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Friends with benefits (FWB) refers to "friends" who have sex. Study 1 (N = 125) investigated the prevalence of these relationships and why individuals engaged in this relationship. Results indicated that 60% of the individuals surveyed have had this type of relationship, that a common concern was that sex might complicate friendships by bringing forth unreciprocated desires for romantic commitment, and ironically that these relationships were desirable because they incorporated trust and comfort while avoiding romantic commitment. Study 2 (N = 90) assessed the relational negotiation strategies used by participants in these relationships. The results indicated that people in FWB relationships most often avoided explicit relational negotiation. Thus, although common, FWB relationships are often problematic for the same reasons that they are attractive.
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Negotiating a Friends with Benefits Relationship
Melissa A. Bisson Æ Timothy R. Levine
Received: 8 May 2006 / Revised: 11 January 2007 / Accepted: 18 March 2007
Ó Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007
Abstract Friends with benefits (FWB) refers to ‘‘friends’
who have sex. Study 1 (N = 125) investigated the prevalence
of these relationships and why individuals engaged in this
relationship. Results indicated that 60% of the individuals
surveyed have had this type of relationship, that a common
concern was that sex might complicate friendships by
bringing forth unreciprocated desires for romantic commit-
ment, and ironically that these relationships were desirable
because they incorporated trust and comfort while avoiding
romantic commitment. Study 2 (N = 90) assessed the rela-
tional negotiation strategies used by participants in these
relationships. The results indicated that people in FWB
relationships most often avoided explicit relational negoti-
ation. Thus, although common, FWB relationships are often
problematic for the same reasons that they are attractive.
Keywords Friends with benefits Friendship
Romantic relationships
A clear distinction between friendships and romantic rela-
tionships has long been accepted in academic social science,
popular culture, and lay understandings of human relation-
ships. Recently, however, evidence of a new type of
relationship has been identified that neither fits the tradi-
tional definition of a friendship nor a romantic relationship,
yet has characteristics of both. This relationship has become
known as ‘friends with benefits’ (FWB). FWB relation-
ships are commonplace among American college students
(Afifi & Faulkner, 2000; Mongeau, Ramirez, & Vorell,
2003) and have received much attention in popular media
(Hughes, Morrison, & Asada, 2005).
Existing research has concentrated on documenting the
existence and prevalence of FWB. The current study inves-
tigated why people engage in sexual activity with a friend,
how sex with a friend affects relationship dynamics, and
communication patterns in FWB relationships.
Preliminary Definitions
Definitions of a friendship have typically excluded romantic
love and sexual contact to differentiate friendships from
romantic relationships. For example, friends like one another
whereas lovers love one another (Brehm, Miller, Perlman, &
Campbell, 2002), friendships involve an ‘attraction of the
spirit and not the body’ (Werking, 1997, p. 30), and
friendship is a ‘non-sexual relationship of two people, based
upon shared experience and characterized by mutual per-
sonal regard, understanding, and loyalty’ (Armstrong, 1985,
p. 212). Each of these definitions specified that friends are not
sexually intimate. Further, friendship and romantic rela-
tionships also differ on exclusivity. Romantic relationships,
as opposed to friendships, involve a desire for exclusiveness
(Brehm et al., 2002).
Nevertheless, friendships and romantic relationships are
more similar than different (Sprecher & Regan, 2002). Both
types of relationships involve interdependence, trust, enjoy-
ment of the other’s company, engaging in shared activities,
M. A. Bisson
Department of Communication, Wayne State University,
Detroit, MI, USA
T. R. Levine (&)
Department of Communication, Michigan State University, East
Lansing, Michigan 48824-1212, USA
Arch Sex Behav
DOI 10.1007/s10508-007-9211-2
and mutual acceptance. Exclusivity, romantic love, and
sexual desire and activity distinguish the two types of rela-
tionships according to some scholars, but these criteria are
not universally accepted or universally applicable.
FWB combines the psychological intimacy of a friendship
with the sexual intimacy of a romantic relationship while
avoiding the ‘romantic label (Hughes et al., 2005;Mongeau
et al., 2003). Sexual activity with a friend distinguishes FWB
from both ‘hook-ups’ characterized by a single occurrence of
sex between people who are acquaintances or strangers
without the expectation of developing a relationship (Paul &
Hayes, 2002; Paul, McManus, & Hayes, 2000) and traditional
romantic relationships. Labeling FWB as a friendship is
consistent with the fact that these individuals are not roman-
tically committed and do not share a romantic love for one
another. But, consistent with romantic relationships, these
people engaged in repeated sexual activity, which has tradi-
tionally been linked to a romantic relationship but not
Research has found that a considerable percentage of
university students have engaged in sexual activity with a
friend, and prevalence rates have ranged from 49 to 62%
(Afifi & Faulkner, 2000; Mongeau et al., 2003; Reeder,
2000). The current study sought to replicate these findings
regarding the prevalence of FWB among college students.
Previous research has also found that sexual activity can
make friendships more complicated, difficult to manage,
and create increased pressure for involvement (Pogrebin,
1987; Sapadin, 1988). Nevertheless, to our knowledge, no
one has sought to determine why individuals choose to
engage in sex with a friend and the perceived advantages
and disadvantages of FWB. To address these omissions and
to extend the literature, the follow questions are investigated
RQ1: What are the reported advantages (if any) of a FWB
RQ2: Why do individuals engage in FWB relationships?
RQ3: What are the reported disadvantages (if any) of a
FWB relationship?
RQ4: Why do individuals choose not to engage in FWB
Study 1
A total of 125 undergraduates (65 women and 60 men) from
communication courses at a large mid-western university
participated in the study. The participants ranged in age
from 18 to 40 years (M = 20.26, SD = 2.56). All partici-
pants received extra credit or course credit, depending on the
instructor’s wishes, in exchange for their participation. The
research was IRB approved.
