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Sex

Before Having Sex With Friends, It's Best to Set Some Rules

Sexual, communication, and relational.

Key points

  • Decide whether you will be open or discrete with each other.
  • Emotional connections and jealousy should be restricted.
  • Develop rules on what type of sex acts are allowed.
Karthigamage, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Source: Karthigamage, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

If you have friends you would like to have sex with, but you don’t want to have a romantic relationship with them, or, perhaps, you’re already in a romantic relationship or marriage but still want to have sex with friends and you’re going to have sex with friends, what do you do? Lisa J. van Raalte and colleagues suggest you might want to have rules each of you follow: “Establishing communicative and behavioral boundaries in romantic relationships provides partners with a greater sense of relational stability and certainty.”

In a romantic relationship a common rule is sexual exclusivity. But is this true for friends with benefits relationships (FWBRs)? To find out they surveyed over one hundred college students in an online open-ended question format, which included a diversity of ethnicities and sexualities. The reported FWBRs lasted on average 1.25 years. Clearly, many of the young adults had or were currently struggling “with maintaining their sexual and friendship relationship while not falling into the ‘territory’ of romantic relationships.” To help them out, they developed “rules” that maintained the status of their relationships. These fall into three types: communication, sexual, and relational rules.

Communication rules

Nearly three-quarters reported they and their FWBR partner developed rules focused on whether either one should disclose or hide their personal feelings about the relationship, and under what conditions each could break the rule. In particular, they had rules about honesty and openness with each other. Examples include: “Do not lie to each other”; “If you start to want more sex, talk to the other person and see where they stand”; and “You cannot be seeing anyone else sexually without letting the other know.”

Rules also included guidelines about when communication should be restricted, such as, if either one has an extra-dyadic sexual encounter, “We keep it to ourselves.” Other guidelines restrict topics they cannot talk about such as, “No discussion of our past relationships, friends, or family.” To maintain the friendship rather than the romantic aspect of the relationship, emotional issues such as attachment and jealousy should be avoided: “You are not allowed to get jealous if they are with someone else.”

Sexual rules

Two-thirds of the young adults described rules about sexual activity within and outside the FWBR. These included whether their FWBR is exclusive or not and the types of sex acts allowed within and outside the FWBR. Examples include, “We can’t date or sleep with anyone else” or “It is fine to sleep with other people.”

There were also rules related to the contextual features of their sex. For example, “We only hook up when drinking or staying the night” or “No sex with another partner the same day.” Few had rules about safe-sex practices; more common were guidelines about the type of sex that could occur: “We can do everything except vaginal intercourse.”

Relational rules

About one-tenth reported relational rules. One could, for example, specify termination conditions of the FWBR: “If either of us want to start dating other people we stop our hook-up sessions for that time.” Another rule clarified the nature of their relationship: “Do not start talking about a long-term serious relationship when we know we both just want to have sex with each other and nothing more” and “We are attracted to each other but can never become a real couple.” After the relationship ends, they might agree they’ll remain friends and “Don’t ‘get weird,’ sex is just sex.”

Would more marriages and romantic relationships survive if they were as explicit as the FWBRs? At least these individuals are talking about critical issues.

Facebook image: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock

References

van Raalte, L.J., Bednarchik, L.A., Generous, M.A, & Mongeau, P.A. (2022). Examining rules in friends with benefits relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 51, 1783–1792. doi:10.1007/s10508-021-02114-5

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