This week's nerdy take on relationships, dating and love takes a look at friends with benefits (Photo: flickr / Kate Raynes-Goldie)

Relationships Column

Nice shoes, wanna be my FWB?

Exploring the new trend of young adults engaging in friends with benefits relationships


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Students told us what they thought about friends with benefits relationships (video: Adam Scotti)

I think we can all agree that dating doesn't happen the way it did for our parents.  "Courtship" doesn't really exist anymore and the number of dating subcategories continues to divide and multiply like bacteria in a petri dish. People are hooking-up, seeing each other or they enter into a friends with benefits arrangement.

I've done it and I know you have too.  But why are young adults engaging in these kinds of sexual relationships more than they used to?  What is the appeal?  What do people gain from these no-strings-attached relationships?

As recent research would suggest, young adults seem to be making a lot of these arrangements these days.  So, let's look deeper at what we are getting ourselves into.

Defining friends with benefits

In simple terms, a friends with benefits situation can be defined as regular sexual relations between two consenting adults that are non-romantic and lack romantic commitment. In other words, a no-strings-attached agreement has all the good parts of romance, and none of the bad.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Sex Research, psychologists Wyndol Furman and Laura Shaffer asked 163 young adults to describe their non-romantic sexual relationships. What they discovered was that respondents drew a distinction between a friend and a friend with benefits - it would appear that people will become friends with someone they sleep with, but not sleep with someone they are already friends with.

In fact, 72 per cent of respondents said a friendship is necessary in the no-strings-attached arrangement, but 47 per cent said the friendship didn't need to be close.

It would appear that a friend with benefits is more than a casual sex partner. The arrangement is about being intimate with someone - physically and emotionally - without having to make any kind of real commitment.

Where the lines get blurry

A different study in the Journal of Sex Research titled, Sex Differences in Approaching Friends with Benefits Relationships, recruited participants who are currently in a friends with benefits relationship. Many of their findings are in line with Furman and Shaffer discovered - except one: Both men and women were more committed to the friendship part of the relationship than they were to the sex part.

This finding shocked the researchers, as they had not expected men to put great value on the friendship part of the arrangement. And honestly, I wouldn't have expected it either.
Ok, so the friendship matters more than the sex, but wouldn't that lead to at least one person developing stronger romantic feelings?

Basic neurochemistry says yes.

The brain on no-strings-attached

After orgasm the body produces a surge of oxytocin - which is also known as the "cuddle hormone." Oxytocin is responsible for labour contractions and milk production - it's also that chemical that makes you feel warm and fuzzy when you think about that special someone.  Vasopressin is another chemical humans produce immediately after sex that is rather famous for being linked to pair bonding in voles.

What this short chemistry lesson really amounts to is this:  the more sex you have will establish a deeper bond with your partner, and then you fall in love.  If the feeling is not mutual, well, things are going to get a little more than messy.

Add a few strings

So can you avoid the mess?  Probably not.  But, you could add a few strings that may protect yourself, both physically and emotionally.   Oddly enough, it's pretty much the same argument I made in last week's column.  Be honest.

  • Ask your partner to always be honest with you.   And always be honest with your partner.  This is really about physical sexual health rather than something emotional.
  • Always be honest with yourself.  This means that if you start to feel something more for the other person, you need to admit that to yourself first.  Then figure out how you are going to tell the other person.
  • Communicate.  Be respectful.  Have fun.

And, just as a final note of warning: never, ever, watch No Strings Attached.  
Hollywood endings don't actually happen in real life.  



I think for a piece like this you actually need to talk to more people about FWB. You're numbers and "studies" show a very limited take on the subject that isn't very relatable to young adults. Try talking to a couple of people who are in an FWB arrangement.

Posted by Matt | Jan 26, 2022 6:59 PM AT

@ Matt. I completely disagree. I think this article is using these recent 'studies' as you call them (even though they are properly sited from a reputable research magazine) to open up a conversation on FWB. I think this is definitely of interest to young adults-- especially university students who are (arguably) just establishing themselves sexually. Opening a conversation on what is happening in a sexual relationship-- including the facts, the consequences, and some advice-- is very useful to a consenting young person.

Posted by Charlotte | 23 hours, 16 minutes ago

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