Procedure and Measures
Participants were informed that the research involved opin-
ions regarding FWB. Participants were provided with a
definition of FWB, asked if they thought people could have
sex while being just friends, and if they were currently in a
FWB relationship. FWB was defined as ‘when people who
are ‘just friends’ have sex.’ All participants responded to four
open-ended questions: (1) the major benefits (if any) of FWB;
(2) the disadvantages (if any); (3) why the participant believed
individuals engaged in FWB; and (4) why the participant
believed some individuals do not. Specific questions com-
pleted by those who reported engaging in a FWB relationship
followed. If participants had FWB, questions asked about the
frequency of the sexual activity, the type of sex that occurred
in this relationship (e.g., kissing, touching genitals, oral sex,
and sexual intercourse), relationship outcomes (e.g., remained
FWB, just friends, became romantically involved, and no
longer involved), and the sex of the partner. Multiple res-
ponses were allowed.
To derive response categories for the open-ended
responses, the first author read all responses and identified
characteristics that emerged and created categories for cod-
ing. The categories for the advantages of FWB included
avoiding commitment, having sex, trust and safety, staying
single and non-exclusivity, explicitly specifying no advan-
tages, becoming closer to the friend, resulting positive
emotions, and other. The categories for the reasons to engage
in FWB were the same as the advantages, but an additional
category labeled opportunity-convenience emerged and was
added. The categories generated to classify the disadvan-
tages of FWB included becoming serious, harming the
friendship, negative emotions generated, a lack of commit-
ment, negative consequences of sex (e.g., pregnancy, STD),
no disadvantages, and miscellaneous-other. The categories
for the reasons to avoid FWB were the same as the disad-
vantages except that a morality-religious category was
After categories were generated, the first author and a
second rater independently coded all responses. Intercoder
reliability was determined by the percentage of agreement
and Cohen’s kappa was calculated for each question cate-
gory since multiple responses were possible. The mean
percentage for raw agreement was 91% and the mean kappa
was .84. The kappa for each category is shown in Table 2.
All disagreements were resolved by discussion and post-
resolution data were reported.
Arch Sex Behav
A majority (60.0%) of participants reported having had a
FWB relationship at some point in their life (40 men, 35
women), and over one-third (36.0%) were currently engag-
ing in sex with ‘‘just a friend’’ (17 men, 10 women). No sex
differences in prevalence were observed; lifetime FWB,
(1) = 2.14, p = .14; current FWB, v
(1) = 3.10, p = .08.
Descriptive results related frequency of sex, type of sex,
partner sex, and relationship outcome are summarized in
Table 1.
In terms of attitudes towards FWB, over half (61.8%)
believed one can be ‘just friends’ after having sex. Of the
participants who had had a FWB relationship, 81.1% (34
men, 26 women) believed one can be just friends after having
sex and 14 participants (five men, nine women) believed one
cannot remain friends, v
(1) = 30.76, p < .01. In contrast,
only 32.7% of participants (eight men, eight women) who
had not had a FWB relationship believed one can remain
friends while 67.3% (12 men, 21 women) believed that one
cannot be just friends after having sex; sex difference,
(1) = 9.20, p < .01; FWB experience by belief difference,
(1) = 29.28, p < .01. Thus, men and those who had FWB
relationships were proportionally more likely to believe that
people can stay friends after sex.
Advantages, Disadvantages, and Reasons for FWB
The frequencies of commonly listed advantages and disad-
vantages are shown in Table 2. Many participants reported
multiples responses, so each coding category was treated as
a separate variable and counted as present or not present.
The overriding theme regarding the advantages of FWB
concerned having sex with a trusted other while avoiding
commitment. The most frequently reported disadvantage of
a FWB relationship was that one person might develop
feelings for the other and this might not be reciprocated.
Other frequent responses included the potential loss of the
friendship and the generation of negative emotions such as
jealousy or hurt feelings.
The reasons provided for why one might or might not have
FWB closely approximated those for the advantages and dis-
advantages. The reasons for having FWB centered on having
sex while avoiding commitment. One additional theme listed
by 30.2% of participants was that FWB were convenient and
that these relationships were ones of opportunity.
Similarly, the reasons why one would not have FWB
were highly similar in content and frequency to the disad-
vantages list in Table 2. Participants who did not engage in
FWB saw value in keeping friends and romance separate.
Also, 16.7% of participants listed religion or morality as a
reason to avoid FWB.
The current data replicated the results of Afifi and Faulkner
(2000) and Mongeau et al. (2003) showing that FWB rela-
tionships are common among college students. In the
current survey, 60% of participants had had at least one
FWB relationship in their life, and approximately one-third
had a current FWB. The sex in the FWB relationship most
often involved sexual intercourse and was not a single
occurrence. Almost all the FWB occurred within cross-sex
friendships, and when these relationships ended, they most
often either reverted to a traditional friendship or ended
completely. Few FWB (approximately 10%) evolved into
romantic relationships.
Attitudes about FWB were strongly associated with first-
hand experience. The overwhelming majority of partici-
pants 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. The causal order
likely works both ways with a person’s beliefs impacting
behavior, and beliefs also reflecting personal experience.
The research questions addressed the advantages and
disadvantages of FWB and the reasons why people have
Table 1 Descriptive results for FWB participants in Study 1
Question Percent
Frequency of sex
Only once 18.7
Occasional 52.1
Ongoing/Frequent 29.3
Type of sex
Oral sex only 2.7
Genital touching only 1.3
Intercourse only 22.7
All but Intercourse 8.0
All types 56.0
Some other combination 9.3
Sex of FWB partner
Opposite 98.7
Same 1.3
Both 0.0
Relationship outcome
Stayed FWB 28.3
Stayed friends, stopped sex 35.8
Became romantic 9.8
Relationship ended 25.9
Arch Sex Behav
FWB and why they do not. There was substantial overlap in
responses to the questions regarding advantages and reason
for FWB. The primary advantages of a FWB involved having
sex with a known and trusted other without expectations for
commitment or exclusivity. That is, FWB were perceived as
providing a relatively safe and convenient environment for
recreational sex, and this was apparently why college stu-
dents had a FWB.
