Can a Friends-With-Benefits Relationship Work? Here's What the Experts Say

From boundaries to exit plans, here's your guide to navigating friends with benefits.
Heather Bien - The Knot Contributor.
Heather Bien
Heather Bien - The Knot Contributor.
Heather Bien
The Knot Contributor
  • Heather contributes wedding, honeymoon, travel and relationship content for The Knot and WeddingWire.
  • Heather also writes for publications including Apartment Therapy, StyleBlueprint, MyDomaine, HelloGiggles and The Everygirl.
  • She holds a degree in Art History and Architectural History from the University of Virginia.
Updated Nov 11, 2021

If you've been in the dating world for a while, you're probably familiar with what it means to be friends with benefits, or in an FWB relationship. But in case you're not familiar, we'll break it down for you.

Here's a secret about relationships: You don't always need to be in pursuit of "the one." Sometimes, you may want something more low-key or casual, but you're still craving the stability of companionship. You're not in a place to dive into a committed relationship, but you still want to feel the spark of physical chemistry. Or, maybe you have a friend who caught your eye—you're not interested in dating them, but think they could be fun for the occasional flirtatious encounter.

Are you considering entering into an FWB relationship? Keep reading for everything you need to know.

In this article:

What Does "Friends With Benefits" Mean?

Generally, friends with benefits means you and a friend, whether it's a good friend or one you've known for a short time, enter into a sexual relationship without the intention of becoming romantic partners. The key here is that both parties are on the same page about the nature of the relationship.

Indigo Stray Conger, a certified sex therapist, cut straight to the chase when we asked how she'd define friends with benefits. "The phrase 'friends with benefits' is used to indicate a hookup situation with little or no commitment," she says. And that's exactly what many of us think of—a no-strings, casual-sex, Netflix-and-chill agreement where neither partner is particularly invested in the well-being of the other. Instead, they're around for late-night booty calls.

But that's not always the case. "A true friends-with-benefits scenario is a deep friendship which also includes either occasional or consistent sexual activity, with the understanding that there is no romantic relationship developing," Conger says. "There may or may not be a strong sexual attraction involved, but there is definitely mutual respect, trust and clear communication."

In most friends-with-benefits relationships, two partners were friends first and then decided to have sex occasionally, says Joseph LaFleur, a Washington, DC-based therapist specializing in LGBTQ+ relationships. "It can be healthy if the correct parameters are in place. But in reality, it hardly works out that way. Feelings get hurt when one wants to hookup and the other isn't available. Often, after several hookups, it fizzles and one or the other tire of each other."

How to Decide Whether to Pursue an FWB Relationship

So, how do you know whether a friends-with-benefits arrangement can be both beneficial for your sex life and your mental health? By going into it intentionally. We know the first time it happens it may not be mapped out, but as soon as you're both in a headspace to talk about it, put those expectations on the table to ensure you're both on the same page about the present, the future and the possibilities. These three tips will help you get started.

1. Make sure it's with someone you trust.

Vulnerability is critical for successful relationships—even those that are casual. To make a friends-with-benefits arrangement work, you need to trust your partner and check in with them before, during and after your interactions to keep things respectful.

"When entering a friends-with-benefits scenario, you should choose someone you trust and that you can have a candid conversation with prior to any sexual activity occurring," Conger says. "It's imperative that both of you are on the same page about this not having the potential to develop into a romance or a relationship with expectations and commitments."

Entering into any relationship with someone you trust makes tough conversations easier, and often those include the not-so-sexy side of sex, including STD and STI safety. "Be sure to discuss boundaries around which sexual acts you are comfortable with and STI safety," Conger says.

Do you feel like you can have these conversations with your potential FWB partner? If the answer is yes, then you can proceed in pursuing this type of relationship.

2. Consider the timing.

LaFleur says an FWB relationship could work for those who are coming out of something long-term and, while they still have sexual needs, they aren't ready for the commitment of another partnership. "It can be ideal for those who are on the rebound from a serious relationship," he says.

It can also be beneficial for those who feel like they don't have time for a relationship. You may not want to swipe through Tinder or have a one-night stand, but you're still itching for some pillow talk, and casual sex with a friend could be the most secure option. "If you don't have the time or energy for a full-blown relationship, or the right person simply hasn't come along, then a friends-with-benefits situation may be an appropriate choice for your relationship landscape," Conger says.

3. Have a plan in place in case someone catches feelings.

A lot of people have been on one side or the other of this scenario: Something starts off casual, but after a few weekends of morning cuddle sessions and late-night emotional support chats, feelings start to make their way in. That's the kiss of death for a friends-with-benefits relationship—unless that's what you both want. If you want to pursue a friends-with-benefits arrangement, Conger says, "You should set ground rules around communicating about other sexual partners or what should happen if one of you starts dating someone in a romantic context."

It's never wise to enter into an FWB relationship hoping that the other partner will suddenly pull a 180, delete all of their dating apps and decide they want a serious relationship. It'll only end in disaster.

What Should You Do if You Want to End an FWB Situation?

All casual, short-term relationships need an exit plan, so if you decide to pursue one, don't leave this open-ended.

"In reality, ghosting usually happens," LaFleur says. But ghosting isn't the only answer. Conger says it all comes down to communication (doesn't it always?) and being upfront when you do—or do not—want more.

"Communicate clearly the parameters of your FWB situation, and it's more likely you can conscientiously transition the relationship back to a friendship without sexual interactions," Conger says. "Typically, it's a bad idea to linger in an FWB situation when you're hoping for more and are afraid to ask for it. Either the relationship can evolve with your emotions, or you're better off looking elsewhere."

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