Dating & Relationships, Gender

No Strings Attached? Many “Friends with Benefits” are Actually Hoping for Romance

January 5, 2012 by Justin Lehmiller

“Friends with Benefits” (FWB) relationships seem to be all the rage these days. Several recent studies of college students have reliably found that over one half of the students surveyed had at least one FWB at some point in their lives [1]. However, despite their popularity on college campuses, we know surprisingly little about how FWBs operate and whether they live up to their reputation of offering “no strings attached” sex between friends. A new study suggests that these relationships are actually fairly complicated, with many women (and a significant number of men) viewing their FWBs as a potential stepping stone to romantic love [2].

In this study, a sample of 411 individuals involved in FWB relationships were recruited online. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 65. This age variability is interesting in and of itself because it provides evidence that FWBs extend far beyond colleges and universities. All participants were asked how they hope their relationship will evolve in the future (i.e., whether they want it to stay the same, end completely, or transition into something else).

The vast majority of women (69%) expressed hope that their current relationship state would ultimately change in some way, with most of these women desiring a transition into true romance and the remainder seeking to be “just friends” or have no relationship of any kind in the future (for the exact percentage of women pursuing each option, see the table below). In contrast,the majority of men (60%) indicated a desire to keep their current relationship just as it is. Together, these findings indicate that women are more likely to see their FWB as a relationship state that can evolve, whereas men are more likely to see their FWB as an end state in and of itself.

Percentage of Men and Women Desiring Each Future Relationship State

>Table showing the number of friends with benefits who want the nature of their relationship to change versus stay the same

As noted in the table, about four in ten women and two in ten men saw their FWB as a potential opportunity for future love. Although we do not yet have the data to know whether such relationship transitions actually occur and, if so, how successful they tend to be, the results of this study suggest that FWB relationships are not always as string-free as their reputation would lead us to believe.

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{1} Mongeau, P. A., Knight, K., Williams, J., Eden, J., & Shaw, C. (in press). Identifying and explicating variation among friends with benefits relationships. The Journal of Sex Research.

[2} Lehmiller, J. J., VanderDrift, L. E., & Kelly J. R. (2011). Sex differences in approaching friends with benefits relationships. The Journal of Sex Research, 48, 275-284.

Image Source: iStockphoto

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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