The chief disadvantages centered on the idea that sex
might complicate the friendship. This was reflected in con-
cerns that non-reciprocated romantic feelings might evolve,
that the friendship could be harmed, and that feelings might
get hurt. These disadvantages were seen as central reasons to
avoid FWB, but two other themes emerged as reasons for
eschewing FWB. Some participants reported that sex with
commitment was desirable, and thus avoided FWB out of a
preference for sex within a romantic relationship. Some
participants found the idea of FWB morally repulsive. These
individuals, however, reflected a minority opinion.
Relational Negotiation Strategies
Relational negotiation refers to direct verbal exchanges
aimed at reaching agreement about the expectations, rules
governing, and status of an interpersonal relationship, and
relationship negotiation strategies are the goal-direct, commu-
nicative means to those ends. The initial findings regarding
FWB relationships suggested that a common concern in FWB
relationships was that sex might complicate the friendships
and raised concerns about unreciprocated romantic attach-
ment. Thus, FWB relationships evoked questions about the
roles in the relationship, relationship status, relationship
expectations, and the communication in these relationships. A
common way to reduce relational uncertainty is to seek
information through talk with a partner, and the intimacy
associated with friendship should make direct verbal
exchange a likely option in reducing uncertainty (Knobloch &
Solomon, 2002). To our knowledge, no research exists on
what issues must be dealt with in FWB relationships con-
cerning the state of the relationship. Therefore, a first research
question for Study 2 was posed.
RQ5: What questions arose concerning the relationship as
a result of sexual activity in FWB?
Presuming that sex complicated relationships and created
uncertainty, it follows that communication may have been
required to negotiate new expectations and reduce uncer-
tainty. In Study 1, one reason individuals reported having a
FWB relationship was that the friend was trusted more than
a strangers. Research on trust and trustworthiness has sug-
gested that the perceived trustworthiness of another is
positively related to willingness to communicate with that
person (Christen, 2001). In contrast, Baxter and Wilmot
(1985) reported that talking about a relationship topped the
list of taboo topics for both platonic and intimate couples.
Further, avoiding talk about the relationship is especially
likely when partners differ in desired level of commitment.
This led to the second research question:
RQ6: What types of relational negotiation strategies were
used in FWB relationships?
Ward and Kahn (2003) found that men were more likely to
avoid discussing important issues in intimate relationship.
Thus, a final research question was posed:
RQ7: Were there sex differences in relational negotiation
strategies in FWB relationships?
Triangle Theory of Love
One limitation of most previous definitions of friendship and
romantic relationships is the tendency to use criteria that
define relationships as categorical rather than as varying in
degree. Taking into account both gradations in relational
constructs and people’s own understanding of the qualities
of their relationships might allow for a more flexible con-
ceptual approach conducive to understanding a non-
traditional relationship type like FWB. Sternberg’s (1986,
1987) triangle theory of love offers this type of flexibility.
Table 2 Frequently listed advantages and disadvantages of friends
with benefits
Frequency Categorical
Advantage category
No commitment 74 59.7 35.6 .87
Have sex 69 55.6 33.2 .95
Trust person 26 21.0 12.5 .93
Stay single 13 10.5 6.3 .80
None 11 8.9 5.3 1.0
Become closer 9 7.3 4.3 .88
Disadvantage category
Develop feelings 81 65.3 42.4 .85
Harm friendship 35 28.2 18.3 .92
Cause negative emotions 34 27.4 17.8 .86
Lack of commitment 16 12.9 8.4 .88
Negative consequences
of sex
12 9.7 6.3 .95
Note Categorical percent was calculated by the variable frequency
over total participants. Overall percent was calculated by the variable
frequency over total frequency (N = 124).
Arch Sex Behav
Sternberg (1986, 1987) proposed three building blocks
which determine different types of love and that are useful in
distinguishing some types of relationships from others:
intimacy, passion, and commitment. Intimacy includes
feelings of warmth, understanding, communication, support,
and sharing. Passion is characterized by physical arousal and
desire. Finally, commitment includes decisions to devote
oneself to a relationship and the desire to maintain the rela-
tionship. Intimacy, passion, and commitment are each one
side of a triangle that describes the love individuals can
share. Each side of the triangle can vary in intensity and can
be visually depicted by the length of each side of the triangle.
Sternberg did not categorically differentiate friendships
from romantic relationships, but rather, differentiated the
two by the intensity of the three characteristics. Romantic
relationships typically differ from friendships in that the
former involved higher levels of passion and commitment
than the latter.
FWB are a hybrid of friendships and romantic relation-
ships. Using the Triangle Theory of Love, a traditional
friendship is a relationship comprised of moderate to high
levels of intimacy and low levels of commitment and
passion. Alternatively, a romantic relationship is a rela-
tionship comprised of moderate to high intensity levels of
intimacy, commitment, and passion. FWB have levels of
passion consistent with romantic relationships, but lack the
romantic commitment typical of romantic relationships.
This reasoning was tested in Study 2.
Study 2
A total of 90 undergraduates (47 women and 43 men) from
communication courses at a large mid-western university
participated in the study. The participants ranged in age
from 18 to 31 (M = 21.28, SD = 1.90). All participants
received extra credit or course credit in exchange for their
Target participants were those who had engaged in a FWB
relationship on at least one occasion. Participants reported
between 1 and 15 FWB partners (M =2.53,SD =2.13).Men
(M =3.12, SD = 2.56) reported more FWB partners than
women (M =1.98,SD =1.45),t(87) = 2.60, p = .01. With
regard to their current FWB, the average length of time the
friends knew each other before having sex was slightly over
one year (M =14.23months, SD = 19.78) and the FWB
relationship had lasted an average of six months (M =6.04,
SD = 7.48), with the longest being four years.
