5 Must-Follow Rules to Make Friends With Benefits Drama-Free
"We are sexual beings from conception until death," said Stacie Ysidro, a certified erotic blueprint coach based in St. Petersburg, Florida.
During the in-between, we may opt for friends with benefits (FWB) relationships for a physical connection with less of an emotional commitment.
A primary issue for people entering these situations is grasping the differences between this arrangement and a more traditional relationship. Questions such as "Should we be exclusive?" "How can I avoid getting attached?" and "Should we avoid cuddling and sleepovers?" are common starting places, but what if your answers and your partner's answers don't align?
To better understand a "situationship," we've turned to relationship experts and sex coaches to better explain how the parties involved can avoid getting hurt.
1. Start with a conversation
Many people use a "go with the flow" approach, in which both people figure out the details as they go along. However, this has risks. While it can be uncomfortable and awkward to have a conversation about sexual health, safer sex practices and relationship expectations, you'll likely encounter drama if you avoid this conversation at or near the onset of your time together.
"I teach people to have a conversation about their desires, fears, boundaries and expectations before stepping into a sexual space," Ysidro said. She refers to this "container conversation" as a means to establish boundaries and intentions.
Another method for this is STARS, which stands for STI status, turn-ons, avoids, relationship expectations and safety. If you have a history of sexual trauma, you can add this to the conversation, as well.
2. Decide if you want to cuddle and do sleepovers
Many people in FWB situations may want to avoid emotional attachment by avoiding cuddling and sleepovers. However, as Ysidro pointed out, any skin-to-skin contact for at least seven seconds makes your brain produce oxytocin, also known as the "love hormone." If you're having sex, that's more than enough skin-to-skin contact to produce oxytocin.
Thinking that we can avoid feelings by not cuddling is a myth. Instead, it is more important to ask your partner what they think about cuddling and why they might not want to do it.
"If cuddling doesn't extend feelings or change the scope of what you want in the relationship, then you should feel comfortable cuddling," added Cassandra LeClair, a relationship expert and communication studies professor at Texas State University.
3. Determine whether you'll introduce your FWB to your friends
As with cuddling, many people advise against introducing your FWB to your friends, but this rule isn't a one-size-fits-all solution.
"This is not about what other people do in their FWB relationships," LeClair said. "[It's] about each individual looking to understand their emotional and physical limits with the type of relationship that is being created."
As Ysidro put it, the relationship might be in a strictly sexual container. If you don't even go to dinner with that person, why would you invite them to dinner with your friends? On the other hand, a true friendship could be the basis of the relationship. In which case, if you spend time with someone and it's not always in a sexual space, it makes sense that you'd introduce them to your friends.
4. Periodic check-ins
Checking in month to month is key to ensuring you and your FWB remain cohesive. "Continue to have this conversation monthly to make sure that everyone is getting their needs met and feels fulfilled with the relationship," Ysidro advised.
Typically, relationship dynamics evolve as time passes. For example, one of you might start seeing another person or dating someone seriously, or you may begin feeling more attached for one reason or another. "As it unfolds, it is natural that [emotional and physical limits] will change, so continued communication is helpful," LeClair added.
5. Process your emotions
"Emotions will always be present in every relationship no matter the dynamic," Ysidro explained.
While we can't necessarily control the emotions that arise, we can decide how we're going to communicate them.
Ysidro also recommended trying the S.E.W. method, a way to manage power dynamics when difficult emotions surface. The first step is noticing sensations, such as a pit in your stomach, tingling or tightness. Next, you should try to process the emotions, whether they're growing feelings for someone or emotional attachment. Finally, once you've allowed your emotions to move through you, try to figure out exactly what you truly want.
You might need to have a conversation about the possibility of expanding the relationship, or you might discover that you don't want to step into a serious relationship right now and need to step back.
As your FWB relationship evolves...
A friend with benefits might not be a traditional relationship, but it's still a relationship that requires vulnerability, honesty, checking in and clear communication. Try not to focus too much on arbitrary rules such as not cuddling, not sleeping over or not introducing your FWB to your friends.
Instead, have a conversation from the beginning about expectations and intentions for stepping into the sexual space, and continue to check in as the relationship evolves.
If you follow these "rules," you'll soon be on the right path to a drama-free FWB relationship.