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No-Strings-Attached Sex

Can friends with benefits-- or bed buddies -- really benefit both parties, or is there usually unexpected emotional fallout?
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During Julia's junior year in college, she met a great guy. But she didn't want to date him. "I was at the end of another relationship that had been really good. So I don't think I was psychologically ready to get involved again and at the same time, I was pretty horny," she recalls.

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So after a halfhearted attempt at a romantic relationship, Julia and Steve decided that what they really wanted was "friendship with a little sex thrown in." For years after that, whenever both of them were single at the same time, they would sleep together. "Friends of mine always used to hope that we would get together, but I always knew there was nothing but friendship," Julia says.

Having regular, no-strings-attached sex with someone you're not romantically involved with has become such a cultural phenomenon that it's acquired a name --"friends with benefits." (Others call it "bed buddies," or use more explicit terms.) For Julia and Steve, it worked out well -- the "benefits" part of their friendship ended when she met the man who is now her husband, but they're still close, and get together for dinner when he's in town. But are they the rule or the exception? Can "friends with benefits" really benefit both parties, or is there usually unexpected emotional fallout?

Benefits for Whom?

"It depends on your attitude towards sex," says Tina Tessina, PhD, a family and couples therapist and author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again. "If sex always means love and commitment to you, it's not going to work for you to engage in it as 'just friends.' If sex can be a more casual thing to you, then I think it's possible that you can get together with a friend and agree to do that and not get too emotionally tied up."

Julia agrees -- and thinks the "benefits" went further than just enjoyable sex with someone she trusted. "It was a nice cushion, for times when I was single. And it made me less desperate for a relationship," she says. "It gave me time to figure out who I was and what I was looking for in a man, but I wasn't ever wanting for male company because Steve's special brand of friendship was always there."

FWB experiences can burn, however, and the friendships in question often end as a result. "I was friends with a British guy who kept wanting to sleep with me," says Melinda, a New York newlywed in her early 30s. "I thought, 'OK, he's cute. I'm horny. I know him so it won't be a random pickup that could be scary because I don't know the guy. Why not?' Our friendship was ruined because we slept together. He was awful in bed, and he was boring and juvenile."

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