October 18, 2007

‘Friends With Benefits’ Drift Apart

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“Friends with benefits” — the seemingly perfect relationship with no strings attached, may not be all it is cracked up to be according to a recent study titled “Negotiating a Friends with Benefits Relationship.”
The study conducted by Melissa Bisson of Wayne State University and Prof. Michael Levine, communications, Michigan State University, asked 125 young men and women about their relationship experiences. According to the New York Times, the study reported that 60 percent of people surveyed were involved in at least one FWBR. Only 10 percent of the people said that their FWBR became a romantic relationship. One third claimed they stopped having sex and just remained friends, while about 25 percent stopped having sex and called off the friendship.
According to the study, when the student participants were asked why they entered into these relationships, they said that they did not want the commitment associated with a full-scale romantic relationship. They saw the FWBR as an opportunity for intimacy without the need to feel emotionally connected.
Barbara Jastran, a member of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and clinical counselor at Gannett Health Services, explained the appeal of the FWBR.
“Getting physically and not emotionally involved can be appealing because often, it takes work and time and involves emotional vulnerability to develop and maintain a healthy relationship. Some people who engage in ‘friends with benefits’ feel that they may be able to have sex and have it not be more than that,” she said.
Gannett offers therapy on sexual matters as part of the clinical counseling services provided to students.
An article published in the Western Jour­nal of Com­mu­nication titled “What’s Love Got To Do with It? Exploring the Impact of Maintenance Rules, Love Attitudes, and Network Sup-port on Friends with Benefits Relationships” argues that “Unlike the casual one-night sexual encounters … FWBRs are more stable. These relationships appear to defy the conceptualization that friendship and sexuality cannot coexist.”
The article listed the possible outcomes of a friends with benefits relationship as “not friends, no sex, current FWBR, moved relationally forward, moved emotionally forward, worse, and miscellaneous.”
The Michigan State University study indicated the prevalence of the FWBR among young persons, typically represented in the college population.
Among Cornell students, several maintain that a friends with benefits relationship is a very positive experience; others admit that a FWBR could be playing with fire.
Nicole Morson ’11 said, “It is setting yourself up for a bad situation; people get emotionally involved, one person always gets hurt.”
However, others said that it is a matter of understanding the rules and feeling comfortable with the relationship.
“If you’re OK with that type of situation … it’s cool once you realize exactly what kind of situation you’re in … once you get used to it there are no bad parts,” said Kyle Sullivan ’11.
One student did not recognize the expression friends with benefits, and multiple students, while recognizing the expression, claimed to have never been involved in an FWBR.
Most students expressed agreement with the conclusions of the study that such a relationship rarely leads to a more serious commitment and more often leads to the end of both the friendship and the romantic relationship.
“Based on recent research, some are able to maintain a sexual relationship with out hurt feelings. However, others are surprised by the emotional fallout that the physical contact evokes. The ‘it won’t happen to me’ phenomenon,” Jastran said.
She continued to explain the physical emphasis of the FWBR, explaining the reasons as varied.
“First there is the biological need,” she said. “Then, there is the ‘I do it’ to be wanted, to be needed, to be seen, to not be seen, to feel power, to not feel power, to relax, to unwind, to be touched, to be held, to get distracted, to get turned on, to escape, to be in control, etc. and to hope that possibly something more might develop.”
She added, “The reasons for having sex are as numerous and diverse as there are individuals.”