We’ve all heard the term ‘friends with benefits’, right? But what does it actually mean? And how can you be sure that you and your partner are both on exactly the same page?
Of course, like many things, the idea of what constitutes a casual relationship can differ greatly depending on who you ask. But the common thread seems to be single adults who are both physically attracted to one another and enjoying an intimate relationship but where neither wants to commit to traditional relationship labels.
Perhaps surprisingly, we see there are some potential benefits in exploring the idea of casual sex experiences. As a young adult, casual dates, and perhaps the odd one-night stand, can be a great way to learn about yourself and your sexual preferences without having to commit to a full-fledged relationship. It can be an opportunity to build up positive experiences and grow in confidence, knowledge and skills that will almost certainly benefit you when you choose to enter a committed relationship in the future.
Casual sex relationships can offer the freedom you need to understand more about what you want from a meaningful relationship. In a crude sense, as long as both partners are clear about the situation, casual dating gives you a real opportunity to work out likes and dislikes before mistakenly launching into a romantic relationship.
That’s the important part though: ‘as long as both partners are clear about the situation’. That’s the part where casual relationships often come unstuck. Because there is always the possibility that one party develops an emotional connection, wanting to take the relationship further. And what happens then?
Being clear and up front about intentions from the get go is key to ensuring you both get what you need from the relationship. Set boundaries and expectations. Just because something is casual doesn’t mean there can’t be rules. Try to set an understanding that you’ll be open and honest with one another. Lack of commitment is fine if that’s the game plan, but lack of respect is absolutely not fine.
And learn to talk to one another about sex. That may sound or feel hard, but making sure you both know what one another wants when it comes to the bedroom is important in ensuring one of you doesn’t inadvertently get hurt. Try to avoid lying simply to spare your partner’s feelings or make them feel more important to you than they actually are. In the long run this is not kind and can lead to all sorts of problems. If you are not able to be honest with one another, it’s just not worth it.
As we go through life we take meaning from our experiences, particularly our relationships. We gain an understanding of ourselves, who we are and how we deal with situations. We analyse thoughts and feelings about what’s going on and what we believe the other person in the relationship to be thinking or feeling, rightly or wrongly. If the relationship is particularly good or bad, this meaning-making only intensifies.
But this all takes an awful lot of energy.
What if entering a truly casual relationship can give us a break from this constant meaning-making? What if it can allow us to take a break from the analysis and the ‘what iffing’ and the constant need to be driving forward and going somewhere?
If you’re able to create a healthy relationship – and by that we mean a healthy emotional relationship – where both parties are in it purely for their own enjoyment. One where you have built a respect for one another and are willing to be open and honest about that your wants and needs. Then you might find it will give you a break from that exhausting meaning-making and allow you to enjoy sex for what it is. A physical connection, a sexual relationship, without the emotional intimacy part and without the need to change your relationship status on Facebook. Put simply, ‘no strings attached sex’ can be purely for fun.
If you feel drawn to having a casual relationship, that is absolutely fine. In fact the idea of not having to commit to one person is beneficial for many people, depending on what they want to get out of it. Remember it's important to be up front and communicate well, but don’t expect to take too much meaning away from the relationship. Take it for what it is, something that may be beneficial at a point in time and may help us learn our wants and desires for the future. But don't expect that it will give you the rich experience of a monogamous, emotionally intimate long-term relationship.
And if you find that casual relationships are your preference in the long term, it may be worth exploring your feelings around relationships with a therapist. While we can fill short term needs with a ‘friend with benefits’, it’s unlikely that this will continue to make you happy longer term.