Friends with Benefits: Can Women Handle It?


Women who aren't in a relationship may consider friendships "with benefits." Is this a good option?

This guest article from Psych Central was written by Marie Hartwell-Walker, ED.D.

After the holidays, Valentine’s Day is next on the horizon. You’re single, lonely, sexually frustrated, and generally blue. The whole world seems to be celebrating love’s special day with chocolate and roses and you’re looking forward to an evening with your cat. A friend sympathizes. (Of course, she’s engaged, so what does she know?) Somehow the conversation turns to the idea of "friends with benefits" -- otherwise known as having sex with someone you aren't emotionally entangled with -- and the idea doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it once did. After all, your friend points out, 60 percent of college students report doing it at least once. Women are now as free as men to explore their sexuality without encumbrances.

Of course, she never did it. She’s found her soulmate. But why shouldn’t you spice up your life with a regular, no-strings-attached booty call? Maybe that guy you’ve known since high school, who’s held your hand through breakups and who has turned to you for advice about what women want could be the answer to at least some of your problems. Why not give it a try?

Proceed with caution. Although the idea of a no-strings-attached sexual romp with a good buddy when you’re feeling lonely sounds like a great idea, there isn’t much in the way of data to show that most women can pull it off. The truth is that while some women can manage a FWB arrangement, others simply can’t. FWB requires a separation between love and sex that can be very hard for many women to sustain over time. There are good reasons why these arrangements often don’t last. There are reasons why the price of a few sexual encounters can be the loss of a very long friendship.

Why Can't We Just Have Sex Without Emotions?

Part of the reason is grounded in classic behavioral psychology. Remember reinforcers? Give a pigeon a treat every time he pecks a bar and he really wants to peck that bar. You and your FWB hung out as friends because of shared interests in politics, Proust, and baseball, not because you saw him as date material. You know he cheated on every woman he ever dated. You know that he has major hangups about commitment. You know there’s a trail of emotional wreckage in his wake. Before you started sleeping with him, you ignored his flaws as a romantic partner. But now – now the powerful, positive feelings of orgasm may make all that seem like small stuff. Orgasm is a powerful reinforcer of behavior for both sexes. It’s fun. It feels great. When paired with a particular person over time, it can make a casual sexual partner look good -- very, very good.

Looking good can start to look like love, whether the person is really appropriate or not. You might start convincing yourself that with you, he’ll be different; that a couple of people who share such a powerful connection are meant for each other. Mention this to the guy, and he’s likely to be surprised and upset. He figured you knew what you were getting into. Why would you think he was going to change?

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