How To Have A Successful Friends-With-Benefits Relationship, According To Science

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle
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When you're not looking for something serious but still crave intimacy of the horizontal kind, a friends-with-benefits relationship really hits the spot. Yes, rom-coms are still telling us that no-strings-attached arrangements always end up in heartache or marriage — and are most likely to be initiated by a man — but it's 2017, and toxic, heteronormative, patriarchal monogamy culture doesn't have to reign supreme any longer. In fact, thanks to research by intrepid sexologists over the past decade, we now know a few more foolproof ways to handle a FWB situation.

Like many a seasoned practitioner, I have reaped the benefits and suffered the setbacks from having sex with my friends. Some situations were fun and lighthearted, some ended awkwardly, and others continue to haunt my dreams in the best way possible. The common denominator is that at the core was a friendship that existed before we hit the sheets — that's the difference between a FWB and a casual hookup after all. Although the terms may be used interchangeably, to me, a "f*ck buddy" isn't a friend with benefits. The former centers the sex, and the latter centers the friendship.

So if you're looking to get it on with a friend, here are 7 things to keep in mind to survive a FWB hookup:

1Consider The Stakes

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Are you prepared to shift your friendship into something a little less platonic? Before you decide, it's important to be aware of how you respond to casual sex. According to research by sexologist Dr. Zhana Vrangalova, those who benefit most from casual sex have a less restrictive "sociosexual orientation" — which is basically a sum of both genetic and cultural factors that impact your feelings after a low key hookup.

If you tend to become romantically attached after sexual intimacy, then a FWB might not be the best choice, but if you're pretty flexible with your feelings after sex, then you're likely good to go. If you're somewhere in the middle, however, it might be worth dipping a toe into the pool first (like a makeout only session) and checking in with yourself about how it feels.

2Set Ground Rules

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In a 2009 study that analyzed 90 college students who had engaged in at least one FWB encounter, only 11.1 percent of couples set mutually agreed upon ground rules, while 73.3 percent didn't broach the subject at all. One can only hope that with the rise of consent culture and the wealth of sex positive info available online since then that more folks are talking before they hit the sheets. But regardless of what anyone else is doing, it always helps to communicate with your sexual partners whether they're friends or strangers.

3Practice Safe Sex

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Safe sex is a must in any encounter, but it's particularly important that you don't let prior closeness with your FWB lead to assumptions about their STI status. It can be awkward to talk about safe sex, but, hey, at least you're amongst friends!

4Keep Communication Lines Open

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Laying ground rules in the beginning of your FWB hang is helpful, but so is communicating along the way. If you're suddenly not feeling it, or feeling it way too much to handle at the moment, let your friend know.

5Feelings Of Attachment Are OK

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Contrary to popular belief, feelings of connectedness to your friend with benefits can actually be helpful. A recent study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that emotional investment in a friends with benefits relationship was one of the factors that made for a happy FWB hookup. According to 171 college student subjects, a willingness to sacrifice for their FWB partner was also on the list of traits that made the relationship work well.

So although catching feelings is one of the top reasons many people don't try the FWB thing, there are ways to care for and feel emotionally connected with someone and not want them to be a serious partner.

6Expect Your Friendship To Change

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Is it unrealistic to think you can sex your friend(s) and then keep on being friends if you stop having sex? A 2013 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior says things will change, but not how you might think. After researchers surveyed over 1,000 college students about FWBs, 80 percent said they remained friends with their former FWB, and 50 percent reported feeling as close or closer to their ex-FWB partner than before the benefits started. 30 percent, on the other hand, were not as close after sex became part of their friendship.

The bottom line? Your friendship will absolutely be different after a FWB relationship — but it won't necessarily be for the worse. In fact, a friends-with-benefits hookup could be just what the doctor ordered to help you build a connection with an existing friend, and practice intimacy in new, pleasurable ways. Just be sure you're ready for it, and if you think you are, take the precautions you need to enjoy it to the max.