By Ashley Mateo, SELF magazine
On Friday, Natalie Portman's and Ashton Kutcher's romantic comedy No Strings Attached hits theaters. Naturally, this flick raises the age-old question: can two friends really hook up without things getting messy?
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Portman plays an overworked doctor looking for sex without the relationship, while Kutcher plays her buddy who's only too willing to help her out. Of course, it's only so long before at least one of the two start to develop more romantic feelings.
In a study published in the scientific journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health last spring, it was found that having sex with a friend made someone less likely to be monogamous--and 17 percent of men and 5 percent of women had at some point had more than one sexual partner at a time. Hooking up with a friend can be a tricky situation, for the obviously health reasons and less obvious emotional reasons. We turned to licensed psychotherapist and author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again Tina B. Tessina, aka "Dr. Romance," to get all the deets on how having a friend with benefits can mess with you.
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Can guys and girls really have platonic friendships?Yes. The issue of sex may come up, but it can be dealt with. One way to tell if you're really friends is: your friend can talk about others he or she is attracted to without upsetting you.
Are there any emotional benefits or disadvantages to having a casual, sexual relationship? The benefit is being able to have sex with someone you know, rather than a stranger. The disadvantage is it could be the end of the friendship. One person (usually the woman) could fall in love, while the other (usually the man) doesn't want to pursue more of a relationship. Plus, it may keep you from finding a real relationship, because you're too comfortable to look.
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Do men and women approach casual sexual relationships differently?For men, it's what they want--sex without responsibility. They also tend to take it for granted, and still be attracted to other women. Most of them have fantasies about having all the women they want. Women, on the other hand, tend to become emotionally attached when they have sex. (Men actually do, too, but they don't want to know they are. That's why they often don't realize they feel something for someone until that person is gone.) Women's fantasies are about a monogamous relationship.
What do you do if you start to develop feelings for your partner?Pay attention! Don't ignore it. Let your partner know, and watch the reaction. If you don't get a positive response, cut off the sex. That's the way to see if the other person is also emotionally attached or not. Don't languish in a friends-with-benefits relationship when you want more. If he suddenly meets someone else and marries her, you'll be devastated.
How do you get out of a sexual relationship with a friend without losing the friend?You have to talk about it, a lot. If you want to cut off the sex, you need to explain why you're doing it. "I'm developing deeper feelings for you, and since you don't seem to return them, I have to stop having sex with you. I'd like to still be friends." Or, "I can't even be your friend for a while, because I'm grieving."
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Is it easier for an older or younger couple to maintain this type of relationship?It's not easy for anyone. It only seems easy at the beginning. My office is full of people who had their hearts broken this way. Older people tend to be a little wiser and more cautious about it than younger people, but all ages get hurt.
Is it better to set parameters for the relationship ahead of time, or just let things develop on their own?Definitely talk about it beforehand, or as soon as possible. You need to establish that the friendship is important to both of you, and you don't want to ruin it. You also need to talk about feelings, to open that subject for future discussion.
Catch No Strings Attached in theaters January 21! Have you ever had a friend with benefits?
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