "relationship" has far more connotations that that, you are being quite misrepresenting of the issue when you lump them together.

  2. Thank you for your comment. You make some good points, some of which echo concepts in this article.

    It is a problem, however, if one party develops more serious feelings and the other does not. This is where communication is very important...

    When I use the term relationship, I refer to any relationship between people. To refer back to the three axes, a relationship, as I use the term, is anything with one or more of the axes, regardless of which axis it is.

    Thank you again for your comment, I look forward to reading more. If you don't mind, it would be great if you could sign your comments in some way so we could get more of a dialog on here than an anonymous bulletin board. Pseudonyms are fine.