Procedure and Measures
Participants were informed the research involved relational
negotiation in FWB relationships. FWB was defined with
the same definition used in Study 1. Once all surveys were
complete, participants were debriefed on the nature of the
Participants completed a self-report survey containing open
and closed-ended questions in which they indicated how they
negotiated issues in their FWB relationship. Demographic
information and the Triangle Love Scale (Sternberg, 1988)
constituted the closed-ended questions. The open-ended sec-
tion of the questionnaire sought to identify what relational
negotiation strategies individuals used in FWB relationships.
The Triangular Love Scale consisted of three dimensions
(intimacy, passion, and commitment) with 15 items for
each. Sample items included ‘‘I feel close to my friend,’ ‘‘I
especially like physical contact with my friend,’’ and ‘‘I am
committed to maintaining my relationship with me friend.’
Participants rated their agreement with the statements on a
9-point scale, where 1 was ‘not at all’ and 9 was ‘extremely
so.’’ This instrument has been found to be both reliable and
valid in previous research (e.g., Aron & Westbay, 1996;
Whitley, 1993).
A set of 2 trained coders independently scored all
responses using procedures similar to those reported in Study
1. The intercoder reliabilities were acceptable, with a mean
percentage of raw agreement equal to 90.9% and a mean
kappa of .91. All disagreements were resolved by discussion
and post-resolution data are reported.
The first research question sought to discover once sexual
activity was introduced into a previously platonic friendship
what questions arose concerning the relationship as a result
of this sexual activity. Approximately half (48.9%) of the
participants indicated that questions arose and the remain-
ing participants indicated that questions did not arise. Of the
participants that indicated that questions arose, the over-
riding theme involved uncertainty. Uncertainty about how
to label the relationship, how to maintain the relationship,
the future trajectory of the relationship, how they felt about
the relationship, and if they could stay friends were listed. The
frequencies of these responses are provided in Table 3.
The second research question asked about how these
issues were negotiated. When asked about how the talk was
initiated, the most prevalent response was that it was not
initiated. A few participants used humor to initiate the dis-
cussion and fewer still talked about the relationship at the
time of the first sexual activity. When asked about the content
of the talk, responses included relationship expectations,
Arch Sex Behav
how sex would affect the relationship, justifying the sex, and
verifying that the friend was agreeable to having sex. Each of
these responses, however, were relatively infrequent. Par-
ticipants were explicitly asked about ground rule negation
and the vast majority (77.3%) indicated that there was none.
Of those reporting rule negotiation, mutual agreement was
most common. The frequencies of these responses are also
listed in Table 3.
The final research question asked about sex differences in
negotiation strategies. No statistically significant differ-
ences were observed.
Triangle Love Scale
On the Sternberg (1988) scale, a score of 1 through 5 indi-
cates a low rating, 6 through 7 indicates a moderate rating,
and 8 through 9 indicates a high rating. On these standards,
the average intimacy score was moderate (M =6.44,SD =
1.66), the average passion score was low (M =4.70,
SD = 1.49), and the average commitment score was low
(M =4.73,SD = 1.66). The means on the three dimensions
were compared with paired t-tests. Intimacy was significantly
higher than passion t(89) = 11.42, p < .01 and commitment
t(89) = 13.27, p < .01, but passion and commitment were
not significantly different from one another t(89) = –0.19.
These findings were compared to the results of Acher and
Davis (1992) who had a sample (N = 204) of individuals in
established romantic relationships (65% married, mean rela-
tionship duration, 9.5 years) complete the Sternberg (1988)
scales. Scores on each of the three scales were higher in the
romantic data; intimacy, M =7.23,SD =1.50,t(292) = 4.01,
= .05; passion, M =6.10, SD =1.77, t(292) = 6.53, g
=.13; commitment, M =6.80,SD =1.89,t(292) = 8.94, g
= .22. As expected, examination of the effect sizes indicated
that differences were most pronounced for commitment fol-
lowed by passion, and the smallest differences were observed
on intimacy.
About half of the participants indicated that questions arose
in their FWB relationship, and these questions involved
uncertainty about what to call the relationship, the future of
the relationship, and how to negotiate changes in feelings.
Despite these uncertainties, however, participants reported
little talk about the state of the relationship. Almost 85%
indicated that no relationship talk was initiated and 73%
indicated no discussion of relationship ground rules. Of the
relatively few participants who explicitly established ground
rules, the most prevalent theme involved third party concerns
related to disclosing the relationship to others and estab-
lishing that they, unlike exclusively dating couples, were
allowed to see other people. Specific strategies involved
seeking compromise and arguing for one’s own desired
outcome. No significant sex differences in communication
patterns were found, possibly due to the low frequency talk
about the state and future of the relationship. While previous
research has also reported that taboo topics are prevalent in
relationships, the current findings suggest that this is espe-
cially true for FWB relationships.
Participants rated their FWB on Sternberg’s (1988)
Triangle Love Scale. On the average, FWB participants indi-
cated moderate intimacy, and low passion and commitment
with there friend. According to Sternberg, this indicates the
majority of FWB participants experienced the liking type of
love for their friend, suggesting that the individuals really were
‘just friends’’ at the time of sexual activity. When scores were
compared to previous findings with romantic couples, scores
on all three dimensions were lower, with the largest differ-
ences observed in commitment followed by passion.
