Great sex is one of the best parts of being in a relationship. Sharing passionate, pleasurable moments with someone you find attractive is part of the human experience. But what if you haven’t found that special someone yet, or you aren’t interested in a full-blown commitment right now? Are you confined to just having solo pleasure? Not in the world of friends with benefits.
Imagine calling someone hot—who you also like and trust—when you’re in the mood to play but not in the mood for the excess baggage of more traditional romantic relationships. It can be a breath of fresh air.
But as liberating as it is to have commitment-free sex, friends-with-benefits relationships can be tricky to navigate. Are you exclusive friends with benefits, or are you both okay with hooking up with other people? What if your friend with benefits starts to want more from the relationship? And if you stop feeling it, how do you end it? The blurry boundaries can make even the most satisfying friends-with-benefits arrangements nosedive straight into “it’s complicated” territory.
Friends with benefits means something a little bit different to everyone. And finding some common ground (beyond the bedroom) will help keep the experience steamy. To learn what works—and what doesn’t—we asked four women for the tips and ground rules they learned in friends-with-benefits relationships.
Read on before you decide whether to boink a buddy.
What does “friends with benefits” mean anyway?
A friends-with-benefits relationship is often regarded as ideal for someone who wants to have sex on the reg but isn’t in a committed partnership. And although there’s some truth to that, this kind of relationship can play out in a million different ways. Maybe two co-workers occasionally escape for quickies on their lunch breaks. Perhaps former lovers decide to rekindle that sexual spark without the emotional investment. Or it could be a couple of college friends who just like to Netflix and chill on the weekends.
The setups vary so widely that you might begin to wonder: “What exactly is friends with benefits?”
“Friends with benefits is a type of relationship where, ideally, two people have a platonic connection and use each other for sex. There’s no romance, there are no dates, and there is no commitment. Hanging out usually consists of hooking up,” explains Meagan Drillinger, founder of women’s retreat company Vaera Journeys and writer of travel, sex, and dating content.
Friends with benefits is a mixed bag. Some women revel in hooking up with someone then going on their merry way.
“Sometimes separating sex and romance can be fun, helpful, and life-affirming,” says Katherine Clover, who had a friends-with-benefits relationship that gave her “an outlet to explore sexually in a safe and consensual way.”
But there’s also the potential to feel unfulfilled or even used in a sexual relationship that doesn’t have a deep emotional component. Drillinger, who was friends with benefits with a guy she met at the gym, discovered that this kind of relationship left her feeling down.
“All he wanted was for me to take an Uber to his apartment after work at 2 a.m., have sex with him, and go home. I felt taken advantage of and as though I was doing all the work. [I learned] that I can’t have a relationship that’s just about sex—I’m looking for connection,” she says.
It all depends on what would make you feel happy and fulfilled. If that’s a friends-with-benefits relationship, more power to you! Ignore any naysayers who think it’s promiscuous or inappropriate—they’re missing out. Sex is personal, and as long as you’re being true to yourself and your partner, you should feel open to exploring one of the most fundamental aspects of being human in whatever way is most thrilling to you.
Becoming Friends With Benefits
Turned on by the idea of crawling in bed with a friend? That’s cool. But where do you find that sexy someone who’s just as excited about it as you are?
Often, a friends-with-benefits sitch kicks off naturally—maybe as a random hookup that happens to go on for a few months. But if that’s not happening (and you want it to!), there are some ways you can speed up the process.
“Ask yourself what you’re looking for in friends with benefits. If it’s sex, then look on platforms more explicitly about hookups. If it’s just a casual partner to see once every few months, or for certain kinds of socializing or experience, then maybe it’s someone already involved in that scene,” says Louisa Knight, a sex worker in the UK who has friends-with-benefits relationships outside of her profession. “As someone who’s polyamorous, I’ll say that people who practice ethical non-monogamy are often far more open to alternative types of connections, so look into poly Facebook groups or go to some relevant social events.”
Dating apps and sites such as Tinder and OkCupid are filled with people looking for all kinds of relationships. Make it clear in your profile what you want, then start reaching out to potential friends-with-benefits matches.
Of course, you can always go traditional and seek out someone in person.
“Pick any guy you think there might be chemistry with, and ask him out for a drink,” says Drillinger.
But you don’t need to jump in bed with the first person who’s open to being friends with benefits. New York–based writer Lindsey Stager (name has been changed for privacy), who was friends with benefits with a colleague for seven months, says that a personality match is just as important as a physical attraction.
“The ‘friend’ part of friends with benefits should not be forgotten. Find a person who respects you—someone who treats you as a friend and a person, not a ‘hit-it-and-quit-it’ whose feelings don’t matter. Also, find someone who’s interesting and can have a good conversation. The mind needs stimulation, too!” she says.
Rules of Friends With Benefits
Friends with benefits don’t have the same clearly defined roles as a spouse, partner, or someone you’re seriously dating. No two friends-with-benefits relationships are exactly alike, but there are some rules that can help lay the groundwork for a fun time in bed with a friend.
Here Knight, Drillinger, Stager, and Clover dive deeper into the framework every friends-with-benefits relationship should consider.
Rule 1: Everyone must always ask for consent.
Consent is so important when you’re fooling around with anyone, whether it’s a one-time hookup, an ongoing friends-with-benefits relationship, or even a spouse. You and your partner need to be clear about each other’s boundaries.
