Dating & Love Friendship Relationships Sex

What Does Friends With Benefits Mean, Anyway?

Friends + a little somethin’ somethin’ extra.

You’ve seen the movie starring Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, and now you’re confused. Because those two were not good at being friends with benefits. Feelings got involved, and the whole situation went haywire. And then they got married or something.

Now you’re wondering: can friends with benefits actually work? We believe that it can, because we’ve seen it (okay, and maybe even been there ourselves). It takes two mature adults, open and honest communication, and the desire for a good time, even when you’re not in a committed, monogamous relationship.

Let’s be clear: having a friends with benefits relationship is not for everyone. Some people can’t get off on casual sex, while others get attached too easily. We’re going to break down what it means to have a FWB, who it’s right for, and the rules you should follow to make it out of this arrangement with your heart intact.

Friends With Benefits - feet in bed

Friends With Benefits Meaning

Okay, so what does being in a friends with benefits situation actually mean? Friends with benefits start with a foundation of friendship. Layer on top of that the act of regularly hooking up (this could be sex or other intimacy), which is probably not something you do with other friends. But you do you, party people.

Friends with benefits are different from dating, because you don’t go on traditional dates. You know, the dinner and drinks, followed by a chaste kiss outside of your apartment type of thing.

You might hang out and spend time together in a friendship capacity – like, going to Chipotle for lunch and each paying for your own meal. But if you’re hooking up with someone and going on real dates with them…you’re dating. That’s not a FWB.

This type of relationship is also different from a “hook-up,” which is usually more of a one-and-done, met at the bar and don’t even know his last name vibe. And sure, you could hook up with the dude you met at a bar multiple times, but we assume you wouldn’t consider him a friend.

The key factor is that you know the person outside of a purely sexual attraction.

Friends With Benefits - couple laughing

Pros of Having a Friend With Benefits

There’s a reason people seek out a FWB relationship. There are some great benefits to getting down and dirty with a comrade. Like…

  • You can develop a level of emotional intimacy that doesn’t typically come with a one night stand or other hook-up.
  • It gives you the option to date around and look for a romantic match, while still satisfying your more primal urges. *wink wink*
  • Commitment-phobes enjoy the feeling of being free in a no strings attached relationship.
  • If you fall somewhere on the aromantic spectrum, you can get your itch scratched without having to do the lovey-dovey stuff.

Friends With Benefits - couple

Downsides of a Friends With Benefits Relationship

While there’s a whole host of upsides, we can’t ignore the negatives. Here are some of the drawbacks of this type of relationship.

  • Being in this situation might hold you back from meeting a match that is a better fit for you in the long run.
  • You could end up heartbroken if you catch feelings for your FWB that are not returned.
  • If your FWB is a close friend, you could risk damaging, or even losing the friendship if things go wrong.
  • Things could get awkward if your friend starts romantically seeing someone before you do, and breaks things off.

Friends With Benefits - jealousy

Is Friends With Benefits Right For You?

We aren’t here to tell you to get into a certain situationship or not, but we can offer some guidance so you can make a healthy decision for you. Ask yourself these questions, and be honest about the answers.

  • In the past, have I enjoyed casual sex, or do I prefer intimacy when I’m romantically and emotionally invested in my partner?
  • Am I prone to jealousy or possessive feelings?
  • If this ends badly, am I willing to lose the friendship?
  • Am I mature enough to handle the difficult conversations and strict boundaries necessary to maintain this relationship in a healthy way?
  • How will I feel if my friend starts dating someone else before me, or ends the relationship first?
  • Do my needs and desires line up with those of my potential partner?

Friends With Benefits - couple in shower

Friends With Benefits Rules

Ugh, we know, rules suck. But in a situation as sticky as this one, they’re critical. If you can follow these three simple rules, you might just make someone a very happy friend!

1. Communicate, and then communicate again.

You should never expect anyone to read your mind, but this is especially true when it comes to friends with benefits. Different people have vastly different views on what is and isn’t acceptable. To feel fulfilled and respected, you need to communicate your expectations.

Set boundaries. What is off-limits, sexually or emotionally? If either of you have a change of heart, how and when should that be communicated? Have either of you ever had romantic feelings for the other? Are those feelings lingering beneath the surface?

Think about things like dates. Do you want to spend time with your FWB outside of just a hook-up, or is this purely sexual, minus the occasional hangout with your friend group?

While these conversations have the potential to be super awk, they’re important to have. Neither one of you wants to end up with a broken heart, or worse…an STI. Open the floor for next-level communication to set the stage for a successful situation.

Friends With Benefits - couple communicating

2. Be honest about other partners.

If you’re the jealous type, you might not want to know all the dirty details about your FWB’s sex life. But you should know at least the basics to maintain your own sexual health.

Figure out what type of protection you’re going to use, and set clear rules about which protection they’ll use when they’re with someone else. You have every right to know about the sexual health of your partner, so don’t be afraid to ask these questions upfront.

You should also commit to getting tested for STI’s before you enter into this relationship, and periodically throughout, if you’re both engaging with multiple partners.

Friends With Benefits - condom

3. Know when to cut it off.

The beauty of a friends with benefits relationship is the fluidity and low-key nature of it. Neither one of you is waiting on an engagement ring, or expecting to meet the family. But with this great freedom comes great responsibility.

It’s all too easy to become emotionally attached to your FWB. While occasionally these situations do turn into a more serious relationship, we don’t recommend embarking on one assuming that will be the case. Because in all honesty, it probably won’t.

Go into this partnership with an end date in mind. If you’re both still having fun after that point, you can decide to keep it going. But if either of you is starting to feel like you want to focus on looking for a more meaningful connection, or that you’re starting to develop deeper feelings, it’s best to end things.

By Laura Davis

Laura is the co-founder of Adultescence, a podcast and blog for post grads, where she writes about friendship, dating, and career with the mission of helping guide twenty-somethings through early adulthood. She has written and edited for a variety of lifestyle publications, including Let's Eat Cake, Popular Science, and Flixed.

When she's not typing away on her laptop, you can find Laura working on her MBA at Boston College, listening to Taylor Swift, or sweating it out at an OrangeTheory class. Follow her on Instagram @LauraKristine21 and LinkedIn.

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