If Hollywood’s unflinching narrative on friends with benefits tells us anything, it’s that casual sex between buddies is anything but casual. The story is always–always–the same. Two super hot singles want to have sex, so they establish an unofficial friends with benefits partnership. “It’s just sex,” they agree. “Nothing more.” One of these characters will eventually develop deep feelings for the other, thereby voiding the contract and allowing everything to go to shit. After some self-reflection–often set over a moody ballad–these two beautiful beings realize they were in love all along and blah, blah, blah.
But things are way less complicated in reality. Truth is, FWB relationships are still quite common and, according to new research, are now preferred over traditional relationships. The study, conducted by DrEd, revealed that a majority of Americans–six in 10–have engaged in casual sex with a platonic pal and roughly 20 percent are currently doing so.
To speak on how this anti-relationship relationship became a phenomenon, Playboyconsulted licensed marriage and sex therapist and adameve.com’s resident expert, Dr. Kat Van Kirk. “Most of this trend is born out of the millennial hookup culture and their tendency to not label their relationship with people they already feel close to,” she says. “There tends to be a higher level of trust.”
Of those who have participated in this noncommittal behavior, a little more than half report being satisfied in their connection, compared to just 43 percent who are satisfied in their “real” relationships. DrEd’s research also reveals that men are nine percent likelier to become emotionally attached to their partner than women. How’s that for breaking stereotypes? Overall, women are still more interested in dating their sex pal, though the differences between the genders is so miniscule it’s barely worth mentioning.
How do most of these relationships begin? Many FWBs form after a drunken hookup becomes more consistent. Researchers found 84 percent of people who bang their buds have never had any discussion about their relations, insisting it just kind of happened. The study is also one of the first to allege that these relations don’t always end in turmoil. For instance, past research in the Archives of Sexual Behaviordiscovered 25 to 40 percent of young adults who pursue a FWB relationship do so secretly hoping it will become something more serious. In 20 percent of these cases, that’s exactly what happens.
But the truth is less black and white. The higher satisfaction rate in DrEd’s study seems to suggest that we’ve simply learned over time how to act in these types of relationships versus entering them with other goals in mind. After all, these relations are appealing because first and foremost they void any commitment and secondly because they guarantee sex. The greatest disadvantage, researchers found, is the risk of developing feelings, harming the friendship and fears of negative emotions flaring up.
To ensure things progress smoothly, we previously reported on a study that concluded the key to a successful FWB relationship is to treat it like an actual relationship. But that defeats the purpose, right? Treating somebody you have regular sex with like a romantic partner means, make no mistake, that you’re in relationship. “The results suggest that it is important for young adults to be aware of commitment as they enter these FWB relationships,” researchers had said. “The fact that satisfaction with sacrifice seems to play a vital role in FWB relationship adjustment suggests that young adults should be aware of the investments they have in these relationships.”
If you’re lucky, you might not have to ever negotiate a FWB. “If the relationship feels natural, there may not be a need to explicitly discuss the FWB aspect initially,” Dr. Kat says. However, as things change, communication is a must. “Platonic trust makes these conversations easier,” she says. “Whether that means being able to broach it during intimacy or when you are just spending friend time.” To ease the pressure, Dr. Kat suggests you leverage the media’s coverage of FWBs. “These opportunities can set the stage and help give permission to go there in a way that is less intimidating.” (Hint: This article is said opportunity.)