General Discussion
This article reported the results of two studies of FWB rela-
tionships among midwestern college students. Study 1 rep-
licated previous findings and found thatFWB relationships are
Table 3 Frequently listed responses in Study 2
Frequency Overall % k
Relationship questions
Title 15 25.9 1.0
Maintenance 13 22.4 .89
Future 12 20.7 .82
Feelings 6 10.3 1.0
Friendship 5 8.6 .75
Discussion initiation
None 76 84.4 1.0
Joking 8 8.9 .93
First sexual activity 3 3.3 .85
Discussion topics
Expectations 11 30.6 .95
Effects on relationship 7 19.4 .82
Justifying sexual activity 6 16.7 .82
Approval 5 13.9 .90
Ground rule negotiation
None 66 73.3 1.0
Mutually agreed 10 11.1 .88
I set the rules, other agreed 4 4.4 .88
Talked 4 4.4 1.0
Arch Sex Behav
currently common among college students in the U.S. These
findings raise interesting questions regarding trends in prev-
alence over time. Since these relationships have not been
studied until recently, it is unclear how long these relationships
have been in existence. Speculatively, having sex with friends,
although perhaps less prevalent in the past, has probably long
existed, but the FWB label is likely a recent phenomenon.
Study 1 also investigated the self-reported advantages
and disadvantages of FWB. Those who never had a FWB
typically believed that friendship and sex are incompatible
and some found the idea morally unacceptable. These
beliefs contrasted sharply with the approximately 60% of
participants who have had first hand experience with FWB.
From the perspective of those with a FWB, sex with friends
can and does happen. The primary advantage seemed to be
recreational, non-exclusive sex with a known and trusted
other. The primary disadvantages were concerns that sex
will harm the friendship or create unreciprocated desires for
romantic exclusivity. Thus, the findings revealed an irony
that the primary reasons for FWB were also a primary
Given that the chief concern of those with FWB involved
increased relational uncertainty, and that the people involved
were friends, one might expect communication aimed at
reducing relational ambiguity. This, however, was not the
case and the findings of Study 2 suggest that little relational
negotiation occurred in these relationships. This lack of
communication likely exacerbates the potential problems
with FWB reported in Study 1. The lack of talk about the
relationship, however, was consistent with Baxter and Wil-
mot (1985) who reported that talking about a relationship
tops the list of taboo topics for both platonic and intimate
couples. In this regard, all three relationship types appear
Parks (1982) challenged what he called the ‘‘ideology of
intimacy,’’ which referred to the view that self-disclosure is
necessarily healthy and that psychological intimacy is
always the primary goal in interpersonal communication
and relationships. Parks argued that examples of effective
interpersonal communication relationships that were not
based on intimacy and disclosure but instead on social
necessity or efficiency were both plentiful and functional.
Perhaps FWB relationships exemplify this sort of situation.
Nevertheless, participants’ responses to Sternberg’s
(1988) love scale showed that FWB scored higher in inti-
macy than either commitment or passion. These scores were
similar to previous findings based on friendships, and the
scores were lower than those obtained from committed
romantic relationships. The love scale findings were con-
sistent with the label of friends for FWB, and also showed
the general utility of the Sternberg theory in applying to a
range of relationship types. The love scale findings were
also consistent with the current conceptualization of FWB as
a hybrid relationship type, qualitatively different from tra-
ditional friendship and quantitatively different for romantic
A primary limitation in these data was the reliance on self-
report data. This method raises concerns about recall and
social desirability biases. Further, because only one partner
of the dyad was responding, critical concerns, issues, ques-
tions, and rules may not have been reported and between-
partner agreement could not be assessed. Nevertheless, the
high levels of prevalence observed in the current data sug-
gested that substantial underreporting may have been
College students were used as participants, thus exclud-
ing younger and older populations. The next step is to use a
non-college sample to clearly determine if relational nego-
tiation occurs in these relationships or not, and if FWB is a
phenomenon that extends beyond college years. Research
with high school students would be useful to determine if
FWB start in college or earlier in the life course.
Since FWB relationships have been understudied in
social science research, it is hoped that the results of the
studies reported here will serve as a foundation for further
exploration. The prevalence of FWB, the challenges that
FWB pose to previous understandings of relationship types,
and challenges faced by those who have FWB provide
reasons for the further study of FWB.
Acknowledgments This article is based, in part, on a portion of the
first author’s M.A. thesis, completed under the direction of the second
author. The authors appreciate the assistance of the Editor.
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... Increasing in popularity among high school and college students, friends with benefits relationships (FWBRs) consist of a sexual relationship between friends that lacks a romantic commitment (Bisson & Levine, 2007). The literature is mixed on youth's satisfaction with FWBRs. ...
... Recent studies indicate an increasing acceptance of casual sexual relationships such as FWBRs, hookups, one-night stands, and booty calls, among others (Claxton & van Dulmen, 2013). FWBRs are a unique subset of casual sexual relationships as they involve sexual activity; however, FWBRs are more likely to involve emotional intimacy and repeated sexual interactions over time (Bisson & Levine, 2007;. Although casual sexual relationship types do overlap, subtle differences exist which can lead to important implications. ...
... Distinguishing between types of casual sexual relationships can have important implications as the motivations for engaging in a FWBR may differ in comparison to seeking a one-night stand. For example, it is possible that youth may be more likely to initiate a FWBR, rather than a hookup, in order to transition into a long-term relationship with that friend considering the likelihood of moderately high intimacy levels in the already existing friendship (Bisson & Levine, 2007). Thus, more research is needed to investigate potential differences in motivations based on type of casual sexual relationship. ...
... Friends spend relatively little time talking about their relationship, rather they remain content maintaining the existing relational state (Guerrero & Chavez, 2005). Other ways romantic relationships differentiate from friendships involve: a strong reciprocal sexual component (Bisson & Levine, 2007;de Jong et al., 2019), exclusivity (Brehm et al., 2002), and emotional intensity or intimacy (Sels et al., 2020). Definitions of romantic relationships commonly include romantic love and sexual contact in contrast to friendships that may exclude these criteria (Bisson & Levine, 2007). ...
