Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., is the author of Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do, releasing on January 7, 2015. You can get a free chapter and see more at http://www.lovefactually.co.
Friends With Benefits, or, as a popular song puts it, Sleeping With A Friend, sounds so good. (No, really. It’s a good song.)
Seriously, though, if a sexy, trustworthy male friend were to offer you this situation, and you hadn’t yet found your forever guy, what would you say?
It’s a common question. Many women now are spending significant portions of their adult lives single, and it seems ridiculous to wait on sex just because we haven’t yet found Mr. Right. Plus, however fab our favorite vibrator may be, straight women prefer Real Men. So the FWB arrangement sounds ideal.
Except that it’s probably not.
Stay Thirsty, My Friend
First off, there’s something called drive reduction theory that shows that when we have an increasing physical need—like sex—then our motivation to meet that need also rises. So if we are horny, we might be motivated to get up off the couch and shave our legs and put on a sexy outfit and hang out someplace where sexy masculine bipedal types go.
Unless that thirst has already been quenched by lots of sex with our friend. Then it becomes much too easy to spend our nights eating pizza in front of Hulu until our boy toy arrives.
Ask What’s In It For You
I know that’s not a Nice Girl thing to say. Nice Girls smile and nod and just go along, including going along with the FWB scenario. Studies show that where Nice Girls used to wait for sex, now they hook up; it’s actually more common than dating.
But hooking up, even with a friend, is likely not to your advantage. Not only does the FWB short-circuit male mating psychology and leave most women feeling like they’re in the emotional deep freeze, but you probably won’t even come.
That’s right. In repeated studies, over 75% of women say they have an orgasm every single time if they’re with a committed partner—yet that same percent of women says they never orgasm with one-nighters or casual lays.
Isn’t an orgasm a major reason to have sex, especially if you’re not getting love?
But let’s say you’re part of the one in four women who truly get off during sex with a non-committed partner. Then, the focus shifts to what’s gotten into you. Literally.
Beware The Chemical Cocktail
Ever wonder why sex with machinery can leave you unfulfilled, compared to the physical and emotional satisfaction of sex with a partner?
Our bodies produce an abundance of chemicals in anticipation of and in response to sex—creating mood-boosting properties similar to anti-depressants. These include, but aren’t limited to, oxytocin, vasopressin, and norepinephrine.
And the more often we have sex with any one partner, the more of this Chemical Bond-O our bodies release. Meaning? We get stuck on partners even when we don’t want to.
Men produce those substances, too, but only if they have a long lead-in before sex (or, sometimes, if they’re inexperienced, or virgins). Evolutionary psychologists say it’s a mechanism that protects men from investing their hearts, wallets, and parts further south in women who might cheat later on; factually, she who is Hard To Get is usually more faithful post-commitment, so genetically, men are primed to value the chase.
But your body produces those substances even when you’re not intending to fall in love.
And if you don’t use a condom, you’re getting a two-fer. About 97% of what’s in semen isn’t sperm; it’s biochemical warfare that gets you uber-hooked on him, so he is free to explore other options whilst you remain emotionally attached.
It’s not fair. But from his genetic standpoint, it surely is effective.
Which brings us to our final point.
Here’s what I know for sure: Many studies find that women usually get more attached to a man post-sex—and most men get detached under the exact same circumstances.
And this is true even if the woman only wanted a non-committed sexual relationship: a FWB.
For instance, one study included men and women as participants only if they were currently in a FWB scenario. The researchers wanted to know two things. First, was this partner actually a good match for them, non-sexually? Second, was the respondent having any difficulty remaining emotionally detached?
Both sexes indicated that this was the wrong person for them. But beyond that, their answer depended heavily on the person’s gender. About 75% of men said they weren’t having any trouble keeping their emotional distance; and 75% of women said, in essence, “Hey, I know this guy is wrong for me. Still, though, I find myself becoming emotionally involved with him.”
Upshot? As a woman, it’s difficult for me to recommend celibacy. Sex with a partner is part of what gives life meaning and full expression and joy.
But factually, FWB tends to be a huge time-and-emotion suck. It doesn’t provide what we know really turns most women on: a genuine love relationship. And it does put you at risk of falling for a guy who doesn’t return the feeling, but who does waste your energy. Ouch.
And so, the scientist in me recommends the following:
Ask yourself the following three questions:
- Are you one of the ¼ of women who can actually have casual sex and not get attached or hurt?
- Are you among the minority of women who will be sexually satisfied without an emotional bond and/or commitment?
- And if your FWB is gloriously capable of bringing you pleasure, will you still be motivated to do all the work of finding the right man for you?
If you answer all three questions in the affirmative—great! Use condoms, use your head, and have fun.
But if you’re like most women and answer ‘No’ to even one of those questions, we’re back to sex with ourselves while looking for The One.
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