“Consent is crucial, and it operates on several levels, not just sexual,” says Knight. “You can get and give consent around social things as well, like whether or not it’s okay to tell someone information about your friends-with-benefits relationship or if you can leave things at their apartment. And with sex, never assume consent. Just because you did something once doesn’t mean your partner will want to do it again.”
Rule 2: Friends with benefits must always use protection.
Nothing sucks the fun out of sex quite as quickly as getting an infection or having a pregnancy scare. Whenever you’re talking about sexual relationships, you have to consider using protection.
“The whole idea behind friends with benefits is that there’s no commitment, meaning either partner is free to have as many friends with benefits as they want. In that case, using protection is paramount,” says Drillinger.
Consistent use of protection will help keep you and your partner healthy. But when you have an active sex life, it’s never a bad idea to see your doctor for regular STD screenings.
Rule 3: Friends with benefits must communicate.
If you really want your friends with benefits to work, you’ve got to keep the lines of communication open—and that means listening to your partner and expressing your own desires.
“The most important thing is to be honest about why you’re both there and what you hope to get out of friends with benefits,” says Clover. “If those feelings change, you have to let them know.”
Knight credits the success of one of her friends-with-benefits relationships to her partner’s willingness to be open.
“He was really clear from the beginning about what he wanted and where he was at. That set the tone for the whole thing and lifted this weight of expectation and progress off both our shoulders. We had a really fun sexual dynamic,” she says.
There’s a lot that swirls around any friends-with-benefits relationship. Assert what you’re looking for, both sexually and socially, even if it’s uncomfortable at first. Open lines of communication increase your chances of a smooth ride.
Rule 4: Friends with benefits should have fun exploring.
Friends with benefits gives you the chance to embrace your sensual side and experience sexuality in fresh ways. Take advantage of the opportunity by exploring your desires and ultimately having fun with it.
Clover says her friends-with-benefits relationship took away the pressure of losing her virginity.
“I wanted to get my first time over with, so my friend and I calmly and rationally decided we would ‘practice’ having sex together. There was no pressure—we could just talk about what worked, what didn’t, and what we wanted. It helped me get more comfortable with myself, plus it was really fun,” she says.
Even the most experienced hedonists can discover new pleasures during a friends-with-benefits relationship. For Knight, hooking up with a friend might involve trying out a new kinky kit or just fooling around.
“Friends with benefits is a great way of getting your sexual needs met, and it can be productive in challenging you to think about different ways of being with someone,” she says. “There’s still so much stigma attached to women prioritizing their own pleasure, and it can be a radical thing to bring your sexuality to the foreground in your life.”
Rule 5: Friends with benefits don’t get jealous.
The whole philosophy behind friends with benefits is that it’s a fun experience for two people without the added requirements that typically come with a full-blown romantic relationship. But with the lack of a commitment comes the potential for your friend to have multiple partners.
Jealousy can creep up unexpectedly if you find out your friend is hooking up with someone else. Why does this negative emotion arise, even when you’ve made no commitment to exclusivity?
“Monogamy teaches us that sex and love are characterized by exclusive commitments, but it’s always worth questioning that, especially in more casual setups. Often, we misunderstand a lover’s desire for someone else as taking away from their desire for us. But the truth is, many of us have a range of social connections in life, each meeting different needs,” says Knight.
It’s counterintuitive, but getting to know who else your friend with benefits is sleeping with can help dissipate feelings of jealousy, says Knight.
“You get to know them as another person, not a threat, and take them off that big jealous pedestal you might have put them on,” she says.
If you or your partner feel resentment about outside hookups, the friends-with-benefits relationship might not be a great fit for your lives.
“Jealousy is a horrible and consuming feeling—and friends with benefits is supposed to be fun. If you’re jealous, ask yourself if this is really working for you,” advises Stager.
Rule 6: Friends with benefits shouldn’t try to be more.
Although you might start out as friends with benefits, there’s always a chance that you or your partner could find you want more out of the arrangement. Is it possible to turn it into a committed relationship?
Speak up about your feelings. Your friend with benefits might even want the same thing! But if that’s not in the cards right now, you need to call it quits on the hookups.
“It’s really hard to hang out with someone you have a crush on knowing that it’ll never blossom into the romance you want. And it’s even harder when you’re seeing that person naked,” says Drillinger.
Rule 7: Friends with benefits should go after what they’re looking for.
The beauty of friends with benefits is that it gives you an outlet for sexual pleasure even if you’re not in a relationship. But your wants and needs can change over time. You should always strive to be honest about what you’re looking for—and go after it.
Stager admits that things would have gone better in her last friends-with-benefits relationship if she and her co-worker were more open about the type of connection they wanted.
“Having a conversation that solidified what we were looking for would have been best, but sometimes what you want changes. For me, it’s a vicious cycle—if I like you enough to sleep with you, then I probably want to be with you because I’m attracted to you as a person. It’s not the case for all women, but that’s how it is for me,” says Stager.
Regularly reflect on what you’re looking for in a relationship—whether that’s a long-term commitment, steady fling, or casual sex—and make sure your friend with benefits is still meeting your desires.
Rule 8: Friends with benefits should know when it’s time to move on.
No friends-with-benefits relationship lasts forever. Knowing when it’s time to move on will help things end on a high note.
“Friends with benefits are really similar to non-sexual friendships—some friends come and go in your life, and that’s natural,” says Knight. “Not everything needs to last forever, or even for the long term, to be worthwhile and exciting.”
Keep it going as long as it’s fun. And when the sexual chemistry has run its course, end your friends-with-benefits relationship and move on to something (or someone) bigger.