... Other ways romantic relationships differentiate from friendships involve: a strong reciprocal sexual component (Bisson & Levine, 2007;de Jong et al., 2019), exclusivity (Brehm et al., 2002), and emotional intensity or intimacy (Sels et al., 2020). Definitions of romantic relationships commonly include romantic love and sexual contact in contrast to friendships that may exclude these criteria (Bisson & Levine, 2007). Individuals indicate romantic and intimate interest, disclose personal information, and devote time to another individual with hopes that these things will be reciprocated (Bedrow et al., 2008). ...
... We clarify distinctions on FWBRs and the friendzone. FWBRs establish understandings of friendships or romantic relationships (Bisson & Levine, 2007) and highlight differences in pre-sexual interaction, friendship strength, and romantic relationships (see Mongeau et al., 2013). The FWBR typology offers one type that focuses specifically on sex exclusively (just sex) or on friendship (true friends), and the other types (successful transition in, accidental transition in, failed transition in, or transition out) highlight the transitionary positionality of FWBRs between friendships and romantic relationships. ...
This study explores the friendzone, or the lexicon surrounding the nexus between platonic and romantic relationships. The friendzone situates layperson and scholarly depictions of platonic and romantic relationships. Minimal scholarship explores this common vernacular from either perspective—those that communicate romantic attraction or those that react. Specifically, this study investigates how initiators (those who communicate interest) and respondents (those who react to declarations) participate in the communicative and relational process of friendzoning. Participants ( N = 787) completed open-ended questions about their friendzone experiences, communication from initiators, reaction of respondents, and changes to friendships. This study utilizes analytic induction to provide further conceptualization and delineation of the friendzone through identifying friendzoning types, initiator communication strategies, respondent reactions, and relationship changes. Findings allowed for: the conceptualizing of the friendzone, highlighting obstacles for navigating non-normative relationship scripts, and identifying risks involved with relationship change.
... As they are traditionally defined, FWBRs combine friendships and ongoing sexual interactions in a context where partners actively avoid, deny, or have no romantic feelings or motivations beyond the casual sex relationship (Bisson & Levine, 2009). Despite their simplistic definition, research indicates that FWBRs are surprisingly complex (Mongeau et al., 2019;Vanderdrift et al., 2012) and differ on relational histories, motivations, and intent (Mongeau et al., 2013). ...
... Talking about the relationship, however, has been considered relational work (Knight et al., 2014)-a communicative chore that is stereotypically avoided in a FWBR. In fact, many FWBR partners actively avoid explicit relational talk altogether (Bisson & Levine, 2009). ...
... Thus, each partner might negotiate tensions between opposing discourses (Baxter, 2011) that reflect their perceptions and motivations for the relationship (Mongeau et al., 2019). As implied by the conceptual definition, the inherent nature of a FWBR is that it is a casual sex relationship; any relational talk, therefore, would directly oppose the arrangement of that relationship type (Bisson & Levine, 2009). The nature of a friendship, particularly a close one, on the other hand, would likely lack that proscription against relational talk. ...
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Establishing communicative and behavioral boundaries in romantic relationships provides partners with a greater sense of relational stability and certainty. For romantic relationships, these boundaries, such as sexual exclusivity, are relatively straightforward. For casual sex relationships, however, the relational rules are less stable and certain. This exploratory study examined rules in friends with benefits relationships (FWBRs) for 109 college students in the USA. Responses to open-ended questions were collected through an online questionnaire, and data were qualitatively analyzed through an inductive thematic analysis. The data were structured into communication rules, sexual rules, and relational definition rules. Results provide overlap and extension of previous work investigating rules in FWBRs. Notably, participants reported sexual exclusivity as an important rule. Additionally, potentially competing discourses in FWBR rules were best understood through the lens of relational dialectics. Findings reflect a tension in terms of relational work, as partners struggle with maintaining their sexual and friendship relationship while not falling into the “territory” of romantic relationships.
... One common feature marking this transition from adolescence to adulthood is when individuals form their own belief and value systems by exploring religion away from parents and religious institutions (Arnett & Jensen, 2002). In addition to belief formation, this developmental stage is also characterized by engagement in sexual risk behaviors, such as having casual sexual relationships and engaging in unprotected sex, which places emerging adults at risk for unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) (Bisson & Levine, 2009;Downing-Matibag & Geisinger, 2009;Garcia, Reiber, Massey, & Merriwether, 2012;Owen & Fincham, 2011;Penhollow, Young, & Bailey, 2007;Puentes, Knox, & Zusman, 2008;Santelli, Brener, Lowry, Bhatt, & Zabin, 1998). ...
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Emerging adults face a disproportionate burden of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, especially in the southern United States. This study investigates how multiple dimensions of current religiosity as well as religious upbringing influence the sexual behaviors, including contraceptive usage, of individuals 18–25 years old (n = 211) in the South. Based on regression analyses, results suggest that emerging adults with higher levels of current religiosity are more likely to remain abstinent, but less likely to use pregnancy prevention methods, such as birth controls pills and long-acting reversible contraceptives. Having a religious upbringing is also associated with lower contraceptive usage. Through the assessment of multiple dimensions of religiosity and various sexual behaviors, this study presents a nuanced picture of the complex associations between religion and sexual health, specifically among emerging adults in the southern United States.
... One of the most common concerns voiced in Weaver et al.'s (2011) qualitative study was a fear of unequal feelings developing in a FWBR, where one individual could develop deeper feelings that their FWB did not reciprocate. Partners in FWBRs often report concern about different relationship expectations (i.e., one partner expects sexual exclusivity while the other does not; e.g., Bisson & Levine, 2009;Weaver et al., 2011). Asymmetrical commitment is not uncommon in romantic relationships Stanley et al., 2011Stanley et al., , 2006Stanley et al., , 2010Stanley et al., , 2004 and is associated with negative outcomes (Oriña et al., 2011;Rhoades et al., 2012), even for partners high in individual commitment (Stanley et al., 2017). ...
