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Friends With Benefits

Can this situation ever really work?

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Illustration of man and woman jumping on bed as friends with benefits.
Eleftheria Alexandri
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An ex-boyfriend slid into my DMs a few weeks ago and sent a post that read: Can Friends Have Sex and Still Be Friends? The message landed in my inbox at 1:43 a.m. with no corresponding text. Just a visual. When the alert alarmed later that morning, I opened the message and was shocked. This particular ex was the one who got away. We were in a committed four-year relationship and prior to that, dated on and off for three years. I was living abroad when he was single and available, and he was dating a defense attorney when I returned. The timing was never right — until it was, and when it was … we instantly fell in love.

We traveled the world together. We lived together. We celebrated birthdays, promotions and major life-wins together. And more importantly, we had some pretty amazing sex together — the best I’ve ever had.

Let’s call him Runaway Bae. He and I had an amicable split. At 29, after 1,460 days of exclusively dating, I was ready to graduate from lovers to life partners, and at 33, he just wasn’t there. We often spoke about marriage, or I spoke and he tried to listen, but my fairy-tale future fell on deaf ears. He would say, “in due time, shorty,” and seal his statement with a passionate kiss to the forehead, which was sufficient to hold me over until the next time that burning urge inside reminded me that I wanted, needed and deserved more.

Once I moved past the initial shock of Runaway Bae’s cryptic message, I wondered if everything was OK. This was a major move for the man I knew and loved. Was it a cry for help? Was he reminiscing about that one time in Aruba when we … Or the time we traveled to Greece and didn’t leave our room for 48 hours because we … Or did he simply need someone to talk to? A friend. We were friends.

After considering way too many plausible and implausible scenarios, I decided to check-in. Me: “Hey, how are you?” Him: “Great, and you?” Me: “I’m good. So, about your message …” Him: **silence** Me: **insert thinking-face emoji** Me: “What you think?” Me: “If the sex is good, it can be dangerous.” Him: “Very dangerous.” Me: “You want to grab coffee and catch up?” Him: “Yes, please!” Me: “Cool.”

At the top of the year I was sending a text congratulating him on his engagement — yep, at 41 he’s apparently finally ready to be a husband. Fast-forward two months, and he’s sending me some s**t about friends and sex. That got me thinking. Can a friends-with-benefits arrangement ever really work?

According to a survey of 140,000 people by the Kinsey Institute, only 9 percent would be interested in finding a friend with sexual benefits.

But I wanted to dig deeper. To get to the bottom of this complex topic, I queried a few of the most important people in my life — five girlfriends. Brace yourself for their shockingly insightful perspectives.

Heather Choi, director, Philadelphia
35, married

For independent women who are focused on their careers and do not want to be confined in a committed relationship, hell yes! This friend is not only a friend, but a friend of the opposite sex who comes equipped with benefits. The key is to truly understand what you’re getting into prior to sleeping with said friend and manage expectations. This is not a relationship; it’s sex. If you can handle that hard truth and not secretly hope for more, the sex is an added bonus to the friendship.

Ava Adams, senior manager, Los Angeles
33, single

I’ve always had a lot of male friends. What makes those friendships awesome is that we can share details about our sex lives and no one’s feelings are hurt at the end of the conversation. There is no vested interest romantically. Once you cross those platonic lines and start playing with heart strings, it can get messy. Also, if you and the person were romantically involved, it’s very easy to fall back into relationship mode and reminisce about the good times. I find that when someone wants to keep that door open it’s because they still have feelings for that person and they aren’t ready to truly let them go. So yes, friends can have sex and still be friends if they are responsible enough to deal with the consequences.

Aisha Wilson, financial counselor, Tinton Falls, N.J.
31, married

Two single, consensual adults can have sex and be friends, as long as they both genuinely have no interest in a relationship going forward. If one likes or wants more than the other, it muddies the water. Or, as this sexual friendship progresses and feelings miraculously develop, nookie needs to stop immediately until both parties are clear about each other’s intentions. Now, if either of them is in a relationship and entertaining this idea, it becomes more about enabling bad behavior than a healthy friendship.

Bethany Taylor, supervisor, Homeland Security, New York City
37, engaged

If it’s an old boy from high school that you dated but was never intimate with, go for it. If this person was someone you once loved and adored, it gets a little tricky. It sucks because growth is inevitable. You may reunite with an ex-lover, witness how they have matured, your spirits connect and you begin to imagine what your life would look like with this person now versus back then, even if they aren’t available. If this is the case, the connection is deeper than sex or a friendship — you’re in love! The heart has a mind of its own. I won’t be mad if you risk losing the friendship and choose love.

Jamie Galloway, marketing manager, Washington, D.C.
39, single

From my personal experience, I’m going with a hard NO. I’ve been on both ends of the stick. The pro is that you are familiar with this person and already have a connection through the friendship. The con is someone ALWAYS ends up falling, even when the agreement was not to. I’ve had to end friendships because I either fell or they did. At this point in my life, I wouldn’t cross that line unless we both wanted more than a hookup. There are plenty of other people to just have sex with. Let the friends be off limits, at least after 30.