Open in a separate window Note: Only 19 of the 37 individuals who reported engaging in genital sexual behavior with a friend with benefits said they had engaged in such behavior with a friend. Although some friends with benefits may only be casual acquaintances, only 21 of the 42 who had engaging in genital sexual behavior with a casual acquaintance reported engaging in genital sexual behavior with a friend with benefits. Thus, it does not seem necessary for a friend with benefits to be a friend, but significant sexual activity with a friend seems more likely to be considered a friend with benefits than similar activity with a casual acquaintance; that is, 19 of 26 friends were, whereas only 21 of 42 casual acquaintances were.
Finally, we asked participants how many times they had to engage in sexual behavior to be considered a friend with benefits. Discussion The present study underscores the importance of examining the relational context in which sexual behavior occurs.
Sexual behavior with romantic partners differed substantially from sexual behavior with nonromantic partners. Moreover, differences occurred among the three types of nonromantic sexual partners, both in terms of prevalence and frequency of sexual behaviors with different partners.
The pattern of differences in the sexual behavior with the different partners also varied as a function of the level of sexual behavior, underscoring the importance of examining that dimension as well. Finally, the data obtained from the questionnaires and the interviews provided us a better picture of the nature of relationships with friends with benefits. Consistent with our hypotheses, young adults were more likely to have engaged in sexual behavior with romantic partners than with nonromantic partners of any kind.
In fact, twice as many young adults report engaging in heavy nongenital and genital sexual behavior with romantic partners than with any of the other three types of partners. The pattern is even more striking when one examines the frequency of sexual behavior with different partners.
In all cases, the frequencies were substantially greater with romantic partners than with any of the other types of partners. It may be that sexual activity occurs more often during a particular time span in romantic relationships because of the level of intimacy or expectations regarding sexual activity in these relationships.
It may also be that romantic relationships are longer lasting than the typical periods of sexual activity in friendships, acquaintanceships, or friendships with benefits.
Denizet-Lewis, , but romantic relationships are in fact the most typical context for sexual activity. At the same time, sexual behavior with a nonromantic partner was very common, just as prior research has found Elo, et al. It is important to remember that these numbers refer to sexual activity during the last year. Thus, these numbers are likely to underestimate the lifetime prevalence of sexual activity with a nonromantic partner, and overestimate the prevalence at any specific time.
In a related vein, the data also do not provide information regarding the proportion of participants who had multiple sexual partners at the same time; sexual activity with a nonromantic partner may have occurred when one did not have a romantic partner, although in some instances it probably did occur simultaneously.
The present results also underscore the importance of differentiating among various types of nonromantic partners. As predicted, more women engaged in light nongenital sexual behavior with a friend than with a friend with benefits. More men engaged in such behaviors with a casual acquaintance than with a friend or friend with benefits.
When one examines the frequency of such behavior among those who had a particular type of sexual partner, a different picture arises. As hypothesized, both genders engaged in all types of sexual behavior more often with friends with benefits than with either friends or casual acquaintances. Such differences might have occurred because young adults are more willing to engage in such behaviors with friends with benefits, or they may have greater opportunities to engage in such behaviors if the periods of sexual activity with friends with benefits are longer lasting than those with friends or casual acquaintances.
Contrary to our hypotheses, young adults were not more likely to engage in sexual behaviors with friends than casual acquaintances. Perhaps these differences are more likely to occur in behaviors with ambiguous sexual connotations, such as many of those Grello examined.
In any case, it is clear that the characteristics of sexual behavior with the three types of nonromantic partners differ. The present findings also underscore the importance of examining different levels of sexual activity in relationships and not just examining sexual intercourse.
The data on the proportion of participants engaging in different sexual behaviors suggests that nongenital sexual activity may sometimes occur without genital activity, especially with nonromantic partners.
For example, more women engaged in light nongenital sexual activity with a friend or a casual acquaintance than with a friend with benefits. The proportion of women engaging in heavy nongenital or genital sexual behavior with a friend or casual acquaintance was substantially lower and comparable to the proportions with friends with benefits. This pattern of results suggests that in some instances, women may engage in some limited types of sexual activity with a friend or casual acquaintance.
Boundaries regarding heavy sexual activity may be more likely to be present in these relationships, particularly friendships. Alternatively, the light sexual activity may have only occurred once or twice with a friend or casual acquaintance, and may not have evolved into more intense sexual activity.
Gender Effects Consistent with our hypotheses and prior work Carver, et al. The present study extends this work by showing similar gender differences in light nongenital sexual behavior with a romantic partner. The present findings, however, provide a more nuanced picture of gender differences in sexual activity with nonromantic partners.
Men were more likely to engage in light nongenital sexual activity with a casual acquaintance, but they were not more likely to engage in sexual behaviors with either friends or friends with benefits, where the level of intimacy is greater.
In fact, the proportions of women engaging in the various sexual behaviors with these partners were at least as high as those of men. These findings suggest that the commonly observed gender differences in nonromantic sexual behavior may principally reflect sexual experiences with casual acquaintances or people whom they just met.
It is also noteworthy that no gender differences occurred in the frequency of sexual behavior for those who had a particular relationship.
In other words, women who had a friend with benefits engaged in as much sexual behavior with their partner as men did. In effect, the present findings suggests that the commonly reported gender differences in sexual behavior may primarily stem from the kinds of sexual relationships men and women establish and not in what occurs in these relationships once established. Of course, the absence of significant differences must always be interpreted cautiously, but it makes logical sense that the frequencies of the sexual behaviors we examined would not differ by gender because the vast majority of the participants were describing heterosexual encounters.
