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Friends With Benefits Are They A Good Idea Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2370 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Friends with benefits relationships are a relatively new, but increasingly popular phenomenon in our society. What is a friends with benefits relationship (FWBR)? Defining this type of relationship can be a very daunting task, as there is no clear cut definition. Very generally a FWBR is one that incorporates a sexual relationship into a pre-existing friendship that is otherwise not romantic.

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However every person is going to have their own definition that relates to themselves and how they feel about these relationships, which is why FWBRs are so hard to define. Despite this lack of a proper definition, friends with benefits is a controversial issue that often sparks strong emotions primarily either for or against, but this is no black and white issue. There is a large gray area when it comes to this type of relationship, because there are so many factors that influence these relationships from why they begin to how they end.

The question I will be asking and answering in this paper, through the use of studies conducted, pop culture and my own experience/knowledge, examines this new phenomenom in our society. That question is: What are the motivations to participate in friends with benefits relationships, who participates and what are the outcomes of these relationships? I will determine that there are several motivations for participating in a FWBR, the most likely to participate are college students with certain characteristics, and the outcomes are nearly as likely to be negative as they are positive.

Before it can be understood what leads to FWBRs we must first find a common definition for these relationships by examining the studies that have been conducted about FWBRs. According to Puentes, Knox and Zusman, friends with benefits is “…defined as sex in a non-romantic friendship”(176). In another study by Hughes, Morrison, and Asada, FWBRs are defined as “…cross-sex friends in which the friends engage in sexual activity but do not define their relationship as romantic” (abstract).

Meanwhile in Bisson and Levine’s study FWBRs is defined as simply as “…friends who have sex”(66). And lastly, the definition of FWBRs is defined as a …”relationship consisting of non-romantic friends who also have a sexual relationship” (McGinty, Knox and Zusman 1128). Out of four studies there are four different, but similar in context, definitions of FWBRs. This alone goes to show the complexity and lack of understanding of FWBRs.

For this paper I will use these definitions to define friends with benefits relationships as a sexual relationship between friends who do not consider their relationship to be romantic.

So why do people become involved in friends with benefits relationships? There is no one reason why. Actually everyone has their own reasons for wanting to be in this type of relationship. According to the study by Hughes, Morrison, and Asada, some of the motivations for FWBRs included avoiding relational commitment, the desire for sexual activity with a friend, a lower degree of difficulty to maintain than romantic relationships, as well as a desire to feel closer to a friend and a desire to specifically take part in a FWBR (par 18). It was also reported in this study that “Although attitudes toward love did not impact rules for maintenance of FWBRs, attitudes toward love did influence motivations for FWBRs and the outcomes of these relationships” (abstract).

So how one feels about love is also a significant factor in these types of relationships. For those people who are not looking for a romantic relationship but simply a physical relationship (sex), this type of relationship can offer just that because “…FWBRs lack exclusivity, commitment, a desire for a romantic relationship and emotional attachment” (par 2). In the study by Bisson and Levine it is stated that “The reasons for having FWB centered on having sex while avoiding commitment” (68). Based on these facts it seems as though the driving force behind most of these relationships is to have a sexual relationship without the strings (commitment) that come in a romantic relationship.

Participants in the Puentes, Knox and Zusman study actually stated that they regard a FWBR “…as an appropriate, safe addition/benefit to an existing friendship” (176). Clearly there are many different motivations for participating in a FWBR.

Who participates in FWBRs? Although friends with benefits relationships can occur in every age group, they are most common among college students as all four of the studies examined in this paper were conducted on college students. The reason college students had FWBRs is because they allowed for a safe and convenient environment for recreational sex according to Bisson and Levine (69).

Bisson and Levine also found that “The overwhelming majority of participants who had had a FWB thought that people could have sex and stay ‘just friends’. By contrast, those who had not experienced FWB were much more likely draw a distinction and believe that friends do not have sex” (68). Now that it is known why college students engage in these relationships, what type of college student chooses to participate?

The study conducted by McGinty, Knox and Zusman revealed that the average GPA of students in FWBRs was a 3.0 (1128), as well as other factors pertaining to the students gender and religious beliefs. Looking at religion students who attended church infrequently were much more likely to be involved in a FWBRs than those who attended on a regular basis (1129). As far as gender is concerned “There were no significant differences in the percent of women and men reporting involvement in FWB relationship.” (1129).

But they did find significant differences in how men and women view this relationship. “Women are more emotionally involved” (1129). While “Men are more sexually focused” (1130), meaning that women regard FWBRs as “…emotional with the emphasis on friends while men tend to view the relationship as more casual with an emphasis on benefits (sexual)” (1130).

This is illustrated by the almost 85% of women who saw their relationship as being “more friends than lovers” compared to 15% of men. Another study conducted by Peuntes, Knox and Zusman found that non-romantics/realists, blacks, as well as those with a higher class rank/age are more likely to participate in FWBRs than those who believe in one true loves, whites and those in a lower class rank/age. There are several factors/characteristics that have been found to increase ones likelihood of being in a FWBR, but that does not mean that people who do not fit into these groups do not participate.

