Live, laugh and learn about yourself and love with another consenting adult.
Words by Meg Walters. Photography by Andreja Djordjevic.
We all know the basic premise. You’re friends who have sex. No expectations. No commitments. No romantic feelings involved.
But do any of us really know what to expect from a friends with benefits relationship? Common sense tells us it can lead only to disappointment. Rom coms tell us it can lead to love. And experience tells us that it’s always more complicated than it seems from the outside.
While for some, a friends with benefits relationship can be a healthy way to explore sex with more freedom, for others, it can be harder to separate sex from love than it seems.
We spoke to five people about their experiences with friends with benefits to find out what they learned along the way.
She got a chance to explore sex and break away from societal stereotypes…
My friend and I had always had a sexually charged friendship, but nothing had ever happened. We’ve known each other from the age of 11 and it always just seemed off limits. While I was at university, we hardly spoke but since I graduated, we started getting a lot closer. That summer, we both got quite drunk and it became obvious that we would both be up for pursuing something sexually. He then initiated it properly and we started having sex. It was very strictly friends with benefits. We met up outside of our usual friendship group to have sex and it was focused on mutual pleasure and trying new things rather than on any emotional intimacy.
Things never really ended properly, we just started having sex less frequently. We remained friends but it definitely made our friendship less light and flirty—I think he was always scared that I was going to fall in love with him. Because of this, I think he distanced himself from me.
I actually don’t regret it at all. Because I trusted him, and didn’t like him in a romantic way, I was really comfortable in these sexual situations and let myself go. I felt my sexual confidence increased and I felt I could try so many different things which I’d be nervous to try if I was dating someone. It empowered my belief that girls really can have sex ‘like men.’ I think it’s really important for women to be able to learn what they like, and I think that my friends with benefits situation did this for me. Based on my experience, I think it’s important to have a strong sense of self so you don’t get swayed by societal views of female sexuality being linked to love and romance. Then you can let sex just be sex.
— Katye*, 21, London, United Kingdom
She asked for friends with benefits, but realized it may just not be for her…
We met on Tinder in Germany. After hanging out for an hour and getting a bit drunk, I told him I was only interested in friends with benefits, because I didn’t want a relationship at the time. I just really wanted to try it out because the concept always seemed kind of fascinating to me. His reply was like, “Yeah, cool, sure.” He also told me that his last serious relationship had been an open relationship.
It felt like we were really friends for two months—after two months, we were not just friends. It was so obvious. We were just pretending. It was something between friends with benefits and an open relationship. And while I always knew he wasn’t the perfect man for me, deep down, I still wanted to be the only one for him.
Eventually I told him we should just be friends because it started to get too uncomfortable, too painful. After that we saw each other a few times as “friends,” but the vibe was so, so flirty. Eventually we ended falling back into something that could only be described as more than friends. Then we finally had some really honest conversations about what was really happening. We’re still talking about it now and trying to figure out what to do.
I have absolutely no regrets. I wanted to try friends with benefits and I did. It was a beautiful experience even though it was messy. If I like someone enough to be his or her friend and then we have amazing sex, I just don’t understand how you can be just friends—I just don’t think it works for me.
— Natasha, 28, Berlin, Germany
He got exactly what he bargained for…
I was coming back home from a night out on the subway and a woman with her friend started chatting to me. We hit it off and she invited me back to her apartment, watched a movie and had sex. We saw each other for a few weeks, even had a Valentine’s Day meal, which was really just her giving me microwave rice. But it worked because I didn’t want to have a relationship with her and we never had that expectation.
She started seeing someone and got engaged, but I was not aware of it. She told me about it the last time I saw her. No hard feelings or arguments between us at any point. We were always on neutral ground.
I have no regrets. I think it’s something that works, as long as you don’t hurt someone. I know going forwards that friends with benefits is something that works for me as long as we set clear boundaries from the very beginning.
— Ice, 33, London, United Kingdom
They took a chance and lost a friend…
Me and Annie were best friends in high school—like completely inseparable. In our senior year I started to get feelings for her. I was pretty confused. At first I tried to ignore it, but we got drunk at prom and I kissed her. I was shocked when she reciprocated. Over the summer, we hooked up a few times, but were really worried about what would happen to our friendship if we tried to turn it into an actual relationship. She suggested we officially make it a friends with benefits situation.
We both went off to university in different states and it kind of worked for a while. We’d stay in touch and chat like we were just friends. Then, when we were both back home, we’d hook up again. But by the next summer, I had started to want more than just a friendship—I wanted to be together for real. When I asked her, she kind of freaked out. Eventually I found out she had been dating other people.
I was surprised by how hurt I was. I realized I had already kind of thought of her as my girlfriend, even though we had never used that word. It felt like a huge betrayal. We tried to go back to just being friends, but every time I saw her I ended up going home in tears.
I don’t regret turning our friendship into something sexual, but in hindsight, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had just asked her to be my girlfriend from that first summer after high school. I guess I’ve learned that in any relationship, you need to be honest with the other person, but also with yourself about what you really want.
— Leah, 22, San Francisco, California
She learned that friends with benefits can lead to a good friendship…
We met on OK Cupid about 5 years ago. I was exploring the market and also my sexuality, tastes and preferences and really wanted to find people who were interesting and also not looking for anything serious. He was a tall handsome Dermatologist—oh and he was married. He explained that his wife knew and after months of building up an extreme sexual intensity, we finally met.
Honestly it was freeing having a relationship that was solely based on common interests both in and out of the bedroom. I think knowing that nothing serious would ever come from seeing each other took quite a bit of the pressure off. It definitely had its challenges in the beginning as he was a charming man who was “good on paper” but I also made sure to not fully invest myself in this idea of us being able to be together.
We stopped seeing each-other romantically and now see each other as friends. We even have double dates with our partners or we go on solo friend hangs. He honestly has become one of the first people I text if I have a question or need to vent.
I only want friends with benefits relationships with people I would also want to see outside of the bedroom. It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made in my romantic life.
—Megan Ixim, 31, Jersey City, New Jersey
Disclaimer: The last names have been withheld at the requests of the sources.