In fact, the absence of differences in the frequencies provides some evidence that the gender differences that are observed in this study are meaningful and do not simply stem from a tendency of one gender to overestimate or underestimate their sexual activity.
If one gender overestimated or underestimated their sexual behavior, one would have expected gender differences in their estimates of the frequency of sexual behavior within a relationship The proportions of men and women reporting different kinds of relationships do differ. Men or women may be inaccurate in reporting whether they have had a particular kind of relationship or they may define the nature of the relationship differently e.
Friends with Benefits The present study provides some insight into the nature of friends with benefits. Like many vernacular categories, full agreement did not exist about the defining characteristics, but there was a reasonable level of consensus regarding several features. Consistent with this idea, frequencies of sexual behavior with friends with benefits were greater than with friends or casual acquaintances. Second, it appears that the sexual activity typically involve heavy nongenital or genital behavior and not just light nongenital behavior.
The proportion of young adults who had engaged in light nongenital behavior and those who had engaged in heavy nongenital behavior with friends with benefits were very similar, suggesting both light and heavy nongenital behavior had occurred in almost all cases. Third, most participants thought friends with benefits were no different from other friends except for the sexual activity, and, in fact, thought that it was necessary to be a friend to be a friend with benefits.
Similarly, a significant minority reported that some or all of their friends with benefits were casual acquaintances. The examination of the different configurations also suggests that it is not necessary for a friend with benefits to be a friend, but significant sexual activity with a friend seems more likely to be associated with being considered a friend with benefits than similar activity with a casual acquaintance.
At the same time, the typical friend with benefits may not be as close of a friend as other friends. Young adults reported engaging in fewer activities with friends with benefits than they did with friends.
Interactions with friends with benefits may focus around sexual activity and may not be as extensive as that with other friends. Limitations and Future Directions In the present study, we initially informed the participants that we were going to ask about sexual behavior with romantic partners, friends, and casual acquaintances. For reasons described previously, we did not introduce the category of friends with benefits until the other questions had been administered on the computer.
Accordingly, some participants were likely to have described their sexual behavior with a friend with benefits as both sexual behavior with a friend and as sexual behavior with a friend with benefits. In many respects reporting it as both is appropriate as the present study revealed that most young adults consider friends with benefits to be friends. Thus, the descriptive information about the different types of nonromantic partners provides accurate estimates of the prevalence and frequency of the sexual activities of these categories in this sample.
At the same time, it would be inaccurate to examine the configurations of nonromantic partners Table 4 and assume that some individuals had multiple kinds of nonromantic partners because they reported sexual behavior with both a friend and a friend with benefits. Many are likely to be the same person. Our analyses compared the category of friends with benefits with the broader category of friends with whom one had engaged in some sexual behavior.
Individuals who were considered both friends and friends with benefits would have been classified into both categories. Thus, any differences we found between friends with benefits and friends had to reflect differences between friends with benefits and other friends with whom one had engaged in sexual behavior, but who were not considered friends with benefits. Although the differences we observed are meaningful, our approach might have masked or underestimated these differences between friends with benefits and other friends with whom one had engaged in sexual behavior, because of the inclusion of those who were friends and friends with benefits in these comparisons.
The present study also provides some information about how one could define friends with benefits in terms of the nature and frequency of sexual activity. By putting together the results of this research and popular descriptions, future investigators could develop a useful definition of a distinct category of friends with benefits. In effect, participant-defined, as well as investigator-defined, categories have their merits. In a related vein, the findings clearly indicate the importance of differentiating among these types of partners, but further differentiations may also prove fruitful.
In particular, it would be useful to specifically examine other types of friends with whom one has engaged in sexual behavior. One such group of friends would be past romantic partners, who have some sexual encounter s after the romantic relationship has dissolved Manning, et al. As noted previously, the numbers in this study refer to sexual activity during the last year. Thus, these figures underestimate the lifetime proportions of sexual activity with a nonromantic partner, and overestimate the proportions at any specific time.
An important direction for future research would be to conduct a longitudinal study of the sexual activity in each relationship or sexual encounter a person has. The present study also focused on the occurrence and frequency of sexual activity with different partners.
Future work could examine whether the meaning of different acts of sexual behavior or the motives for sexual behavior differ as a function of the relational context.
For example, participants may primarily be interested in pleasure in some contexts, such as with casual acquaintances, but they may also be seeking intimacy with romantic partners. Although relatively representative numbers of different ethnic groups and individuals with different sexual orientations were included, the sample primarily consisted of white heterosexual young adults.
Studies of specific ethnic groups and sexual orientations are needed to determine if the overall patterns reported here are characteristic of particular subgroups. In summary, this is one of the first studies to examine sexual activity with different types of nonromantic partners. Moreover, it is one of the first to examine different levels of sexual activity with nonromantic partners.
The results underscore the importance of these distinctions, and point out several directions for subsequent work. The frequency and impact of sexual activity in cross-sex friendships.
Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Principles and procedures of exploratory data analysis. Negotiating a friends with benefits relationship. Archives of Sexual Behavior. The three musketeer phenomenon. National estimates of adolescent romantic relationships during adolescence. Adolescent romantic relations and sexual behavior: Theory, research, and practical implications.
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