Friends with Benefits: Dilemmas between Friendship, Love and Sexual Intimacy

Friends with benefits (FWB), are you familiar with the term? Or have you ever been in the relationship of such?

According to some literature studies, FWB or friends with benefits is a sexual relationship that occurs in the context of friendship between men and women, without any commitment that will lead to romantic relationships, such as dating or marriage. FWB relationships are increasingly being chosen by young adults today because of the desire to postpone marriage, spend time developing education and careers, as well as learning about commitment in relationships without actually having a to deal with real consequences of a real commitment.

Above all this, individuals involved in FWB relationships have sexual needs that they want to meet but are limited to friendship because they do not have to deal with the risks to feel emotionally disappointed or involved in feelings of love (Lamanna & Riedmann, 2009; Bisson & amp; Levine, 2009).

Some adults might see an FWB relationship as an interesting way to explore or see the commitment of a partner before heading for a more serious relationship (Owen & amp; Fincham, 2012).

The FWB relationship is a common phenomenon that occurs more often in Western countries than in Eastern countries. This can be caused by the strong norm values ​​held by Eastern society, especially the State of Indonesia which considers premarital sexual relations to be a taboo and a disgrace for oneself and his/her family. It cannot be denied that the majority of Indonesian people today, especially teenagers and adults, have had premarital sexual relations.

Sexual intercourse generally occurs in couples who are in dating relationships, but it does not rule out the possibility that sexual activity can occur in friendships. The sexual activity carried out by FWB couples can include hugging, kissing, touching genitals, oral sex, to sexual intercourse. Another situation that supports the occurrence of sexual relations in friendships is the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs that are used together.

Following the traditional gender roles, men tend to be able to have sexual relations without commitment compared to women. Women tend to feel unhappy with FWB relationships because in general, women will expect commitment in a relationship, whereas commitment is something that is avoided in FWB relationships. The results of Lehmiller, Vanderdrift, and Kelly's research (2011) found that men were more involved in FWB relationships in the past than women. Also, men tend to expect that the FWB relationship will not change their friendship status, in contrast to women who expect an FWB relationship to turn into a romantic relationship.

According to Bisson and Levine (2009) only about 10% of the chances of individuals undergoing FWB relationships that develop into romantic relationships. Sexual impulse and physical attractions are the main motivations of most men in starting a relationship, while women tend to prioritize emotional closeness in a relationship.

In the friendship between a man and a woman, often raised an issue where one party has feelings for her/his partner, especially if the friendship has existed for years. When the feeling of falling in love has arisen, coupled with the willingness of both parties to have sexual relations in friendships, then it will arouse advantages and disadvantages.

Bisson and Levine (2009) mentioned that the benefit obtained through FWB relationships is recreation, non-exclusive sex with someone who is known and trusted. Where losses that might occur such as destroyed friendship because of sex, loss of friends, the emergence of negative emotions such as jealousy or feelings of hurt, creating an unrequited desire of not being able to continue the relationship in a more serious direction.

A similar opinion was also expressed by Buczek, Puchala, and Kocur (2016), when an individual starts to fall in love with his/her partner in an FWB relationship, then he/she will have difficulty to restore the condition of feeling towards his/her partner as before.

The agreement of both parties to avoid emotional ties and the equal understanding of commitments towards that agreement is a major aspect when undergoing FWB relationships. When each individual is able to understand boundaries and is committed not to "put" expectations in the FWB relationship, it will minimize the appearance of negative impacts toward individuals involved.

According to Bisson and Levine (2009) when the FWB relationship ends, there are two possibilities that might happen. Whether the friendship remains intact as before or it is fully ended. The results Owen, Fincham, and Manthos (2013) found about an FWB relationship is that the majority of individuals (81.5%) who underwent FWB relationships continued to make friends with their partners, even though the sexual intimacy had ended.

In addition, about 50% of participants in the study felt closer to their FWB partners. In FWB relationships, especially where individuals who prioritize friendship on the basis of intimacy, it does not get affected by the negative impact toward the quality of their friendship after the "benefits of sexual intimacy" are over. Individuals who discontinue being friends after their FWB relationship ends, tend to show greater feelings of loneliness and depressive symptoms.

Some of the results of research and opinions of the authors that have been presented previously showed that the FWB relationship is not just a place for individuals to meet their sexual needs without a commitment bond, but there are dilemmas and even negative impacts that can arise when individuals are unable to control emotions, hopes and stay committed to the rules in the relationship.

Through this phenomenon of friends with benefits, we can learn that whatever form of relationship formed by individuals, there will always be limits and consequences that will be found. Every individual also needs to learn to respond wisely to the decisions that they have made and determine whether the relationship they are having has more negative or positive impacts on their lives and their well-being as a person.

Author: Putu Yunita Trisna Dewi, S.Psi (Students at Clinical Psychology Profession Masters in Airlangga University)

Translator: Anggun Mita K. (Editor Team of Halo Jiwa Indonesia)

Editor: Retno Pratiwi S. P. (Editor Team of Halo Jiwa Indonesia)


Bisson. M.A., & Levine, T.R. 2009. Negotiating a friends with benefits relationship. Arch Sex Behav. 38: 66-73.

Buczek, A., Puchala, A., & Kocur, D. 2016. The dark personality triad in people involved in “friends with benefits” relationships. Przegl Seks. 4(48). 37-44.

Lamanna, M.A., & Riedmann, A. 2009. Marriages and families: Making choices in a diverse society. Tenth Edition. USA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Lehmiller, J.J., VanderDrift, L.E., & Kelly, J.R. 2011. Sex differences in approaching friends with benefits relationships. Journal of Sex Research. 48(2-3). 275-284.

Owen, J., & Fincham, F.D. 2012. Friends with benefits relationship as a start to exclusive romantic relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 29(7). 982-996.

Owen, J., Fincham, F.D., & Manthos, M. 2013. Friendship after a friends with benefits: Deception, Psychological functioning, and Social connectedness. Arch Sex Behav. 42. 1443-1449



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