Thursday, June 24, 2010

How Men and Women View Friends with Benefits Relationships

Friends with Benefits Relationships - we've all heard the term and some of us may even have participated in such a relationship (friendship, sex, no commitment). According to one study, more than sixty percent of men (63.7%) and slightly more than half (50.2%) of women reported experience in a friends with benefits relationship. As one might guess, the men enjoyed the benefits more than the friendship, but the women sought the friendship more than the benefits (McGinty et al., 2007) - although these are generalizations.

A new study confirmed those findings, with the caveat that men actually do value the friendship over the benefits - although they tend to enter into the arrangement for the benefits part, while women seek the emotional connection aspect.

There's more below . . . .

From Discover:

NCBI ROFL: Sex Differences in Approaching Friends with Benefits Relationships


“This research explored differences in how men and women approach “friends with benefits” (FWB) relationships. Specifically, this study examined sex differences in reasons for beginning such involvements, commitment to the friendship versus sexual aspects of the relationship, and partners’ anticipated hopes for the future. To do so, an Internet sample of individuals currently involved in FWB relationships was recruited. Results indicated many overall similarities in terms of how the sexes approach FWB relationships, but several important differences emerged. For example, sex was a more common motivation for men to begin such relationships, whereas emotional connection was a more common motivation for women. In addition, men were more likely to hope that the relationship stays the same over time, whereas women expressed more desire for change into either a full-fledged romance or a basic friendship. Unexpectedly, both men and women were more committed to the friendship than to the sexual aspect of the relationship. Although some additional similarities appeared, the findings were largely consistent with the notion that traditional gender role expectations and the sexual double standard may influence how men and women approach FWB relationships.”

Link to the PubMed abstract.

[Emphasis added.] The finding that both men and women were more committed to the friendship than to the sex overrides the stereotype of men only caring about sex. While sex may be what draws a man into the relationship, the friendship ends up being more important than the sex.

At Psych Central, Dr. John Grohol looked at the Friends with Benefits form of relationships, referencing a study by Puentes and his colleagues (2008), who collected over 1,000 surveys of undergraduates (FWB relationships decline in frequency as people age, so college students are the largest population involved in these relationships).

Grohol makes an important point, in my opinion about the findings in the study in terms of men and sexual expression:

I also think it’s difficult for us, as humans, to separate sexuality from our emotions (even though it appears men are more able to do so than women). Even when men do so, I believe many do so only outwardly. Inside, perhaps unconsciously, they still feel the connection they’re making through sex.

Because sex is more than just a physical act of pleasure. It strips us, if just for a moment, of all of our social masks, and bares our physical desires (and some might argue, our souls) to the other person. While men may deny that happens, I can’t help but believe it does. Maybe not in everyone, but I think in more men than research shows.

I tend to agree with Grohol here - and I think this is born out by the findings in the new study that men end up valuing the friendship more than the sex. Whether they know it or not, the intimacy that comes with sexual expression forges an emotional connection - only the most callous or unconscious person (man or woman) can have an on-going sexual relationship and not become emotionally connected to their partner.

Anyway, back to the study - the researchers came away with the following observations on these friends with benefits relationships:

1. Males. Over sixty percent of the men (63.7%) compared to slightly over half (50.2%) of the women reported experience in a friends with benefits relationship. While not statistically significant, McGinty et al. (2007) also found men more likely participants and concluded that, “men focus on the benefits, women on the friends” aspect of the friends with benefits relationship. Previous research comparing men and women has emphasized that men think more about sex, report a higher number of sexual partners, and engage in more frequent sexual encounters than women (Michael et al., 1994).

2. Casual daters. Respondents who were casually dating different people (76.3%) were significantly more likely to report experience in a FWBR than those emotionally involved with one person (49.3%) or not dating/involved with anyone (49.9%). It is clear that while the respondents were having sex with a friend, they did not define the relationship as a dating relationship that was going anywhere. To the contrary, the participants had a dating life (or were open to one) with different people that was separate from the friends with benefits relationship.

3. Hedonist. Undergraduates selecting hedonism (82.2%) as their primary sexual value were significantly more likely to be involved in a friends with benefits relationship than those selecting relativism (52.3%) or absolutism (20.8%). Unlike relativists who prefer sex in the context of a love relationship and absolutists who won’t have sex outside of a marriage relationship, hedonists are focused on sexual pleasure, not the relationship with the person.

4. Sex without love. It comes as no surprise that participants in a FWBR were adept at having sex independent of love. Indeed, over 80 percent of participants in a FWBR reported that they had had sex without love, compared to 13.4% of non participants who preferred sex in the context of a love relationship. This difference was statistically significant.

5. Nonromantic/realist. In contrast to romantics who believed that there is only one true love/love comes only once, nonromantics (also known as realists) viewed this belief as nonsense. Analysis of the data revealed that undergraduate realists who believed that there were any number of people with whom they could fall in love (57.9%) were significantly more likely to be a participant in a friends with benefits relationship than were undergraduate romantics who believed in one true love (44.7%).

In effect, nonromantics believe that they would have many opportunities to meet/fall in love and that a friends with benefits relationship would not cancel out their chance of doing so. Hughes et al. (2005) also found that persons involved in a friends with benefits relationship had a pragmatic view of love.

6. Question deep love’s power. Participants were less likely than nonparticipants to believe that deep love can help a couple get through any difficulty. Slightly over half (52.7%) of participants in a FWBR reported they did not believe in the power of deep love compared to over 60% (62.3 %) of nonparticipants who did believe in such power. We interpret this finding as another example of participants being nonromantic realists who were not focused on romantic love in their relationships.

