Common wisdom holds that FWB relationships are a bad idea; when you screw your friend, you screw up your friendship. To our shock, however, research suggests otherwise.
By Carolyn Kylstra
In the just-released movie Friends With Benefits, Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake play two recently dumped friends who turn to each other to scratch a certain naughty itch. Sexy hijinks ensue, typical romcom style. It’s a story we’ve all heard before (in fact, we saw it in theaters earlier this year, in Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher’s No Strings Attached). And it’s one that has likely played out in our own lives as well: About 60 percent of college students participating in a 2011 Michigan State University study admitted to engaging in at least one FWB arrangement at some point in their lives. You don’t say!
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If romcoms are to be believed, FWB situations always end up with the friends living sexily ever after. Now, you’re savvy enough to know that’s super far-fetched—the same Michigan State study found that only 10 percent of FWB arrangements end in real romantic relationships.
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But here’s the shocking part: They also found that just 26 percent of FWB actually ended in a wrecked friendship. Here’s a better way to look at it: 74 percent of FWB relationships DON’T destroy the friendship.
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“Most people who enter friends with benefits relationships don’t want relationships, but they still have sexual needs,” says study coauthor Timothy Levine, Ph.D., professor of communication at Michigan State University. “And they likely conclude that sleeping with a friend is safer than sleeping with a stranger.” The possibility that one person is secretly pining for the other isn’t really all that likely. In fact, you’re both probably just using each other until someone better comes along.
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If that sounds super unsexy, that’s kind of because it is: Levine also found that the passion level in FWB relationships was uncharacteristically low for sexual partners. Basically, FWB’s don’t sleep together because they can’t keep their hands off each other. They sleep together because there isn’t anyone else more appealing at the moment.
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Ultimately, you’re bound to be disappointed if you enter into a FWB relationship with a friend who you’re secretly hoping becomes something more. If you want to date him, you need to be up front about that. But if you’re like most girls in FWB situations, you’re not crossing your fingers that the relationship gets upgraded to boyfriend-girlfriend status. You just wanna have fun. And chances are, so does he.
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