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Can You Be Friends With Benefits Without It Getting Messy?

How to be friends with benefits
PHOTO: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Raise your hand if you've ever attempted a friends with benefits relationship. Now, raise your hand if you are… no longer friends with that "benefit." (Hi, yup, same.)

That's because the whole FWB dynamic is a hard thing to navigate—like, for anyone. Any time you mix friends with pleasure, it makes for an interesting mix of hormones, endorphins, maybe feelings, and maybe attachment issues. Trust me when I say, I! Have! Been! There!

But if you actually look at the breakdown of FWBs, the numbers aren't too-too bad. According to this study conducted by social psychologist Justin Lehmiller, 31 percent of FWB relationships end without a friendship completely, which, yes, sucks. But 15-17 percent progress to a romantic relationship, and 45-51 percent remain friends after le benefits end. (That’s like half of all FWBs!)

Basically, there's a good chance that if you, yourself want to try it, you can totally make a FWB work and reap those horny benefits. It just might take lots of open communication, patience, and some rules to abide by with your partner. So here's your official guide on how to make a friends with benefits relationship work, according to experts who know what they're actually talking about.

But before you embark on this journey, just know that this is something you should be fully consenting and agreeing to. Don't let someone convince you or talk you into trying a FWB if you’re not completely down with it. If you’re on board though, right this way…


Limit how many times you’re seeing them per week.

Katherin Winnick, sex coach at, suggests meeting no more than two times per week—three maximum. "Don't spend too much time with this partner because if you start meeting more than three times, you will grow attached to them," she advises.

Decide beforehand how often you'd like to see each other, but allow for the occasional "WYD?" text too.

Avoid spending the night together.

"Anything more than just having sex and aftercare will make this grow into a relationship, which is something you don't want," says Winnick. You can cuddle, check-in with each other, and assess the relationship post-sex, just don't linger in those feelings or sheets.

Establish how open you will be with each other regarding other relationships.

Basically, will you vent to each other about your other sexual conquests? Or will it be a "don't ask, don't tell" kind of sitch?

Clinical psychologist and relationship advisor to Online for Love Brenda Wade suggests you "agree on how much truth-telling you want about other dates or involvement." Basically, do you want to know who else they're messing around with or would you rather not?

Ask yourself how you'd feel if your fwb entered a monogamous relationship.

While the knee-jerk reaction to this might be "lol of course not, I don't care!" you should be real and concrete about your reaction to yourself, explains Sarah Hewitt, LMFT. There's nothing wrong with admitting that you'd be even a little hurt to lose a good sex partner.


Be okay with the fact that your friendship may change either way.

Rebecca Newman, MSW, LCSW says an important part of a FWB arrangement is to acknowledge that the relationship will b different as a result of any sexual interactions you may have. You see a whole new side of that person that you hadn't seen before, and as a result, you may have to update your definition of friendship.

Understand that just because you're not dating, that doesn't mean you don't have to check in with each other.

Just because you and your FWB aren't going on consistent dates or outings, doesn't mean you're off scot-free and never have to check in with them. "Less structure also means that one must make more decisions on how to proceed in a variety of circumstances," explains Jessy Warner-Cohen, PhD, MPH, at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

Remember to be a good friend.

If you care about this person enough to have nurtured a platonic relationship with them beforehand, that shouldn't stop just because you started sleeping with each other. Just like being a good platonic friend requires checking in and making sure one person isn't giving more into the relationship, so should a friend (with benefits.) "An inequitable relationship, on any level of intimacy, can be emotionally draining." says Warner-Cohen.

Don't confuse fwb with "no strings attached."

Love and sex expert Sheri Meyers, PsyD, says that in order to pull off this arrangement, you have to understand the situation first. "There's a huge difference between 'friends with benefits' and 'no strings attached,'" she says. The first is that you're friends but you're also agreeing to get busy together, while the second is no expectations, just sex. Have an agreement ahead of time so you're clear on what's really going on.


Pick the right friend.

Think carefully about how your relationship with a potential FWB might evolve if you added sex to it and how you’d deal if for some reason you two became less close. You don’t want to end up losing a close confidante if your FWB adventure goes awry. Your best friend since childhood who’s also your emergency contact? Probably not the best candidate. Your cute coworker three desks down? Also not optimal. That friend of your cousin's who’s hot but whom you just don’t see yourself having a full-blown relationship with? Now that's more like it.

Understand that feelings might develop.

It's important to consider if your approach to relationships will allow you to become sexually involved and stay friends, Meyers says: "You may enter the situation going, 'I don't want commitment, this is so much easier,' but the minute you start kissing, the oxytocin stars flowing and your emotions get in the way." On the flip side, he could be the one who starts wanting more, which could get awkward if you don't feel the same.

Prep yourselves for safe sex.

You are by definition not obligated to be monogamous with an FWB, so it's super important that your protection game is on point. In other words, condoms are a must, and if you're in the habit of spontaneous meet-ups, it's smart for both of you to carry them. This is also no time for anyone to be shy about wanting or needing to use lube. You're here for a good time, so equip yourself with what you need to have one safely and comfortably.

Keep communicating.

The only way this FWB relationship will work is if the two of you are totally honest about how you feel from the get-go and continue to talk it out when needed, Meyers says. Not only is it important to speak up about changing needs and desires (like, if one of you meets someone), but you should also talk about what you like and don't in bed—that's what this is all about, right?

Set boundaries.

"Find out exactly what you're really saying yes to," says Meyers. The more specific you are about setting guidelines—How often are you going to see each other? Will you stay over at each other's places?—the better the arrangement will work.

Monitor relationship-y behavior.

Keep hugging, kissing, and cuddling—especially in public—to a minimum, Meyers advises: "You have to stay detached or it's going to become a romantic relationship, which changes all the rules." You can also keep boundaries in place by not leaving stuff like toothbrushes and clothes at each other's places.

Don't treat them like a stand-in partner.

Yes, you two are friends, meaning—presumably—that you get along and have a good time together. And that’s great! But think twice before making your FWB your date to your college BFF's wedding or inviting them to dinner with your parents. Casual hangouts are one thing, but including them in significant or intimate moments in your life as if they were your partner can blur the lines that you worked so hard to draw.


Reassess if you get jealous.

People typically don't get jealous of the people their friends date unless they have feelings for them, Meyers says. So, if you're irked when you see him talking to girls on Instagram, you have to speak up—and maybe even end the FWB situation. Better to address your emotions head-on rather than squash them down only for them to bubble up into resentment later.

Don't make it all about the sex.

If this is truly a FWB and not "no strings attached," you are welcome and encouraged to sustain the "friends" part of that by continuing to do whatever activity or hobby brought you together as friends in the first place. If/when the sex stops, ideally you'll come out the other side still being friends.

Speak up if you want more.

While you should never enter an FWB arrangement with someone you actually want to date—Don't sell yourself short!—some FWBs do become partners. That can only happen if someone speaks up, though, so if you want a greater commitment from you FWB, say so. If you two are on the same page, awesome. If not, then you have the knowledge you need to move on to look for a connection that truly makes you happy.


This article originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by the editors.