7. Jealousy. Undergraduates identifying themselves as a jealous person (58.8%) were significantly more likely to be involved in a friends with benefits relationship than those who did not view themselves as jealous (51.1%). We are not sure how to interpret this data as we would assume just the opposite. Nevertheless, the data show that participants are more jealous. Perhaps those having sex with a friend wonder how many other sexual partners their “friend” has and want to feel that they are “special” and “unique.”

8. Blacks. In regard to racial differences, over sixty percent of blacks (62.5%) in contrast to over half of the whites (52.9%) reported involvement in a friends with benefits experience. Previous research comparing blacks and whites on interpersonal issues revealed that blacks valued romantic relationships less than whites, were less involved in an exclusive relationship, and were less disclosing in intimate relationships (Giordan et. al., 2005). Data from the National Survey of Family and Households also revealed great instability of black compared to white marriages (Raley 1996). A “friends with benefits” relationship which provides minimal emotional investment for a sexually involved couple is not inconsistent with relationship instability.

9. Higher class rank/age. The more advanced the undergraduate in class rank, the more likely the undergraduate reported involvement in a friends with benefits relationship: freshmen = 45.4%, sophomore = 55.1%, junior = 55.2% and senior = 62%. As might be expected, the older the student, the more likely the FWBR involvement with those 20 and older being more likely. We suspect that age increases one’s opportunity for a FWRB experience and that older undergraduates given the opportunity for a FWFR are more likely to cash in.

10. Money focused. When asked about their top value in life, undergraduates identifying financial security (67.9%) were significantly more likely to be in a friends with benefits relationship than those who identified having a career that they loved (53.9%) or having a happy marriage (48.5%) as their primary life value. Seemingly, the pursuit of money was more important than a love relationship moving toward commitment or marriage and they (participants in a friends with benefits relationship) took sex in whatever convenient context they could get it.

Reference for this study:

Puentes, J., Knox, D. & Zusman, M.E. (2008). Participants in ‘friends with benefits’ relationships. College Student Journal, 42(1), 176-180.

One of the interesting break-downs for me is the difference in worldviews among those surveyed - percentages are those who hold those views and participate in FWBRs:

Relativism (52.3%) - sex in loving relationship is primary goal
Hedonism (82.2%) - sexual pleasure is primary goal
Absolutism (20.8%) - no sex before marriage is primary goal
The piece that interests me about this is this correlation in worldviews here with developmental stages. The relativist perspective is generally seen as the postmodern worldview, favoring emotional and communal aspects of relationship and culture, while the hedonist is a more strategic, rational way of approaching the world, and the absolutist perspective tends to be more authoritarian and "law and order" based, in which sex before marriage is a sin as decried by God.

There are a few other studies available for free online, here are the references:

Grello, C.M., Welsh, D.P. & Harper, M.S. (2006). No Strings Attached: The Nature of Casual Sex in College Students. The Journal of Sex Research; August: 43(3), pp. 255–267.
ABSTRACT: The purpose of this article was to identify the circumstances associated with casual sex encounters, as well as to identify the link between casual sex, depressive symptoms, and infidelity among college students. We found that casual sex was a fairly common occurrence related to early sexual transition, engaging in first sex with a casual sex partner, drug use, and alcohol consumption. Casual sex occurred more often between “friends” than with strangers. Depressive symptoms were associated with engaging in casual sex differently for males and females. Males who engaged in casual sex reported the fewest symptoms of depression, and females who had a history of casual sex reported the most depressive symptoms. Frequencies of affectionate and genital behaviors were associated with expectations of the relationship, the relationship to the partner, infidelity, and the individual’s relationship style. We discuss results in light of evolutionary and sociocultural theories of sexuality.
Bisson, M.A. & Levine, T.R. (2007). Negotiating a Friends with Benefits Relationship. Archives of Sexual Behavior. DOI 10.1007/s10508-007-9211-2.
ABSTRACT: Friends with benefits (FWB) refers to ‘‘friends’’ who have sex. Study 1 (N = 125) investigated the prevalence of these relationships and why individuals engaged in this relationship. Results indicated that 60% of the individuals surveyed have had this type of relationship, that a common concern was that sex might complicate friendships by bringing forth unreciprocated desires for romantic commitment, and ironically that these relationships were desirable because they incorporated trust and comfort while avoiding romantic commitment. Study 2 (N = 90) assessed the relational negotiation strategies used by participants in these relationships. The results indicated that people in FWB relationships most often avoided explicit relational negotiation. Thus, although common, FWB relationships are often problematic for the same reasons that they are attractive.
Hughes, M., Morrison, K. & Asada, K.J.K. (2005). What's Love Got To Do with It? Exploring the Impact of Maintenance Rules, Love Attitudes, and Network Support on Friends with BenefitsRelationships . Westem Journal of Communication; January, 69(1), pp. 49-66,
ABSTRACT: Friends with benefits relationships (FWBRs) are defined as relationships between cross-sex friends in which the friends engage in sexual activity but do not define their relationship as romantic. Relationship scholars have only recently begun to examine these relationships, despite their mention in the popular media (e.g., HBO's 'Sex in the City,' MTV's 'True Life,' 'Seinfeld,' and the New York Times). This study explored the relationship between FWBRs and maintenance rules, love attitudes, and network communication and support. Respondents (N = 143) completed self-report surveys in which they described their FWBRs, their perceived rules for maintenance, perceptions of same-sex network cottmiunication and support, and the current status of their FWBRs. They also completed the short form of the love attitude scale (Hendrick, Hendrick, & Dicke, 1998). The findings suggest that people tend to communicate their FWBR experiences to their same-sex friends and, in general, receive supportive responses. Although attitudes toward love (e.g., agape) did not impact rules for maintenance of FWBRs, attitudes toward love did influence motivations for FWBRs and the outcomes of these relationships.

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