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SEXtember: Exploring friends with benefits

Estella Koh

Mon Sep 30 2013


FRIENDS-with-benefits may sound like a tempting prospect  but is a no-strings-attached relationship really possible? Estella Koh looks at both sides of this social phenomenon. 


Urban Dictionary defines “friends with benefits” as two friends having a sexual relationship without being emotionally involved. Think cliché fairytale-ending movies like Friends with Benefits or No Strings Attached.

Quite honestly, a friends-with-benefits relationship is complicated. Unlike a romantic love where (ideally) both partners are committed to one another, a friends-with-benefits relationship has lines too complex to quantify.

More than a fling but less than a formal romantic tryst, friends-with-benefits assume a casual physical relationship of sex without entanglement of commitment and exclusivity. Some highly disputable unspoken rules of having a friends-with-benefits relationship include no cuddling, no breakfast after sex, no kiss goodbye etc.

Friends-with-benefits is like the junk food of modern society – satisfying and highly addictive as the relationship is open, direct and honest from the beginning. To avoid disappointment, both parties are aware of what they are signing up for, with equal expectations.

The low commitment level and increased freedom is appealing to the fast-paced, irresponsible generation of today’s society.

It’s a form of romantic compromise for non-believers and a more feasible and practical alternative. Surprisingly, in an economic sense, it can reduce the cost of having to maintain a serious relationship, or having to switch from partner to partner.

"Why does it always gotta to come with complications?" "And emotions!"

“Why does it always gotta to come with complications?” “And emotions!” Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis weigh in on the messiness of sex and relationships in the appropriately titled film, Friends with Benefits.

While it sounds like it has all the perks of being in a relationship, unfortunately it’s all a bit too good to be true.

Often friends-with-benefits is a recipe for disaster. It can leave lovers feeling confused or empty. Without a legitimate status, they find themselves in a disorganised relationship with no grounds for their grievances to be addressed.

Hollywood’s interpretation of most friends-with-benefits depicts both parties wanting more from the relationship and then ultimately developing into a serious romantic relationship.

This is a half-truth.

With greed, lust and an overwhelming multitude of emotions, it is impossible to keep the heart separate from sex.

If human beings functioned as machines, being in a friends-with-benefits situation might be a lot easier. But we aren’t and as such, friends-with-benefits rarely work in reality. That’s why it’s a  popular recurring theme in movies – it is a fantasy which pulls the heart strings but in real life happy endings aren’t always a given.

There are pitfalls and bonuses, just as there are supporters for both sides. But every relationship is a choice – it’s not the responsibility of others, but the responsibility of self. Ultimately, if you choose to play with fire, you need to be careful not to burn your fingers.