Friends With Benefits: The Rules of Engagement

We all have our opinions about what exactly “Friends With Benefits” (FWB) are. However, we typically agree that a FWB is a person who you have sex with, but, don’t have any emotional ties to. Basically, a casual, commitment-free, emotionless sexual relationship with a “friend”. (Now, whether a FWB is truly a friend is up for debate…).

On the surface, FWB situationships often appear carefree and fun; but, there is often a set expectations, boundaries, and rules of engagement that govern FWB interactions. The very idea of rules and expectations for FWBs may seem counterintuitive considering the nature of the relationship. Yet, they are necessary if you want to keep your FWB situationship carefree, commitment-free, and fun.

So, what are these rules?

According to Match.com’s Singles in America survey, people generally agreed with the following FWB rules:

FWB

A few of these “rules” make total sense. Birth control (and STD prevention, which curiously isn’t mentioned) should be of the utmost concern when engaging in casual sex. Pregnancy and infection are probably two of the fastest ways to ensure the end of a FWB situationship. Also, privacy (and consent, which isn’t specifically mentioned) are two elements that facilitate open, pleasurable sexual experiences free from shame and injury. Thus, it is understandable that FWBs may not feel comfortable speaking about their status or sharing mutual friends, because they don’t want their business in the streets.  

On the other hand, two rules–Can’t have more than one FWB and Can deny any other simultaneous FWBs–are highly questionable. These rules imply exclusivity, which directly contradicts the purpose and utility of FWB situationships. While agreement between FWBs is needed to enforce such rules, the requirement of exclusivity between FWBs can place partners squarely in the murky, ambiguous “What are we really doing here?” and “Who are we to each other?” space (a conversation most FWBs try to avoid).

While this list is a good start, I think there are few rules that are clearly missing. Here are few that you can consider adding to your FWB code of conduct:

  1. Don’t expect the your FWB to become your man, woman, or romantic partner. Make sure you are definitely ok with this being a purely sexual relationship and nothing more. If you can see this person as a potential sexual partner, reconsider making them a FWB. 
  2. Keep your pleasure in mind. This is suppose to be about sex, so why not enjoy it! FWBs serve a specific purpose: unbridled sexual pleasure. If you are not living your best sexual life with your FWB, then you should reevaluate the utility of the situation. 
  3. Decide how–and if–you will interact outside the bedroom. This is important especially if you are not exactly “friends” with your FWB. Will you occasionally meet up for coffee or drinks? Or, is it a late-night ‘U up?’ text kind of deal. Deciding this up-front will establish boundaries around time and communication, which helps you avoid the emotional traps that come along with FWBs. 
  4. Be up-front about your feelings. Sex is relational and it is not uncommon to catch feelings for the person you are having sex with. If you find yourself getting attached and desiring more quality time with your FWB, let them know before you fall too deep. It may work out in your favor and lead to love. But, understand that it may signal the end of the situationship. 
  5. Prepare for the end. All good things must come to an end, and that applies to FWBs as well. FWBs are not permanent fixtures in our sex lives so this should be acknowledged early on. It may be slightly counterproductive to begin with the end in mind, but it will help you curb hurt feelings, anxiety, and stress.

I’m sure there are other rules of engagement that I’m missing. Share some of your rules that you have with your FWB.