For people looking to scratch an itch without veering into serious, committed, relationships, there is perhaps no more ideal set up than the elusive friends with benefits.
Having a friend with benefits (FWB) usually means no-strings sex, with the added benefit of being with someone you get on with and, importantly, trust.
‘FWB arrangements are usually set up with a focus on trust and not commitment,’ Julia Kotziamani, a love, sex and relationship coach, tells us.
‘The idea being that you can trust your friends more than a stranger when being intimate, and there is enough openness and respect between you to be honest about what you want.’
As Jessica Alderson, co-founder and relationship expert at dating app So Syncd, tells us, when done right, a FWB set up can be extremely fulfilling.
Namely, she says, you get your sexual needs met, it can be safer than having regular one night stands, there’s no pressure, there’s a sense of trust, you maintain your dating freedom and – best case scenario – there are no games.
But, as many have discovered the hard way, FWB arrangements are not exempt from complications.
What could go wrong?
Julia notes that FWB arrangements are usually ‘short term’ and the relationship is destined to morph and shift, depending on what you both want and need.
Here are the issues you need to look out for.
Lack of honesty
‘Sometimes people get into a FWB situation with someone they’ve liked for a while and want a relationship with,’ she says.
But this is the number one don’t of these arrangements. ‘The thinking is that if their friend spends time with them and they have great sex, they will want a relationship too.’
While this can happen, she says it’s rare.
‘If you are being dishonest about your intentions for how you want things to play out, you can end up getting hurt in one way or another.’
Boundaries are important for any relationship, and the best way to make sure they aren’t violated is by communicating them clearly from the off.
‘You should make sure that your expectations and wants from the situation are aligned,’ says Jessica.
‘FWB situations can take different shapes for different people,’ she continues, and this can mean, without setting boundaries, you could be at risk of getting your wires crossed.
‘There’s no one right or wrong way to do it, as long as you’re both honest with each other and you’re clear about what does or doesn’t make you happy.’
Our feelings change all the time – and a FWB arrangement is not immune from this.
‘You might find after a few months, you connect in a different way and you realise you do want a relationship,’ says Jessica.
‘This is one of the biggest pitfalls of a FWB situation. If you’ve taken all the necessary steps at the beginning around laying out boundaries, it can be easy to assume that you’re home and dry – but feelings can evolve and it’s important to be aware of this.’
How to make it work
Be honest from the get go
If you’re not honest about your intentions or your boundaries, things will get sticky.
If you know you do want something more, says Jessica, you should tell your FWB.
‘Yes, you are risking rejection but if they aren’t on the same page, it’s better to end things before you get in even deeper,’ she says.
But it’s just as important to be honest with yourself.
‘Be clear with yourself what your intentions are here,’ says Julia.
‘If you want something more serious this is not a good strategy for getting it – and if you know they have more feelings than you do, proceed with openness and caution.’
Jessica agrees, adding that it can feel easier in the moment to deny any new or existing feelings. She says: ‘This just results in more hurt further down the line, so it’s important to fully accept your feelings if this happens to you.’
Practice safe sex
This should be a given – whether you want to know about your FWB’s sex life or not.
If you’re sleeping with someone on a regular basis, and you both know you’re sleeping with other people, too, it’s vital that you use protection and get tested for any sexual transmitted diseases or infections regularly.
‘Perhaps you both agree that you will openly discuss sexual relations you have with other people, or perhaps you’d both prefer not to know,’ says Jessica.
‘Either way, when you’re in this kind of setup, you’re not sexually exclusive so it’s important to practice safe sex.’
Have regular check-ins
After setting clear expectations and boundaries from the start, it’s important to keep in mind that feelings can change.
‘Whatever the reason, it’s essential to have regular check-ins and to respect the fact that either of your feelings might change at any point,’ says Jessica.
It’s important to give each other the space to communicate your feelings.
While there’s always the risk that communicating new feelings or needs could end the arrangement, it will avoid any miscommunication or hurt down the line.
Don’t neglect your friendship
‘The reason you are even considering this is because you already have an established platonic dynamic,’ says Julia, which is why it’s important not to lose sight of that just because there’s an additional layer of sex.
‘I strongly advise continuing to do things as friends rather than making this all about sex,’ Julia continues.
‘It will help go back to that core relationship when this one changes.’
Decide whether it’s worth the risk
Moving from a friendship to a FWB arrangement can lead to a lot of hurt, or even just a completely different dynamic.
‘There’s a chance that it doesn’t work out how you both hoped, and usually, that involves one or both people catching feelings,’ says Jessica.
‘If you’re both on the same page, then it tends to be pretty simple and your friendship can stay intact.
‘However, if you’re not on the same page at any point, it’s likely that the friendship will be damaged or even end completely.
‘Each FWB situation is different and it’s up to both of you whether you want to risk losing your friendship.’