Friends with benefits relationships (FWBRs) are a common form of relationship for college students that combine aspects of friendship with sex, yet little is known about commitment in these relationships and whether they are more similar to casual relationships or to romantic relationships. We investigated associations between investment, alternatives, and satisfaction, with commitment (per the Investment Model) in college students' FWBRs and examined how associations between variables differ by participant and partner gender. Primary analyses were conducted with male-female FWBRs (n = 252). Male-male (n = 19) and female-female (n = 4) FWBRs are described. Investment was the strongest predictor of commitment for participants in male-female FWBRs, with commitment higher among women than men when investment was high. Additionally, participants' perceptions that their own and their partners' commitment was asymmetrical, as well as reports of extra-dyadic sexual activity (i.e., sex outside the FWBR) correlated with lower commitment to the FWBR. Overall, results suggest that FWBRs can be distinguished not only from other casual sexual relationships such as hookups but can also be differentiated from romantic relationships. Future research and intervention work should measure commitment and investment to predict how these relationships can persist, as well as transition, over time.
... Hooking up, defined as intimate relations with another person without the expectation of a future relationship, is common among college students (Blanchard et al., 2018;Kenney et al., 2014;Lewis et al., 2012). Approximately, half of college students report hooking up in the last year (Bisson & Levine, 2009;Owen et al., 2010Owen et al., , 2014, and some estimates indicate 70-85% of students hookup at some point during college (Garcia et al., 2012). Much of the prior work in understanding college hookup culture has focused almost exclusively on negative physical outcomes of hooking up such as unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs; Bersamin et al., 2014;Fielder et al., 2014;Scott et al., 2011). ...
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“Hooking up” is prevalent on college campuses and is related to both positive and negative outcomes for students. The current study was an exploratory examination of hookup motives, and positive and negative affect, related to the most recent hookup experience. Participants were 256 U.S. college students who reported hooking up in the last 12 months. Students completed a 30-min anonymous online survey assessing behaviors and cognitions during their most recent hookup, including alcohol use at the time of the hookup, motives for hooking up, and post-hookup affect. The model demonstrated that gender, conformity motives, and social-relationship motives significantly and positively predicted negative affect, whereas enhancement motives negatively predicted negative affect. Coping and enhancement motives significantly and positively predicted positive affect, whereas alcohol use negatively predicted positive affect. This study was a unique examination of hookup motives, with important findings that explained large portions of variance in post-hookup affect. The overall model explained approximately 23% of the variance in negative affect and 49% of the variance in positive affect. Findings highlight that, depending on the hookup motive, hooking up can be associated with positive outcomes, such as positive affect.
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This paper was as goal to know the relation between Sexting self-revealed by 1,364 high school students from Colombia and the Routine Activities Theory. The Sexting and Routine Activities scales are reliable (Alpha> 0.80) and valid, according to the judge of experts. The construct validity of the Sexting scale was determined through Exploratory Factorial Analysis, we found two factors that jointly explain 78.196% of the variance, called Sexting behaviors and Sexting consequences. The results showed that, at least once, students have sent or forwarded (15%) or received (24.8%) photos or videos with explicit sexual content. 29.4% of the young people exhibited Sexting behaviors. Women have a greater tendency to Sexting and the probability of participating in this behavior increases as their degree of study increases. Finally, the binary logistic regression showed that the online adequate objective dimension of the Routine Activities Theory, predicts both Behaviors and Consequences of Sexting, increasing the probability of their occurrence. To prevent Sexting, young people should be made aware of the risks of establishing friendships with strangers through the Internet, posting photos or videos or saving personal information on their cell phone or tablet, indicators of the predictor variable.
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Often viewed as right of passage in emerging adulthood on college campuses, most undergraduate students participate in casual sex during their undergraduate career. Sexual exploration typically continues during study abroad programs; however, these programs have previously been associated with an increase in risky sexual behavior due to a lack of familiar social norms and community. The current study examined the casual sexual relationships of 302 undergraduates participating in Semester at Sea, an eleven country, 106-day voyage which incorporates aspects of a traditional college campus combined with the novel experience of studying abroad. The purpose of this research was to explore students’ casual sexual relationship perceptions and behaviors in the context of a structured and community-oriented study abroad environment. Over half (52%) of the student population completed a series of open-ended questions regarding their uncommitted sexual activity during the Semester at Sea voyage. Results indicated that 16.9% of students engaged in at least one casual sexual relationship over the course of the trip. Casual sex relationships on-board the Semester at Sea voyage were less prevalent than those on traditional college campuses, but casual sex relationships at sea appeared to focus more on the importance of communication and boundaries during the sexual relationship and concluded on a more positive note. It is likely that these decisions were influenced by the established communal culture on-board the ship, which encouraged students to maintain harmonious social relationships and a high level of awareness of others.
The present study expands scholarship on collegiate relationship formation by exploring heterosexual Black HBCU women's romantic aspirations for identity formation. Collegiate environments structure sex and dating. However, extant research has not adequately considered how racialization matters for gender relationship formation in these contexts and has yet to establish how racial, gender, and class identity formation and performance converge to structure Black college women's relational desires and opportunities. The study uses 30 in‐depth interviews with cisgender, heterosexual Black women at an HBCU to investigate their romantic and sexual experiences and expectations. HBCU women's romantic aspirations were organized by their race, gender, and aspirant class locations. They identified committed, monogamous, equitable relationships with similarly situated Black men as a relational ideal. Nonetheless, women expressed barriers to obtaining this relationship structure within their campus landscape and sought to otherwise negotiate romantic opportunities in accordance with respectable middle‐class Black feminine identities. HBCU women's characterizations of ideal partnerships revealed the ways existing race, class, and gender structures are simultaneously accepted, reified, and problematized in Black women's identity negotiation through collegiate romance. Though HBCUs seem ideal for satisfactory sexual and romantic connections for Black middle‐class aspirant women, inequities on and off‐campus and rigid standards for respectability leave women with limited opportunities to obtain all they desire.
