Friends with benefits – How to make such relationships work for you

Written by:

Winston Lam

Winston Lam

Winston is a psychologist who is passionate about the underlying mechanisms that influence social interactions, human behaviour, and self improvement.


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FWB – or friends with benefits – as you might see sometimes on Grindr, is a type of relationship common among gay men. It refers to a relationship where both men hang out with each other as friends, but also have sex with each other occasionally. Note that it’s not the same as having a regular sex buddy, or a romantic relationship; the foundation of a “friends with benefits” relationship is friendship, not sex or romance.

So, does it work?

Feel good – for now

Studies have shown that people feel good about their FWB relationships. Unfortunately, such relationships tend not to last. A study of close to 200 people who were in FWB relationships found that after one year, only a quarter of them were still FWBs.

What happened to the rest, you ask?

Well, 15% of the 200 became romantic partners; about 30% went back to just being friends; and the last 30% stopped having any kind of relationship. The results show that there is not one obvious path that follows – except, perhaps, that the majority of FWBs do not become boyfriends.

In fact, for those who had serious romantic relationships as their goal when they made their FWBs, only 15% succeeded. When one and only one party falls in love with the other, the imbalance of the dynamic can be destructive and painful. You also have to be prepared for the possibility of your FWB finding a romantic partner and ending the arrangement with you.

FWB for most people are relatively short-term in nature, because sexual attractions cease eventually. Whether you stay friends or not depends on whether the relationship before was more focused on the friendship component or the sex component.

One interesting thing to note is that it is not thought of as a “downgrading” of the relationship when people go back to just being friends. Many of those surveyed reported feeling even closer to their ex-FWBs than before. That may be because these people are or have grown mature enough to be able to handle the intricate dynamics of FWBs. And, they communicated with each other more.

Talk it out

The abovementioned study also found that people who maintained some form of relationship after becoming FWB communicated more about boundaries and expectations, when compared to those who stopped having any form of relationship after the FWB ended.

One reason may be that many people believe the whole point of being FWBs is that it is casual and easy. If you have to talk about it, it defeats the purpose of such an arrangement.

But what these peope might not realise is that communication does not have to be tense or emotionally draining. Any meaningful relationship requires tending, and communication is a big part of that.

Communication about rules, boundaries, and expectations is key. Be clear with yourself and your FWB: Do you see this as a precursor to a committed relationship? Or do you have an expiration date in mind?

FWB relationships are mostly not going to last. But, if you are able to remain friends after the benefit part ends, you are likely to end up with a stronger and more fulfilling friendship.

Friendship, romance and sex do not have to be put into distinct boxes. They overlap sometimes, and embracing that can open many possibilities.

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