Friends With Benefits: The Ideal, The Reality
Posted November 15, 2011
Aliza Saraco-Polner talks to relationship researcher Justin Garcia to discover the knotted reality among 'No-Strings-Attached' relationships
Defining Your Non-Relationship
Hooking up, Friends with Benefits, Booty Calls, No Strings Attached, Casual Sex… all are some form of ‘non-relational sex.’ Everyone seems to be talking about a “new” cultural phenomenon that has emerged, especially on college campuses – hooking up. As a senior in college, I can safely say it seems like the dating scene is almost dead; a relationship happens (if at all) after the physical occurs. Indeed, not every casual sexual encounter eventually manifests into a relationship, some are for physical pleasure and fun. But recent research on hooking up points towards this end result being more possible than we think. According to Justin Garcia, the newest researcher at the Kinsey Institute, “when asked to identify the factors that motivate a hook-up, 51% of university students, both men and women, indicated a desire to initiate a traditional romantic relationship.”[i] This may seem counterintuitive that people are looking to develop romances and relationships from these casual encounters, but perhaps it isn’t as strange as we think. Garcia points out, this could simply be because your partner already desired you enough to hook-up with you.
Friends with Benefits: The Middle Ground
So if people’s intentions when hooking up are leaning towards wanting a relationship, what’s happening with the concept of Friends with Benefits (FWB)? Although still considered a form of casual, non-relational sex, FWB are a little different. Two friends are making the conscious decision to hook-up casually for fun, with no strings attached. Instead of having a one-night stand with someone you may not necessarily know, FWB offers the comfort of a relationship without defining it as such, partly because you already trust your partner. With FWB, a middle ground exists between a platonic friendship and a romantic relationship: you can maintain your emotional closeness as friends but also receive sexual satisfaction from it. In other words, you are “super friends”—the best of both worlds. In theory, this can be an ideal situation, especially for college students who already have trouble balancing all other aspects of their lives. But FWB isn’t as stress-free as it can appear.
No Strings Attached (NSA) Sex HAS Strings
If you are continuously hooking up with someone, whether it’s with a friend or not, it’s easy to develop feelings for that person as you become more intimate; with FWB, that fear is always lingering. Your non-relationship is caught in the gray area of being “more than friends” yet are too scared to define your relationship based on the original and ideal “no strings attached” plan. Then, you are both forced to make a decision: You can initiate a traditional, romantic relationship, you can “break-up” (even though a benefit of the FWB decision was never having to go through that because you were never in a relationship to begin with), or you can go back to being just friends. The first two explicitly prove that NSA sex is more complicated than it originally seems. According to an ongoing study conducted by Garcia, approximately one-third of adults have experienced a hook-up turn into a romantic relationship.[ii] It seems the former situations are the more common end results to this type of a “non-relationship.” There is no easy way to avoid this; most people choose to ignore what the impact of “casual sex” could have on a friendship. On the other hand, if one decides to set up rules for a non-relationship when first hooking up, doesn’t that contradict the purpose of hooking up altogether?
It’s true that some people can go back to being just friends after their fling, but how plausible is that? Often, we think it will be fine, since it was never in a real, traditional relationship. But when you see your friend with someone new, will it elicit feelings of jealousy, betrayal, and contempt that you didn’t expect to occur?
Studies on hook up behavior prove that NSA sex is often not as simple as it may seem. After all, we aren’t robots.
Aliza Saraco-Polner is a senior at Indiana University with a major in Mathematics and minors in Gender Studies and Studio Art. She is also the undergraduate liaison for the Kinsey Institute, where she has volunteered for the past year, and volunteers for the Center for Sexual Health Promotion.
[ii] Information was relayed via email with Garcia on ongoing study