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Research on cross-sex friendships has noted the presence of sexual tension in many of these relationships. Yet, to our knowledge, no studies have directly examined the frequency and effect of sexual contact on friendships. This investigation provides an initial look at the prevalence of sexual activity in otherwise `platonic' cross-sex friendships and applies a recently developed model of expectation violations to understand the related consequences of that behavior. Results suggest that approximately half the heterosexual college student population has engaged in sexual activity in an otherwise platonic cross-sex friendship and that the aversive uncertainty within valence model of expectation violations serves as a good framework from which to understand the associated relational outcomes. The findings' implications for research on cross-sex friendships are discussed.
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Predictions derived from Sternberg's (1986) Triangular Theory of Love were tested. Two-hundred- and-four adults completed questionnaires assessing several constructs, including each of the three components of the theory: intimacy, passion and commitment. Results indicated mixed support for the Triangular Theory. As expected, self-reported levels of commitment were higher for the respondents in more serious (i.e. married vs unmarried) relationships. The predicted decline over time in passion emerged only for females, and intimacy levels did not generally display the predicted decline for longer relationships. Commitment was the most powerful and consistent predictor of relationship satisfaction, especially for the longest relationships. Other results indicated a need for more psychometrically sound measures of these constructs, and the desirability of using adult, non-student samples for investigations of romantic love.
This essay extends previous work on uncertainty and information seeking within close relationships by considering how relationship parameters correspond with the directness of people's information-seeking strategies. Because we believe that assumptions of uncertainty reduction theory (Berger & Calabrese, 1975) have been translated into the context of close relationships without attention to the unique features of that domain, we begin by reframing questions about uncertainty to reflect issues relevant to intimate associations. In particular, we reconsider the focus of uncertainty, the function of uncertainty reduction, and the nature of information seeking. We then discuss how relationship intimacy, power dynamics, and information expectancies correspond with information-seeking behavior within close relationships. In doing so, we highlight how the negotiation of relational uncertainty may function to sustain intimate associations.
One of the most prominent features of the current college campus environment is the casual sex practice of the hookup. Hookups are defined as a sexual encounter between two people who are brief acquaintances or strangers, usually lasting only one night without the expectation of developing a relationship (Paul, McManus, & Hayes, 2000). Although there is a vast literature on college students' casual sexual attitudes and behavior, there is little attention to (a) subjective or experiential elements of and (b) the heterogeneity of casual sexual experiences. The goal of this study was to explore the varied phenomenology or experiential reality of college students' casual sexual hookup experiences. A structured questionnaire soliciting open responses regarding college students' views of a typical hookup and reports of their best and worst hookup experiences was administered to 187 college students. Responses were microanalytically content analyzed and globally thematically analyzed. College students' accounts of hookup experiences included behavioral, situational, cognitive, and emotional elements. As expected, although there was relative uniformity in college students' descriptions of a typical hookup, there was wide variation in college students' descriptions of their best and worst hookup experiences. Moreover, whereas there were few differences between males' and females' descriptions of what transpired, there were some sex differences in descriptions of what was felt after actual casual sexual experiences and in interpretations of why experiences were good or bad.
This study investigated attraction in heterosexual cross-sex friendships. Study I used in-depth interviews with 20 dyads (40 participants) to uncover four types of attraction that occur in cross-sex friendships - subjective physical/sexual attraction, objective physical/sexual attraction, romantic attraction, and friendship attraction. These types of attraction are subject to being symmetrical or asymmetrical, and may incur changes over time. Study 11 (N = 231) used a questionnaire to assess the frequency of each type of attraction and the frequency with which types of attraction are perceived to change. The most prevalent form of attraction was friendship attraction, and the least prevalent form was romantic attraction. The implications of these results for understanding both cross-sex friendships and the process of attraction are discussed.
This research investigated the factor structure, reliability and aspects of the construct validity of Sternberg's Triangular Love Scale (TLS). Confirmatory factor analysis showed that the items of the TLS loaded on their designated factors of intimacy, passion and commitment; however, the model fit was poor and the factors were highly correlated. Exploratory factor analysis revealed that numerous items loaded on more than one factor. The subscales had extremely high internal consistencies and adequate 2-month test-retest reliabilities. Scores on all three subscales were related to relationship exclusivity and survival over the 2-month period, but only commitment and passion were related to expectancy for relationship survival. Implications and limitations of the research are discussed.
This study is placed within a dialectic framework, illustrating the contradictory needs that exist for relationship openness and closedness. It explores one type of closedness in close relationships - the `taboo topic'. Ninety ethnographic interviews solicited informant accounts of topics which were `off limits' in the context of an opposite-sex relationship in which they were involved. Results indicated that there were six primary types of `taboo topics': the state of the relationship, extra-relationship activity, relationship norms, prior relationships with opposite-sex parties, conflict-inducing topics, and negatively-valenced self-disclosures. Of these topic categories, the state of the relationship was the most pervasive as a `taboo'. In an analysis of the reasons why topics were `taboo', it was apparent that the informants held a negative vision of relationship talk as destructive, inefficient, futile and risky. Extra-relationship activity, relationship norms, prior relationships, and conflict-inducing topics were avoided largely because of the negative relational metacommunication implicit in those topic categories. The findings are discussed in terms of metacommunication and uncertainty reduction.