If there’s any sexual activity that’s gotten way, way more popular in the past few years, it’s ye olde friends with benefits. That’s not just my opinion: it’s research. And while that’s great news for anyone interested in alternative relationship configurations, the friends with benefits setup does require some solid interpersonal skills — if you’d like to avoid drama.
When you’re a pacifist, pleasure-loving individual, who’d also very much enjoy a friends with benefits arrangement, not to worry. Justin Lehmiller has some research-backed pointers on FWB’s and what makes them successful, on everything from initiation to maintenance. (We interviewed him on that very subject.) So here are six steps to pursuing one, without undue tears/angry texts/general malaise. Right this way for benefits—the friendly, sexy kind.
Step 1: Be selective.
If you’d like to initiate a friends with benefits dynamic, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to be picky. Just because it’s not an “official” relationship doesn’t mean you have to throw standards out the window, so when assessing potential candidates, here are three things to think about:
- Am I attracted to them?
- Are they a good communicator? (More on that in a moment)
- Are the circumstances conducive to this?
The first one should be easy to assess, the second we’ll cover more in-depth. But the third question is crucial, because the best candidate will likely be someone who already occupies some healthy distance in your life. A family friend? Yeah, that’s asking for a weird Thanksgiving. Your coworker? Maybe, but then again…could go south, fast. The yogi you met at the gym who’s sexy as hell, but not someone you’d want to pursue a serious relationship with? Now you’re talking.
Step 2: Set the ground rules.
Justin says that in his research, the FWB’s who are most successful prioritize communication, and get that piece down first. Mutual attraction is the easy part, folks! What you’re really looking for is someone who can answer the following questions:
- What are you looking to get out of this?
- Are you OK with the things I want from this?
- Is there anything off-limits? Sexual activities, couple-y behaviors, etc?
If you can navigate this conversation, and find the other person to be mature and realistic in doing so, then congratulations: you may have just found yourself a playmate! But a word of caution here — it’s a lot easier to do this with someone who wants the same things you do, rather than convincing someone to try it.
So be aware that in the initial communication, you should be clear that this isn’t a trial period for an actual relationship, or an on-ramp to something more serious. Don’t be a smooth talker; be frank, honest, and a good listener. That will help both parties make a wise decision.
Step 3: Have sex…safely.
You’re doing it: you’re accruing “benefits!” Yay you. But even if emotional expectations have been managed, your fertility and STI status are just as serious. So while this one is (hopefully) obvious, give your FWB arrangement some standard protocols:
- Use contraception, and communicate about it openly
- Have both parties get tested in advance of play time
- Create a communication policy around outside partners and STI status
These rules will not only keep things drama-free, but will also help keep your communication skills in check. Which brings me to:
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