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the less complicated way to have sex

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Popular opinion on ‘friends with benefits’ relationships falls into two camps: those who agree that it can be done successfully and those who don’t. The latter group might believe that sex will damage their friendship, or that one party will become romantically involved with the other, thus promoting the relationship out of its FWB status and into something more lopsided.

Personally, I fall into the second camp and have avoided the FWB in favour of the Fuck Buddy, (a casual sex partner with little ongoing friendship, intimacy or companionship). At first this appeared to be the less complicated way to have the sex without the relationship, however recent research suggests that I may be missing out.

Kylie McCardle, a PHD psychology student at Deakin University, surveyed 30 FWBs and suggested that FWB relationships are largely positive. Not only do they boost personal relationships and sexual confidence, but they’re also good for self-esteem. Other positive outcomes outlined by McCardle were that the regularity of sexual activity, the joy of sexual exploration, the fact that one may not feel as sexually inhibited in an FWB relationship as one might in a new, more serious one and the fact that you don’t have to look after a partner if they’re sick or have to attend a family function. Negatives included the possibility of delaying a more serious relationship, and uncertainty in situations where the rules of the relationship had not been discussed.

Contrary to popular assumptions, McCardle also found that friends who end up with unexpected benefits often remain friends post coitus. Furthermore, they did not experience a big falling out or the emotional turmoil that frequently occurs when a serious relationship ends [1]. These findings support earlier research on American college students that demonstrated that the majority of FWBs either continued having sex (28.35%) or maintained their friendship but stopped having sex (35.8%). Only 25.9% of friendships ended [2].

It also seems that women and men enjoy FWB relationships equally [1,2]. However young adults prefer FWBs for different reasons than older ones. Young adults view FWBs as a way of experimenting sexually and having fun with someone they know and trust while keeping their options open.

In the light of these facts, I wonder if FWB relationships are not a bad idea after all. Maybe they are a symptom of Western society’s incessant emotional frigidity and creeping alienation, or maybe they are an improvement, a sophisticated, respectfully casual sexual relationship that requires individuals to negotiate sex honestly and without ego or deceit. Perhaps these FWB relationships are even a sign that we are evolving as sexual beings.

Words: Georgina Whelan
Photography: Paul Barbera

Georgina Whelan is a psychologist, sex therapist and registered nurse with over 16 years of clinical experience in the fields of sexual health, sexual function, sexuality, gender, mental health and drugs & alcohol. She is an honorary lecturer at Sydney University and works in private practice in Bondi Junction and St Leonard's. She holds Bachelor Degrees in Psychology (Hons., UNSW) & Nursing (UOW) and a Masters in Sexual Health (USyd).


  1. Bisson, M. and Levin, T. (2010). Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 38: 66-73.
  2. Mcardle (2010)





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