The Problems of Having Friends With Benefits

For the purpose of this study, the authors defined “friends with benefits” as friends who have sex with each other. This study was undertaken to analyze how prevalent these relationships are and why people begin and stay in these relationships. The results showed that of the population surveyed, 60 percent were in such relationships. The authors speculate that these relationships undermine and complicate feelings of friendship as a whole. They conclude from the results that these “relationships are often problematic for the same reasons that they are attractive.”

There has always been a definite demarcation between, and clear definitions of, romantic relationships and platonic friendships, both in trends of popular culture as well as academic research into social behavior. However, newer trends have revealed that many Americans today, mainly college students, indulge in a different kind of friendship. This is defined as “friends with benefits” or a friendship that involves sex and has a bit of both platonic friendship and romantic relationship, without the actual commitment of the latter. This study was undertaken to see, “why people engage in sexual activity with a friend, how sex with a friend affects relationship dynamics and communication patterns in” these relationships.


  • In the first study, 125 college students were included.
  • All the volunteers who took part were first given the exact definition of “friends with benefits” and asked if they were in such a relationship. They were given questionnaires that queried the benefits, disadvantages and reasons for engaging in these relationships. They were also asked why some people did not indulge in these relationships.
  • For the second study, 90 college students who were in a “friends with benefits” relationship were enrolled.
  • In this study, volunteers were given questions regarding negotiations of terms of the relationships and levels of commitment to the relationship.


  • Study 1 showed that 60 percent of the volunteers had, at some time in their lives, engaged in a “friends with benefits” relationship. Also, 36 percent were still in such a relationship.
  • Study 1 also showed that 61.8 percent believed they could remain friends, in spite of having sex. The results also showed that men harbored this belief more than women did.
  • The biggest advantage perceived by the participants was that they could have sex with someone they trusted without having to commit, and the disadvantage was that their romantic feelings and commitments would not be reciprocated.
  • Study 2 revealed that most participants did not negotiate the terms and commitments of their relationship.

The authors admit that this study mainly relied on reports given by the participants. Such self-reports may be erroneous and thus may affect the reliability of the results. Also, they add that only one of the partners in each couple was talking about the relationship. Further studies involving both partners could throw more light on the issue. The authors agree that this study involved only college students. They suggest further studies that include younger participants and older participants as well in order to understand this social trend better.

The authors conclude that friendships that involve having sex are the latest social trend among college students. Such special relationships that combine friendship and romantic overtones without involving commitment are less researched in studies exploring social trends. Many of the participants who have earlier indulged or are currently in such relationships feel that this type of relationship brings trust in the partner, without the need for commitment or a requirement for exclusivity. On the other hand, many are worried that one of the partners’ actual romantic feelings might not be reciprocated. This study also shows that most of the participants do not have ground rules and discussions on the nature of their relationship and further commitments. The authors say that this study reveals the dynamics of a new kind of relationship, which needs further exploration and understanding.

For More Information:
Negotiating a Friends with Benefits Relationship
Publication Journal: Archives of Sexual Behavior, September 2007
By Melissa A Bisson; Timothy R Levine
From the Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan and Michigan State University, East Lancing, Michigan

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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