Are we incapable of sleeping with someone without falling for them?
Let me tell you a story about my friend Kieran.
Kieran has been single for quite some time and he’s absolutely loving it. Being a young man in his mid-twenties, he’s perfectly content navigating life without a significant other. He’s at home swiping right on his Tinder profile and sinking shots at the club on a Saturday night, dancing with multiple women and trying to pick up when the night draws to a close.
On top of a string of one-night-stands, Kieran has a regular friend with benefits. He says it’s an amazing situation for him because when he’s feeling lazy and doesn’t want to pursue another Tinder date or put effort into trying to hook up with someone new, he can call up his FWB and they both get off without navigating the war zone of modern dating. He doesn’t have to lie about what he wants, he just has the freedom to have casual sex with a cool chick he enjoys hanging out with whenever he’d like. It’s a great situation.
Now, if you replace Kieran’s name with mine in the above story, people would suddenly get a lot more judgemental about the whole thing. Because women, like me, aren’t supposed to be able to have casual sex without descending into a downward spiral of needy feels.
The narrative we’re told time and time again by society and Hollywood, is women are emotional creatures who are incapable of sleeping with someone without falling madly and deeply love with them, because our delicate emotions get in the way, and we get attached.
The very idea that a woman could possibly have a regular, no-strings-attached, emotion-free booty call is dismissible, because of the belief we’re going to ‘catch feelings’. I mean, if Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake couldn’t bump uglies (or extremely attractive bodies) without Mila getting attached and the two eventually ending up in a relationship, what hope do us regular folk have?
According to everything we’ve been taught, women are destined to forever be the booty-callee; never the booty-caller.
I call bullshit. And science has my back.
Of course, when two people have sex, it isn’t just a physical act for either of them. Hormones directly responsible for affecting our emotions go haywire during sex. If you’ve ever been on the internet, you will have probably come across articles referencing a study out of Rutgers University, which allegedly definitively found the release of oxycontin – often called ‘the cuddle’ or ‘the love’ hormone – to be the biological reason women can’t have casual sex – lest we start planning our weddings with the poor, unsuspecting playboy we tempted into our bed of lies.
It’s this study that’s lead to the flimsy argument that “Women fall in love after sex, but men get distant“.
The hilarious thing about the claims these articles proclaim loudly and proudly, is that one of the authors of the study and a professor of psychology at Rutgers, Barry Komisaruk, says they are severely misrepresenting his findings.
“It’s true that women have a peak of oxytocin at the time of orgasm, whereas men have a more gradual increase, but that’s based on blood level measurements,” he explains.
“Oxytocin is both a hormone and a neurotransmitter. That means it’s released into the blood as a hormone from the pituitary gland at the same time it’s released into the brain as a neurotransmitter.”
In essence, the oxytocin in our blood has a far greater impact on our bodies (it’s responsible for the contractions that help our uteruses grab onto sperm to facilitate pregnancy during unprotected sex), than on our brains, which only receive a tiny amount of the so-called love hormone; contrary to what pop culture would have us believe.
“There’s actually no evidence of oxytocin as a love hormone in humans. Somehow it caught the imagination of the public, but it’s based on rodents. It’s possible, I’m not saying it’s impossible, but there’s no experimental evidence to support it in humans,” Komisaruk reiterates.
So it might be possible to get attached or ‘catch feelings’ after sex, but hey, that has nothing to do with oxytocin, or with whether you’re female or male. So what does that mean for having a fuckbuddy?
The whole FWB situation is a tricky one to try and pigeon-hole into a single definition. For starters, not all FWBs are even friends to begin with – just people who occasionally hang out at the same places now and then and somehow ended wrapped around each other. Often, they’re past lovers who still occasionally hook up, and sometimes the two are genuine BFFs who both want one thing, and so hey, might as well take advantage of the situation.
All the arrangement really requires is having sex with the same person, multiple times, over a period of time.
As anyone who has successfully slept with someone without falling in love with them will tell you, having sex and being in love aren’t mutually exclusive at all. We aren’t robots, and if you do have a FWB, chances are that you actually – at least on some level – like, get along with, and enjoy the company of that person. After all, they don’t call it a “person-you-hate with benefits”. But this also doesn’t mean you’re going to end up envisioning riding off into the sunset with every guy you get into a sexual relationship with.
A 2o12 study found that while emotional attachment can grow from sexual desire, you absolutely can have lust without love. Think about the guy at your work who is an absolute model and who you daydream about climbing like a tree, but is an otherwise dull human being about as enjoyable to hold a conversation with as watching paint dry. You definitely lust after the guy, but you aren’t imagining the two of you holding hands at the movies or taking things further than the bedroom (and perhaps the shower, and couch, and your kitchen bench…).
People tend to seek a FWB arrangement if they aren’t ready for any form of serious commitment, but still have sexual needs to attend to. The longevity of the FWB arrangement and how it ends ultimately depends on the two people involved – yep, both of them. Not just the woman.
As long as both people are open and honest about what they want out of the arrangement and the ‘benefits’ don’t start to cross lines into relationship territory (think meeting the parents and going on dates), there’s no reason the situation should get messy.
Psychologist Dr Chris Hart says those who do end up finding strings in their no-strings-attached relationships are usually people who were subconsciously seeking emotional intimacy with the person from the beginning. He also acknowledges that women are now more sexually liberated than ever before, which is why FWB situations are more and more common.
“Women pick out a man and make a decision about whether to go to bed with him in much the same way as a man might. They’re treating the time before marriage as a time to play the field, just as men have always done,” he says.
The women who seek these relationships, he adds, are educated, career-oriented and financially independent. They’re just looking to have good sex with good people.
“They make their own decisions and want to have sex on their own terms. They are happy choosing to have sex the way they want it – just for fun and without guilt.”
For way too long no-one has even blinked twice at the idea of a guy having a FWB they call up now and then for an easy conquest, while any woman who’s dared to flip that narrative has typically had to deal with her fair share of slut-shaming. Take me, for example. I’m the furthest you can possibly get from seeking a relationship right now, but hey, a girl’s still gotta get laid. I still have a sex-drive, and just because I don’t want to settle down shouldn’t mean it’s masturbation or nothing (even though flying solo is amazing in its own right).
It’s archaic to still believe women aren’t as sexual as men are. I’m here to tell you we damn well are. And if we don’t want a relationship, we’re totally capable of sleeping with a FWB without falling in love with them like helpless damsels.
In fact, a 2014 study for the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality which examined FWB relationships over a year-long period found only 15 per cent of the participants ended up in a romantic relationship with their fuck buddy. The rest of the couples either remained FWBs, returned to just being friends, or gradually fizzled out.
Sometimes it feels like women simply can’t win unless we’re coupled up. We’re slut-shamed for having multiple lovers, and can’t even have commitment-free sex with one person without people claiming we must be broken, or secretly in love with them.
But science says it’s more than possible for us to successfully have FWBs, and it’s time society got the memo as well. My friend Kieran also agrees.
Images via tenor.com, photobucket.com.
Comment: Have you ever had a friend with benefits? How did the situation work out for you?