The best friends-with-benefits situations are ones where sex buddies keep their distance, right?
Not exactly. A new study out of the University of Denver suggests it's a little more complicated than that.
The real key to maintaining a good friends-with-benefits-relationship is to set boundaries, communicate your expectations and acknowledge that you're probably more invested in the casual relationship than you set out to be.
To better understand commitment levels among friends who hook up, the researchers found 171 university students (52 men, 118 women and one participant who did not provide information about gender) who'd had casual sex relationships with a friend within the past year.
They zeroed in on a few factors while analyzing the flings: whether people thought their friends-with-benefits (FWB) situation was healthy and functioning well (referred to in the study as "relationship adjustment") and sexual satisfaction.
To find that out, participants were asked how much they agreed with statements that measured their commitment to their FWB partner and their trust in him or her. They responded to statements including the ones below:
- "I tend to think about how things affect 'us' as a couple more than how things affect 'me' as an individual."
- "It makes me feel good to sacrifice for my FWB partner."
- "I would have trouble finding a suitable FWB partner if this one ended."
The researchers found that sexual satisfaction was important, but it wasn't the only thing that mattered to those surveyed. Beyond the sex, people who acted more like a couple, sacrificed a little for the benefit of their relationship and spent less time scouting for the next best thing were happiest in their FWB relationships.
If that sounds like a pseudo-relationship to you, you're not entirely wrong, said Jesse Owen, head of the counseling psychology department at the University of Denver and lead author on the study.
"Young adults in FWB situations can feel like they're in a relationship and they do exhibit many pro-couple maintenance behaviors, like sacrificing for their partners," he told HuffPost.
"Those behaviors can increase their devotion to the FWB partner," he explained. "It psychologically creates a push [among partners] to limit seeking alternatives."
Ultimately, those "in a relationship"-esque behaviors could help people have a more fulfilling FWB situation, Owen said. It's the semi-exclusivity of FWB couplings that ultimately sets them apart from simple hookups, he said.
The big takeaway of the study for sex buddies, according to Owen? Be clear with your boundaries and expectations.
"Potential conflict can arise for young adults who believe that they are a 'we' with their FWB partner, [when their partner doesn't share that view]" he said.
In other words, good communication is the cornerstone of all relationships, even those between hookup buddies.