Watch Dr. Sylvia Gearing discuss "friends with benefits" relationships on CBS 11 by clicking here.
The new movie, "Friends with Benefits," with Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis once again asks the age-old question of whether you can really have sex with a friend and not develop an emotional attachment. Most importantly, if you can, is it really good for you?
So, can you really have a sexual relationship with no strings attached?
“Friends with benefits” arrangements are possible but they can come with a very high emotional price for both genders. Basically, you are practicing the art of emotional disconnection while sharing your body with someone. You have physical intimacy without emotional intimacy. You don’t experience the responsibilities or the benefits of a true relationship. Unfortunately, the bill will come due when someone gets attached and/or hurt. Our minds are hardwired to connect and to attach so it will happen whether you intend for it to or not.
The real take away is that “friends with benefits” relating prevents you from realizing the benefits of true intimate relationship that only comes when you share yourself deeply with someone, both physically and emotionally. There is just no substitute for loving someone completely for a very long time.
So if it's so bad for us, why is this trend increasing?
We are seeing more people in their twenties and thirties struggling with the fundamentals of relating. I believe that as the digital age has defined our communication, we are struggling more than ever with how to be vulnerable with someone else, whom to trust, how to communicate etc. I think that the “friends with benefits” arrangement is a way of giving up. You seek physical intimacy with a safe, platonic companion and there is less risk of really being close. You avoid all the drama that can comes with being in love. However, you learn and achieve nothing.
Here's why some people prefer a "friends with benefits" arrangement:
It’s All About Me: An attractive person becomes an acquisition. They view the opposite sex as a way of increasing their social status. As a result, sexual encounters become a sport.
Badly Hurt in Love: They have been badly hurt in love. They prefer the comforting or pleasurable parts of sex but are phobic of developing a deeper enduring bond with another person.
Tough Family Background: They often grew up with parents who were highly self-centered, dismissive or absent emotionally, or outright critical. As a result, they do not view relationships as resources but as a game or even as a burden. In fact, getting too close can make some people more anxious.
So, are there gender differences when it comes to sex with no strings?
Like it or not, a woman’s sexual response is highly related to her emotional reactions. But there are chemical reasons why this occurs. During sex, a woman’s body produces lots of oxytocin (the cuddle chemical), a powerful hormone that builds emotional connection. After sex we want to gaze into his eyes, talk and deepen our emotional affection for our partner. That’s why friends with benefit arrangements can be so damaging for women. We may tell ourselves not to feel this way, but we get attached despite our best efforts not to. We are psychologically and physiologically wired to connect and attach.
Specifically, for men:
A man’s body produces minimal oxytocin and he is usually physically and emotionally spent after sex allowing him to distance from the women. He wants to just lie there and recover-- not a great relationship enhancing strategy.
However, there is some good news. There is a whole generation of men who have had close relationships with their mothers who have had more power in the family and thus more emotional influence on their sons. More men are entering dating wanting to attach and connect with their partners.
Just like females, they will find themselves thinking about their partner as a person, not as a simple sex object. They will appreciate their partners, adore them and love spending time with them. In other words, these guys are relating substantively to the women in their lives.
Here are my tips about "friends with benefits" arrangements:
Don’t be surprised if your plans to resist attachment fail miserably. Sharing yourself physically just introduces an entirely different set of chemicals and emotional reactions that frankly, have a life of their own. He or she may just be classified as your friend now but in the end, you may fall in love despite your best attempts not to.