How to Be Friends With Benefits

Sometimes you just want to have sex with your friends, and not have it be anything else.

But friends with benefits isn’t the same as no-strings-attached sex. You’re friends, not strangers. Something besides sex brought you together and tied you there. Here’s how to keep it that way.

Talk About It (Yes, You Have to Define the Relationship)

Friends, but you hook up sometimes when one of you is drunk or ovulating? Fingerbang every Tuesday unless one of you has other plans? Live in different cities but go away together every few months for a weekend of vacation sex? Play, but only at the party? Have sleepovers, but only in Mercury retrograde?

What friends with benefits looks like depends on the friendship and the people in it, so start by talking about that together. (If you slept together last night and feel weird about it now, the best way to stop feeling weird is to talk about it, just FYI.) Especially because from one perspective friends with benefits looks pretty similar to one type of ideal romantic partnership — friendship and sex — it’s good to define it not in general but in terms of what it means for everyone involved. “Ask how a FWB relationship would differ from a relationship for both parties so that everyone knows if this type of relationship is possible for them and how they would distinguish it from ‘being friends’ or ‘being in a relationship,'” says Traci Medeiros-Bagan, a therapist and life coach.

When you sit down to talk, be clear with yourself and with each other. “Like most propositions having to do with sex and relationships, the clearer you can be the better. Clarity in these types of negotiations generally has a few parts: (1) Checking in with yourself about what you need, what you want, and what feels comfortable to you. (2) Communicating clearly what you’re hoping for and/expecting. (3) Discussing how to navigate as things shift/change,” says Medeiros-Bagan.

Setting clear expectations and boundaries is key. “I believe that the success of a FWB relationship is about how clear everyone’s expectations are and how well they feel those expectations are met. As human creatures, our attraction and desires for each other may not always line up or be reciprocated but we can strive to engage in kind, mindful, and consensual relationships with one another,” says Medeiros-Bagan.

Get Down

Go for it! Don’t forget to practice safer sex.

What Do You Tell Your Friends?

It can be tricky to know whether and when to tell your circles of friends when you start boning within them. Telling people leaves you open to other people’s narratives and assumptions, but also allows you to be honest and open with more people in your life. Not telling people can feel simpler and, if secrets are one of your kinks, hotter, but also forces you to navigate situations with more finesse and maybe lies. If the two or more of you decide to keep it between the two or more of you, that’s totally okay. If you decide to share it, that’s totally okay, too!

Like with everything else, the key is to have a conversation about it together. How do you want to handle the news? How do you want to act in groups or public? “Since there are two (or more) folks involved and intimate information to be disclosed I would check in with everyone’s comfort level. Whether or not you’re ‘coming out’ and how you’ll interact with each other in front of others is part of clarifying expectations so that everyone is on the same page,” says Medeiros-Bagan.

What Happens If You Develop Feelings?

You already had feelings for your friend before you started having sex together — that’s why you’re friends in the first place. Relationships aren’t all or nothing; there’s more to them than either “you are completely disposable in my life” or “we should Uhaul oh wait we did that 80 years ago.” Feeling warm feelings towards a friend is healthy. Having those feelings grow as you share new experiences — in this case, scissoring — is normal.

So this isn’t about feelings; it’s about what happens if someone starts to want a romantic relationship on top of your sex and friendship.

If you find yourself in that position, feel your feelings. Do the same if you’re in the opposite position. Be honest, both with yourself and with your friend. You can’t get what you want if you don’t acknowledge it and then ask for it, and pretending feelings don’t exist won’t make them go away. “It’s a courageous gift to those we’re in relationships with when we lead with our hearts, and knowing that we can be bold with our desires and withstand the possibility of disappointment is a courageous gift to ourselves,” says Medeiros-Bagan.

Can You Go Back To Being “Just Friends”?

Yes, if you do it right. Start by talking about it; you’ve been having conversations all the way along, so you should be practiced at this together by now. “Be kind but be clear. It’s important that you validate how important the friendship is but it’s also imperative that you only engage with folks in ways that you feel comfortable,” says Medeiros-Bagan.

Most friends with benefits relationships continue as friendships after the benefits end. And about half the time, those friendships stay close or get closer than ever. What makes a difference is keeping things mostly about friendship instead of mostly about sex. According to a 2013 study, people in friends with benefits relationships that were more sex- than friendship-based were more likely to feel deceived, lonely, psychologically distressed, and socially disconnected. People who focused on the friendship parts didn’t feel like that, and if they stayed friends felt as close or even closer than ever.

Jesse Owen, an author of the study and the chair of the counseling psychology department at the University of Denver, explains why in the Washington Post: “People feel closer after intimacy because they feel that they know somebody, and they’d like for that relationship to continue. It’s a different sense of intimacy because there’s this idea of actually caring about the person and following their life story. Even when the intimacy stops, the nature of the friends with benefits is a true friendship. They got to experience more intimate moments that most normal friendships actually involve.”


Lesbian Sex 101 is Autostraddle’s series on how to have lesbian sex for queer women and anyone who finds this information applicable to their bodies or sexual activities.

Sex ed almost never includes queer women or our experiences, so we’re exploring pleasure, safety, relationships and more to make that information more accessible. A lot of the language in these posts is intended to make them easy to find on search engines.

Some of the body parts we talk about will be yours or your partners’ and some won’t. Some of the pronouns will be yours or your partners’ and some won’t. Some of the sexualities will be yours or your partners’ and some won’t. Some of the language will be yours or your partners’ and some won’t. Take what you want and what applies to you or what you can make apply to you and your partners and your experiences, and leave the rest!


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Carolyn Yates is the NSFW Editor and Literary Editor for Autostraddle.com. Her writing has appeared in Bitch, Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Xtra!, Jezebel, and elsewhere. She recently moved to Los Angeles from Montreal. Find her on twitter.

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5 Comments

  1. I’d also like to add the following (merely my opinion but based on real life experience):
    1. If you or the person you’re attempting this with can’t set clear boundaries/expectations upfront don’t do it.
    2. After you’ve set the boundaries/expectations, check-in regularly. The longer a FWB relationship/situation goes on adjustments or reiterations may need to be made because we as people change. Regular check-ins ensure both parties remain on the same page but for Petra’s sake don’t be annoying about it because that’s essentially nagging and no one likes that.
    3. If you’re dating someone regularly or seriously (but maybe not exclusively) and you are/were in a FWB relationship, you should let the person you’re dating know. It’s an uncomfortable conversation to have with someone new but it’s not something you want them finding out about randomly especially if the FWB is still in your life, whatever the capacity. Also if you’re still FWB, another conversation should be had.
    4. Truly think about about the person you’re about to be FWB with. As a casual friend you might not know details about the type of person they are so tread carefully but if you know them, trust in that knowingness and not your genitals. FWB aren’t throw caution to the wind types of situations and they can end VERY badly which can be prevented to a degree by a little due diligence.

  2. Long time reader, first-time commenter! I wish I had this to read a few months ago. I just recently came out of a long-term relationship and began dating a friend I had been crushing on shortly after… only now, I’m feeling like I need a full relationship break/cleanse (I am a serial monogamist who can’t even remember the last time I was actually single) but I still really like hanging out and having sex with her. We never really had the DTR discussion but very early on we started referring to each other as girlfriends so I don’t know if there’s a way to go back without hurting her feelings?

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