Is it possible to maintain a relationship that is more sexually intimate than a standard friendship without a deep, romantic connection? Some say categorically: no. They might argue that someone always develops deeper feelings or point to their own sour experience as proof. Others maintain that it's entirely do-able but requires a challenging degree of self-awareness and communication.
What are friends anyway?
There's infinite number of ways to connect with another person, share mutual fondness and respect. The lines between acquaintance, friend, lover and partner are easily blurred. Friendship can evolve to something more and romance can morph into a platonic companionship.
No one model of relating works for everyone and any arrangement is possible when the people involved are well equipped for it. What does it take to make a Friends with Benefits (FWB) situation work?
Why try this arrangement?
Some people know that they don't have the time or emotional resources for a commitment but are interested in a regular sex partner whom they can trust. Friends may simply find each other attractive even if they aren't compatible as a couple. Right after the breakup of a long relationship, during a particularly busy phase of life, or simply in between loves- there are a lot of points at a casual but reliable sexual bond is desirable.
What is critically important is that the people involved are aware of their motivations and can communicate them clearly. Honestly search your feelings and clearly identify what you're hoping to get out of this exchange. Are you really on board with the situation or just settling for what you can get from someone with whom you want more? Are you choosing this arrangement because you don't think you deserve a more substantive commitment? When talking with a partner, use language that the other person will understand, not just give you plausible deniability that you tried to tell them.
What do you expect?
Each relationship model carries different obligations and benefits.
You're probably not expected to attend the 80th birthday party for your booty call's grandmom, for instance, but it might be important to your boyfriend. Know what you want to get out of this relationship and what you have to offer the other person in terms of time and energy.
Emotions aren't subject to logic, so be realistic about the possibility of becoming jealous or hurting someone's feelings. Not everyone is built for or enjoys these types of arrangements. And because they are more nuanced than either booty calls or monogamous dating, they require specific skills that involve monitoring yourself and them for emotions and communicating very clearly.
How to make it happen
There are many people who could make potential FWBs.
Existing acquaintances are usually better options than relative strangers, but exes and people with whom you have business associations are generally not, due to the baggage. Consider the potential fallout if something goes awry with any possible partner.
Approaching the conversation that initiates an ongoing but uncommitted sexual relationship can be tricky. Someone could be offended that the offer isn't for something more substantive. Others may be unwilling to acknowledge their interest because social norms say sex is only morally acceptable if the people are in love.
The "easiest" place to start is by hooking up with an existing friend in a low-pressure situation, away from the knowledge of others in your social network. The overture should not be romantic in nature, but emphasize the casual, fun intention of sharing an experience with someone you trust. If the hookup goes well, wait a few days to suggest that it happen again without attaching any other date-like activities. Make your sexual interests clear but find a happy medium between overtly objectifying and courting them.
If you don't want it to turn into more
Sometimes people agree to these situations in hopes that it develops into more conventional dating, but, in other cases, that might be an undesirable or impossible outcome.
To avoid catching feelings that complicate the situation: don't spend too much time together. Any stimulus that provides pleasure frequently is going to become a fixation point. A sexual partner affects your brain in the same way as many drugs do. Keep yourselves occupied with other interests and create solid boundaries about how, where and how often you make contact.
FWBs obviously involves sexual benefits, but it also requires maintaining friendship. It's a good idea to continue to treat any potential FWB as a buddy – theoretically this new dimension will add depth to your relationship – but only if you continue to be nice to each other and spend time doing social things too. And it will make it more likely that you can remain friends if the sexual interactions cease.
This arrangement is far from universally desirable, but there's nothing wrong with seeking pleasure, companionship and fun with someone you like. As long as everyone involved is able to articulate their needs and have them met, any relationship can be mutually fulfilling and enriching.
Dr. Timaree Schmit earned her Ph.D. in Human Sexuality from Widener University, where she now trains future sexologists and clinicians. Her passion is bringing rational, empirically-based, sex-positive information to the world, empowering others to celebrate their bodies, build intimacy and experience pleasure.