Culture & Society

Finding The ‘Friend’ In Friends-With-Benefits

Even in a relationship as present-day as friends-with-benefits, men fix ground rules and tilt the balance. The writer fathoms into the relationships prevalent in today's generation.

Looking for the 'friend' in friends-with-benefits relationships

Jaya, a 23-year-old student from Delhi, carries a grey and pink cotton pouch everywhere she goes. It always has a handful of condoms, a half-used-up lubricant tube, and on a neatly folded paper, her recent STI results. 

One should always have enough condoms of their own and not depend on the other person for buying them if you’re entering a friend-with-benefits situation with someone, she says. Being regularly tested for STIs —sexually transmitted infections— for everyone involved is the most important and lube just comes in handy, she added.

Jaya has been meeting people on dating apps since November last year. “Since then, I have developed a level of friendship with many of these people. We are not committed but there is a level of comfort. We’re sleeping with each other but also seeing other people,” she said. “It works best for me. I find it much more liberating.”

The friends-with-benefits space can also be a very vulnerable one. Partners can have conversations about everything. It’s not just about sex. “I take life advice from a partner in Bangalore while another one in Shimla helps me out with my knee problems,” she said. “I also talk to them about my experiences with my other partners and they do the same.”

In the last decade, it is really good that we have started having a term for these evolved relationships. Earlier people would indulge in casual relationships but would not know if they were right or wrong or if they should be in a relationship like this, said relationship and love counselor Ruchi Ruuh.

She added, “Now people can enjoy what these relationships have to offer without feeling guilty.”

Meeting different people and getting to know them has also helped Jaya break out of the shame that is usually associated with women who have casual sex. 

She said, “I would get ‘slut-shamed’ very often. But now I realise that exploring different people and their bodies, exploring me and my sexuality is also very exciting. Why should I repress that part of me?”

Over the years, Jaya has also perfected a routine to be followed in her friends-with-benefits relationships. “I first meet someone at a public place just to talk. You need a certain amount of trust to proceed,” she said. If the person is not willing to meet without sex, it is a problem, according to her. “I start the conversation by asking about STI testing. More than the result of the report, their reaction to safe sex and STI says a lot.”

Establishing some ground rules before entering into what we now nickname an FWB relationship can be very useful, according to therapist Ruuh. These can look like, ‘how many times are we going to meet up?’, ’Is it okay to make a phone call?’, ‘Can I text you?’, ‘What are the parameters of this relationship?’

“Setting boundaries is critical,” said Ruuh.

In heteronormative relationships, often men set the ground rules and dominate the relationship. Ruuh said, “Men would usually tell women that we will do this and you won’t get a relationship and you also should not get attached. Women are often accepting of these rules.”

Our culture is also kinder and often appreciates men who can get casual sex from different women but when women ask for casual sex, it is looked down upon, according to Ruuh.

With time, however, the trend is changing. Women are picky about choosing partners and setting boundaries, says Ruuh. She adds, “They leave on the first red flag and have their own toolkit to explore an FWB relationship.

Sara, 25, moved away from her parents in Delhi to Hyderabad to attend university. For the first time in their life, they had the time and space to explore different relationships. Soon they decided they did not want anything serious.

“My idea of friends with benefits was very much influenced by pop culture. I thought my partners and I would not only connect at a physical level but also share things with each other. Even though I had care and concern for my partners, casual or intense, it seemed like they did not give a shit. It took me time to learn that,” they added.

For Sara, the need to have conversations with their partner beyond sex is also a way to protect themselves. “I want to be certain that the person is not a threat to my life. I don’t want the person to take over and abuse the relationship,” said Sara. The conversation also enables them to clearly tell the person what you are and are not willing to do.

Friends with benefits in today’s day and age can text and call sometimes but they are not as involved in your life as you would like a friend to be, according to Sara.

“If I am having a bad day I would talk to my friend, but not my friend with benefits,” they added. Just hanging out with your FWB is also usually not an option. Your partner will only hit you up when they want to have sex with you, according to Sara.

Pop culture has also often portrayed a friend-with-benefits relationship as one where all partners are ready to have intercourse all the time. 


Ruuh said, “It is a romanticised idea and not true at al. It is possible for individuals in FWB situations not to have sex. Asking for consent becomes very important here before you do anything in this relationship.”

One needs to ask themselves if their relationship is good for them, said Ruuh. 

She added, “If a person is insecure and gets anxious when their partner is distant, they should look for something more secure than a casual relationship. But they end up indulging in an FWB situation because it is available. It can leave them feeling more insecure.”

Anything casual that is without an emotional groundwork to it can seem empty after a while even though it feels exciting in the beginning, said the Delhi-based counselor.


She said, “Eventually, individuals will feel there is something missing. When we’re being intimate with someone, our body releases certain hormones that make us attractive to the other person. When one decides that they don’t want to form a bond with their partner beyond intimacy, our bodies do not understand that.”