Friends with benefits: unlike movies, can be complicated
In a poster for the movie “No Strings Attached,” Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher smile at each other while putting their clothes back on in a disheveled bedroom; the tagline reads “Friendship has its benefits.” A similar movie about friends having casual sex and then falling in love also came out this year: “Friends with Benefits.”
These movies are among the influences that have popularized the concept of having casual sex with a friend, but the Hollywood version is not in tune with reality.
“That’s what the media does—it normalizes it,” said sex and relationships lecturer Ivy Chen. “It often puts a really nice, neat ending, with a big red bow on top. But in real life not all couples evolve from a friends with benefits nicely and simultaneously into a romantic relationship. A lot of times the friendships just break up.”
SF State senior Laura Sheets is a full-time personal trainer and kinesiology student, so finding time for a full-time relationship is difficult. She has a friend with benefits and has had them before, but she said this time is different.
“As I’ve gotten older, I think the definition (of friends with benefits) has changed a lot,” Sheets said. “It’s not an excuse to sleep around. It’s not an excuse to ruin your friendships. It’s the companionship that everyone wants, and you just happen to have it with a friend.”
Sheets saw the movie “Friends with Benefits” and said it is not an accurate depiction of that kind of relationship.
“In the movie it’s more of a random hook-up. Well, that’s not friends with benefits. That’s a one night stand to me,” Sheets said. “That, and you’re not going to fall in love at the end of the day.”
While you might not fall in love in a friends with benefits relationship, it possible that you may become attached.
When the body has an orgasm, the brain releases oxytocin. According to Chen, this “attachment hormone” may cause someone to develop feelings for the person they are having repeated sexual encounters which often leads to complications in the friendship.
“It tends to get complicated really fast emotionally, one of the biggest things is that it’s hard for two people to stay at the same level emotionally,” Chen said.
Once someone starts wanting more in the relationship it can lead to jealousy, guilt and unfair pressure.
“It’s often difficult for a friendship to recover from all that, so the two people don’t usually end up being friends after all that,” Chen said.
SF State senior Nick Hanna said that he has had friends with benefits in the past. He thinks these kind of relationships are OK as long as there is clear communications about each of their intentions but that staying friends afterwards can be difficult.
“Humans are needy creatures and we tend to develop feelings whether it’s one person or another,” Hanna said. “Every time I’ve been in one of these situations it kind of goes to crap afterwards, unfortunately.”
Sheets recognizes that this is one of the negative aspects of her relationship. She shuts off her emotions to keep things from getting messy.
“You’re not allowed to feel those emotions. Not so much that you’re not going to, but you’re not allowed to in a friends with benefits relationship, and that can be difficult,” Sheets said.