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Friends with Benefits: 11 Tips to Make it Work

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

The term “friends with benefits” (FWB) can mean different things to different people.

To some, it’s simply sex without the commitment or relationship status. It could be with someone you’ve just met or someone you have a bit of history with. For others, it’s sex with an established friend.

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Either way, you’re probably not going to be dining at a fancy restaurant together before jumping into bed. You’re also unlikely to bring your FWB to a family event.

Some people like the idea of having sex without the commitment of a relationship. If the relationship starts out as a solid friendship, your friend can feel like a safe person to have sex with.

Of course, an FWB arrangement can have its challenges. Problems occur when partners aren’t totally aligned in their expectations. Open communication is key, since feelings toward another person can change once sex is involved.

Here are some things to consider and talk about if you’re thinking about trying an FWB arrangement.

1. Define the existing relationship

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It’s important to explore this. A good friend is someone you can be honest with and who knows your true self. This may feel like a safe person to have sex with.

But consider whether the intimacy of sex will change your friendship. Would it be a major loss if you aren’t able to continue your friendship?

It’s a different story if the person is someone you don’t know that well and may never see again once you’re done being FWB.

In some cases, one partner enters into an FWB situation with the hopes of it turning into something more. But it’s important that all partners go into this with the same goals. If partners have different ideas in mind, issues can arise.

2. Decide about snuggling and sleepovers

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There’s nothing wrong with cuddling or staying the night, but it can change your connection.

Cuddling releases oxytocin, a bonding hormone. If you’ve agreed that this is just about sex, the extra time together can change how you feel about the person. Oxytocin makes it harder for it to just be about sex.

If you both agree that you want to cuddle and sleepover, that’s totally fine. It’s just worth having a conversation to decide the ground rules.

3. Figure out where to keep your stuff

These may feel like small details, but you’ll need to agree on what stuff — if any — gets left at the other person’s place.

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For some, leaving a small bag with a toothbrush and a change of clothes is fine.

Other people would view this as a step towards moving in together. This could be exactly the opposite of what someone in an FWB relationship is looking for.

4. Set rules about how to act around other people

Consider how interconnected your networks are. If you have mutual friends or work together, other people may see you together.

You may want to talk about whether you’ll tell anyone.

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This could create an uncomfortable situation if one partner wants to keep the relationship a secret and the other wants to tell others. Make sure you agree on who, if anyone, you’ll tell.

Think about whether it’ll be hard to act normal around mutual friends once you’ve seen each other naked. Decide whether you’ll share any public displays of affection.

5. Consider the impact when this ends

Typically, an FWB situation is a short-term thing. It’s important to talk about what happens after. Some people find they can’t go back to just being friends after being sex buddies.

How connected are you with the other person? Do you live near this person and are likely to see them at the grocery store? Will you feel the need to avoid gatherings with friends in case the other person is there?

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It’s not possible to predict exactly how you’ll feel after the relationship ends, so it’s worth considering potential outcomes.

6. Check in with your partner

Sex can quickly change how you feel about another person. It’s important to keep communication open.

Ask your partner if this is still working for them. Let your partner know that they can talk to you if their feelings change or if they want out.

7. Check in with yourself

Along with checking in with your partner, it’s important to do the same with yourself. It can be easy to get caught up in things, especially if your partner is happy with the arrangement.

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Make sure to ask yourself whether this is really working for you. It’s fine if your answer changes over time.

Take a moment to reflect on whether this is what you really want and need. If so, awesome! If not, it’s worth exploring what isn’t working for you.

Are you actually looking for more commitment? Are you worried about losing this person in your life? Is it really feeling fun and easy?

It’s OK to reconsider. Maybe it seems like a great idea at first, but then you find it’s not right for you.

8. Talk about protection

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Nothing ruins great sex like the worry about pregnancy or getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Make sure all partners are comfortable with the method of protection you’re using. Be open and honest about your expectations for birth control and methods to prevent STIs.

9. Get regular STI testing

Even if you’re using a condom or other barrier method to prevent STIs, it’s a good idea to talk about how often to get STI testing.

People who are sexually active should get tested about once per year.

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People ages 13 to 64 should also receive testing for HIV at least once in their lifetime. People who are at greater risk for HIV, including gay and bisexual men, may require more frequent testing.

This may be something that you want to do before your first FWB encounter. Decide how often you’ll get rechecked, especially if one or both of you is also having sex with other people.

10. Get the sex you need

You know your body best and what feels good for you, so it’s important to be open about your needs and expectations.

Tell your partner what you do and don’t like when it comes to sex. Your partner will want to make you happy and will likely be eager to know what you need.

11. Be prepared for what happens if you or your partner meet someone

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If your FWB situation is really only about the sex, it’s quite possible that one of you could meet someone else you’d like to start a relationship with.

Keep communicating about how you’re feeling and whether your FWB deal is meeting your needs. Consider whether there will be heartbreak if one of you breaks off the FWB to start a romance with someone else.

The takeaway

The idea of commitment-free sex can sound appealing to many people, but several factors affect whether it’ll actually work for you.

Set some rules and keep communication open. Also, check in with yourself and your partner often.

It’s important that everyone has the same expectations in this kind of arrangement.

Read this article in Spanish.

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