By Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP
According to the urban dictionary, ‘friends with benefits’ are defined as “Two friends who have a sexual relationship without being emotionally involved.”
Wait a minute… didn’t someone say that once people see each other naked they can’t be friends?
In my experience working with people, I have found that those who have acted on what is now termed, “friends with benefits” often end up as “friends with complications” – or not friends at all.
Both men and women who sleep with a friend often start out believing, or telling themselves and each other “It’s no big deal. Why not?”
The reality seems to be that it is a big deal emotionally – if not for both, often for one. Sleeping with a friend changes the definition of the relationship in terms of physical boundaries, emotional connection, conscious and unconscious expectations, view of self and other.
Whatever ground rules are set, adding sexual intimacy to friendship ushers in more than sexual release:
- For some it brings to the surface a wish to be loved, a desire for more connection than was intended.
- For some it escalates a fear of being trapped by expectations that change the comfort of the friend connection.
- For those who feel caring and protective of each other, there is a fear of being exploited or guilt for exploiting.
- For others a feeling of exposure limits the previous freedom of disclosure – Can you really tell the friend, with whom you just slept, of your interest in another man or woman? Can you really complain about your weight gain or hair loss to a friend without complicating sexual desire with self-consciousness?
- For many, there is a lingering feeling of not being good enough to be the real spouse, lover or committed partner – only the sexual friend.
- For too many, it jeopardizes the friendship because it collides with the many other roles friends freely choose to play in each other’s lives.
If people are really friends – they were enjoying mutual “benefits” long before they decided to sleep together.
- Friends, whether at age six or eighty-six, are crucial ingredients in physical and emotional well-being.
- Friends are the “peers” and “chums” who offer inclusion, belonging, learning and laughter.
- Long time friends are the mile markers who bear witness to who we were, what we have faced, and how we have arrived.
- Friends are the people who offer a different view than family or become a second family.
- Friends are the people who meet our family and become extended family.
- Friends are the people that mirror passions and expand our lives beyond our partners.
- Friends are the people who have attunement to a special dimension that we value in ourselves.
- Friends are the people who make us feel valued by their trust and reception of our help.
- Friends are the people who are similar and different from us but whom we treasure for their unique gifts.
- Friends are the people for whom time and distance make no difference in connection.
- Friends are the people who enhance our sense of sexual desire by validating us, affirming our assets and applauding our victories.
It would seem that all friends are ‘friends with benefits’.
It may be too risky to believe that sleeping with a friend is a benefit!
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