What role does interpersonal communication play in FWBRs? Communication in FWBRs involves negotiating the relationship and, based on studies performed, is virtually non-existent in most of these relationships. This is demonstrated in the study by Bisson and Levine when they asked participants how issues were negotiated “…the most prevalent response was that it was not initiated” (70).

This is disturbing because “Previous research has also found that sexual activity can make friendships more complicated, difficult to manage, and create increased pressure for involvement” (67). While communication is essential in any interpersonal relationship it seems even more important in a relationship that is already in a position of uncertainty. “This lack of communication likely exacerbates the potential problems with FWB…”(72).

What are the outcomes of FWBRs? To answer this question I looked at the statistics from the study conducted by Bisson and Levine. Based on a study of 125 undergraduates it was found that 28.3% of people in a FWBR remained FWB while a whopping 35.8% actually managed to stop the sex and remain friends, while in 25.9% the relationship ended completely and only 9.8% of these relationships ended in a romantic relationship (68). However because there is a near equal amount of negatives (relationship ended) to positives (stayed friends) it seems as though the chances of the original friendship surviving are about the same as it ending completely.

The 2009 movie ‘Friends (With Benefits)’ showcases the friendship between Chloe and Owen, college students who have been friends since childhood, develop into a FWBR and the challenges that arise from this newly found relationship between not only themselves but also their four mutual, close-knit friends.

This group of friends consists of Chloe, Owen as well as Shirley, Alison, Brad and Jeff. As if three girls and three guys as a group of friends isn’t already a recipe for disaster, introducing FWBRs into this group guaranteed disastrous results, at least until the last few minutes the movie ends with Chloe and Owen together as a true romantic couple).

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As far as what initiated this FWBR, it all began because Owen had secretly been in love with Chloe for years and decided he could wait no longer, he had to kiss her. So he proposed the idea of being friends with benefits for the reason that they were both far too busy and had both been unsuccessful in developing a true romantic relationship with anyone.

So this FWBR actually begins because of the desire for a sexual relationship with a friend instead of the more common reason of sex without commitment. Regardless Chloe agrees to this relationship, for essentially the same reason that Owen wanted it, she had also been secretly in love with him for many years. At first things were going great in their new relationship but it would not be long before things would take a turn for the worse.

Even though they both agree to keep this relationship a secret they both end up confessing to their friends, who then also embark on their own journeys down the road of friends with benefits within their group of friends. Things turn sour for Chloe and Owen when Chloe has a pregnancy scare and Owen, portraying a typical male response to this freaks out, telling Chloe that this cannot happen and it is going to ruin his life.

So they go their separate ways, each missing the friendship they once had, but only for a while. Meanwhile the other four friends discover that they are better off as friends, not friends with benefits. Owen finally comes to his senses and realizes he made a mistake. Now hoping for a romantic relationship he confesses his true feelings to Chloe. Chloe, also yearning for a romantic relationship with Owen accepts his apology and the movie ends with them locked in a kiss, essentially to live happily ever after.

But it could have been very different, obviously there was a serious lack of communication in their FWBR, they had never even discussed the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy or the future of their friendship. This movie is a prime example of who gets involved in these relationships (college students), why some people enter them (to gain a romantic relationship) and how lack of communication, as discussed earlier, is a major issue in these relationships.

As far as my experience with FWBRs, I have personally never been involved in one, but I have known people who have participated in this type of relationship. Of the eight FWBRs that I have known about, not one has actually rendered positive results. They either ended badly because one person developed unreciprocated feelings for the other, or the original friendship was unable to be salvaged after the physical relationship ended.

The friends I saw get involved in FWBRs usually entered into the arrangement in hopes of developing a romantic relationship with the other person. I watched friend after friend slowly destroy a small part of themselves while engaged in an FWBR that did not work out as they had hoped. That is not to say that all FWBRs end negatively. Based on the studies conducted, obviously some of these relationships serve their purpose and those involved walk away with no regrets and the friendship still in hand.

Back to the big question, What are the motivations to participate in friends with benefits relationships, who participates and what are the outcomes of these relationships? Looking back at the all of the research, as well as the movie and my own experience I can in fact conclude that the leading motivation for FWBRs is the desire for a sexual relationship without commitment, followed by the desire for a sexual relationship with a friend.

As far as the outcomes of FWBRs, communication in the relationship is an important factor. Since problems that lead to the relationship ending completely are increased by a lack of communication this is a significant factor in the outcomes of these relationships. Based on the studies used there is an equal chance of maintaining a pre-existing friendship to losing it.

FWBRs are clearly very complicated and misunderstood and there is obviously a need for more research on this topic, but as these relationships are a fairly new phenomenon it is understandable that there is not. However if the number of these relationships continues to rise in our society we must develop a better understanding of them.

I feel that I learned a lot from this study regarding FWBRs. I have a more unbiased and balanced perspective on them, than I did prior to completing this paper. I do disagree with them, but now having a better idea of what makes for these relationships I can understand why they might be a good option for some people. Again, friends with benefits relationships are very complicated and based on what I have learned I still say that everyone has their own opinion either for or against as well as their own definitions of these relationships and their own motivations for either participating or not. This is certainly a topic that will be researched and debated for years to come.


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