How do I navigate a friends with benefits relationship?

1) Hi Alice,

You have so much information and advice for those who want to start, maintain, or end a relationship; but then there are people like me. I have no desire to be in a relationship with anyone. I'm a full time student, I work two jobs, and I like hanging out with my friends and family when I do have spare time. I'm not interested in the feelings, emotions, and time it takes to be in a relationship. Basically, I'll have sex with anyone before I even think about holding their hand. Then afterwards, the guy will usually end up getting his feelings hurt because I don't want to date him. Is there anything strange or unhealthy about this??

2) Dear Alice,

I have a good guy friend, and we were talking about friends with benefits. We said how sometimes you want the relationship, but then sometimes not. Then we were talking about how if you want just the perks without the ties, then why not with someone you know and trust. I asked him if he was looking at someone in particular, and he said no, and he asked me and I said not really. The dilemma is that I want to go that step with him. I want to become friends with benefits. But I'm afraid that if I talk to him about it, he'll freak out and reject the idea and I'll lose a friend. I don't know if he would really react that way, but I'm just afraid. We both seem to be looking for the same things and I've been feeling like this for a while now... Should I talk to him about it or just forget about it?

Dear Readers, 

There’s nothing strange or wrong when it comes to friends with benefits, one-night stands, or other casual sexual relationships. Whether it's a current friends with benefits situation or something you're hoping to engage in, you can lean on many of the same tools you'd use in other relationships in your life. Communicating your needs and boundaries while respecting those of your partner can help clarify your expectations and provide a more fulfilling experience for everyone involved. Additionally, figuring out how far you want to go with someone often requires some contemplation and conversation. Factors like feelings about contraception use and personal views on sex can affect how people feel about casual sex relationships. Thinking about your identities and values as well as those of your partner can be important to keep in mind before engaging in these types of relationships. 

Communicating what you want in a relationship takes practice. One place you may start is by setting boundaries, which gives you a chance to state what you’re comfortable with. Boundaries could be made about your personal space, your autonomy, your body, or more. For example, if you enjoy having casual sex without pursuing a romantic relationship with someone, telling your sex partners this directly could give them a heads up that you don’t intend to take it farther than physical. On the other hand, if you’re looking to start a friends with benefits relationship with someone, talking about how you want to maintain or change aspects of your current dynamic can help make both of your intentions clearer before entering into anything. 

Keep in mind that anyone can have boundaries, whether a relationship is sexual, romantic, or even platonic. Being open and honest with each other may help to ensure that all sides are satisfied and consent to what’s going on. Before you engage in a casual sexual relationship, it may be helpful to think through some questions, such as: 

  • What do you want out of the relationship? Just sex, to be friends with benefits, or the possibility of becoming romantic? 
  • What might your sex partner want out of it? Is it the same or different as your desires? 
  • Will either of you be able to compromise, if you both want the relationship to work? 
  • How would you react if the other person didn’t want to pursue the relationship? 
  • How can you set rules and boundaries for your desired type of relationship, if all parties agree to enter one? 

You can use these questions to help set your own expectations and guide your conversations with others. For example, if you already have an established relationship, you could bring up your perspective the next time you're about to have sex. Saying something like, “Hey, I’m looking forward to this, but I’m not interested in having a romantic relationship with you outside of this. Is that okay with you?” could set that person’s expectation for what the rest of your interactions might look like. 

If you're considering a friends with benefits relationship, the only way to gauge if the other person is interested in that arrangement is to ask. For example, if you're hoping to begin this type of arrangement with your friend, you may choose to bring it up again with him. This might mean saying that you want to add sex into your friendship without changing your dynamic as friends, or that you’re looking for someone to have casual sex with and wondering if he would consider it. However, remember that other people’s desires are their own, and you may not get the answer or reaction you were hoping for. 

People have different wants or needs for romantic relationships, and it may change throughout their lives. Some may not be interested in romantic relationships at certain points, such as a particularly busy or stressful time. Others may find they're never interested in romantic relationships. Some people who never have interest in a romantic relationship define themselves as being aromantic. They may experience sexual attraction and enjoy sexual experiences but have very little or no romantic attraction to others. None of these experiences are strange, and they honor the different needs a person could have in a variety of relationships. 

Casual sex relationships can still be fulfilling if clear boundaries are set and if consent is enthusiastically given from all partners. If these conversations or relationships start to interfere with your day-to-day or you want some outside advice, consider speaking with someone you trust outside of the ones involved in the relationship. You might also consider meeting with a mental health professional if you feel like speaking to someone who specializes in providing support in a variety of relationships. 

Cheers to figuring out what you want for your sex life!

Last updated Jan 12, 2024
Originally published Oct 02, 2009