It was way back in 1995 when Alanis Morissette sang: “You’re my best friend / best friend with benefits.” Since then, it seems, friends with benefits have been on the rise. And it’s being talked about everywhere – in movies, on magazine covers, and even in young adult novels.
The concept of a friend-with-benefits (FWB) relationship is simple: You get to be sexually intimate with someone you already like, on a potentially regular basis, without any of the complications of a committed relationship. Sounds great, right?
Are they as simple as they seem? What really happens when two friends become attracted to each other? Do these relationships ever blossom into love, or do they simply fizzle out?
We surveyed 1,000 people each from both the U.K. and U.S. to discover the truth about FWB – how common they are, who has them, and how long they last. The results highlighted some surprising differences between men and women as well as these two great nations. Keeping reading to find out more.
You were attracted to your friend in the first place because of his or her generosity, empathy, and killer sense of humour. So what’s the problem? Those are the same qualities we tend to seek in romantic partners. Romantic love and platonic love have plenty of qualities in common, so it’s no wonder we sometimes tend to merge the two.
How many respondents have fantasised about hooking up with a friend? It turns out, most of them. In fact, almost two-thirds of participants have fantasised about taking things further with a friend. However, for the other 37 percent of respondents, friends are just friends.
When it comes to making fantasy a reality, though, only about 39 percent of respondents have ever hooked up with a friend.
It’s clear that many people think about turning their platonic friendships into something steamier – but we wanted to know: How many respondents have actually crossed that line?
We asked respondents who fantasised about a friend to tell us if, or when, those fantasies came true. The responses show that visualisation might be the key to bringing your hopes to fruition.
Of respondents who imagined having sex with a friend, 50 percent went all the way in real life (and about 14 percent got to first base or beyond). Of those who mused about getting down and dirty with a friend, only about a third never dared to make a move.
It seems that participants with more conservative fantasies tend to be more conservative in real life as well. For those who envisioned merely kissing a friend, nearly 50 percent never made a move, and fewer than 20 percent puckered up. Dreamers who visualised making out or having oral sex with a friend were more likely to have sex.
After the Deed
While it’s undeniable that fantasising about a friend can lead to a hookup in real life, what are the expectations once the encounter is over?
What we discovered revealed a small but distinct difference in the mindset of men and women. Men were roughly 11 percent more likely than women to take an “It’s just sex” attitude of the event – 46.9 percent of men felt that FWB hookups were NBD compared with 41.8 percent of women.
Almost 4 in 10 men admitted that a FWB encounter would change their expectations of the relationship, but they’d be alright if nothing came to pass.
However, women’s responses showed they took the FWB relationship more seriously than men. Over a quarter of women said they would have changed relationship expectations after a hookup and would be upset if they didn’t come to pass. In contrast, only about 15 percent of men shared this sentiment.
Why might women take a more serious view of such a laid-back relationship? Dr. Jocelyn Wentland, a professor at the University of Ottawa, suggests that when it comes to sex, women tend to be more concerned with reputation, safety, and – of course – the possibility of pregnancy. Such concerns make it harder for them to take sex lightly.
Ah, the infamous “friend zone.” The term was popularised in an episode of "Friends" when Joey declared Ross the “mayor” of the friend zone for his inability to connect romantically with Rachel. Being friend-zoned painfully and accurately describes the experience of being exiled to a romance-free corner of your beloved’s mind.
How many people have experienced the friend zone? According to our survey, men were more likely to be discounted as romantic partners, with more than half of male respondents saying they had been friend-zoned. Women, however, were much less likely to say they had been banished from Romance-ville, with only about 1 in 3 women being sent to the friend zone.
What about those who are doing the friend-zoning? About 60 percent of women admitted to putting a pal in the zone, and around 50 percent of men admitted to doing the same.
One of the main selling points of a friends-with-benefits relationship is its simplicity – what happens when it becomes anything but? We looked at FWB relationships where respondents cheated on their significant other with a friend and asked how far these affairs went.
Among U.K. respondents who cheated, around 10 percent stuck to just kissing, and about 5 percent progressed to making out. A quarter of respondents moved on to oral sex, and about 6 in 10 cheaters from the U.K. went all the way with a friend. Most FWB hookups, it seems, were far more likely to get serious than to stay casual.
Of American respondents who cheated, only around 9 percent were satisfied with just lip-locking. Close to 15 percent progressed to making out, and the same number took things down south with a friend. More than 6 in 10 Americans decided to do the deed with their pal.
What’s the takeaway here? American cheaters were slightly more likely to go all the way with a friend, and they also liked making out around 95 percent more than the Brits did. However, U.K. cheaters opted for oral sex more often than their American counterparts and were almost as likely to close the deal with a friend. Clearly, the “friends with benefits” concept has made inroads into both the American and U.K. psyches.
An Affair to Remember … or Not
There’s plenty of drama in infidelity, but is there longevity as well? We asked survey respondents who cheated with a friend how long their affairs went on for.
The answers were similar for both men and women (with some key differences, of course). About a third of these affairs – for both men and women – lasted less than a week. Out of all the reported affairs, only 16 to 21 percent lasted for a few months.
Fewer than 4 percent of men and 8 percent of women pursued these relationships for six months to a year. However, a rare few (over 10 percent of women and 7 percent of men) continued these relationships for three or more years.
Although it’s a popular perception that men cheat more often in relationships, research from the Archives of Sexual Behavior shows women are straying at almost the same rates as men. Our survey revealed some other intriguing trends: Women were more likely than men to report extremely short affairs (less than a week) as well as extremely long ones (three or more years).
ConclusionWhile attitudes and reactions to FWB relationships vary among women and men – and people in the U.K. and U.S. – one thing is for sure: While “friends with benefits” may be a casual affair, the risks incurred are just as serious as in any other sexual relationship, and it’s important for friends to take precautions.
FWB can take advantage of online resources like Zava to educate themselves about sexual health, communicate with online doctors, and utilise quick and convenient treatment services. Fast, straightforward, and always confidential, Zava can help friends manage health care needs without fuss – so, while relationships may get complicated, your health care doesn’t have to be.
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