If you read swingers profiles, you see a lot of the same terms and phrases used by different couples. A big one is “we are looking for friends in and out of the bedroom.” Or, alternatively, “we are looking for FWB.” FWB of course stands for “friends with benefits,” which is a term that has been around for awhile. [How long? I probably became aware of it about 15 years ago in the early 2000s.] OK, that’s what the term stands for. But what does it mean?
Unfortunately, like with many slang/popular culture terms, different people mean a range of different things by invoking FWB. And this can cause a lot of difficulty in swinger-land. Let’s see how many different definitions I can come up with.
Out in the popular culture, “friends with benefits” generally is understood to refer to a sexual relationship without a romantic relationship. The top definition from Urban Dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com) is “Two friends who have a sexual relationship without being emotionally involved. Typically two good friends who have casual sex without a monogamous relationship or any kind of commitment.” (edited slightly for typos) In other words, two people have sex repeatedly but don’t think of themselves as “a couple.” You hear about individuals looking for FWB because they want sex but don’t have time for “a relationship,” or similar. In stories frequently one of the couple wants a romantic relationship and is hoping for that to develop, or maybe both other them have feelings for each other but deny it. That is roughly the plot of the 2011 movie “Friends With Benefits.”
In swinger-land the distinction between “friends who have sex with each other” and “people who have sex with each other and also have romantic feelings” is a very important one. Many swingers define what they do as having sex with people other than their spouse, but not having “feelings.” In online discussions swingers often become defensive and insistent that they hold their feelings within them and their married spouse, and don’t have any feelings for their lifestyle friends whatsoever. So “friends with benefits” becomes a popular word to use to denote this.
OK, but so then it depends on the meaning of the word “friend.” Yes, I am being picky, but bear with me here. Do you think the word “friend” refers equally to your best friend who you have known all your life, and also to that person who knows someone in common with you and asked to be your “friend” on Facebook? Of course not, because there are different kinds of friends. Or a spectrum, even. And swingers have different categories of “friends,” too.
There are the swinger friends who you say hello to regularly because you attend the same parties, but you have never had an in-depth conversation with them. There are the friends you hooked up with once at one of said parties, but haven’t again and now you say hi to them when you see them. There are the swinger friends who you have had long, interesting conversations with but you haven’t seen each other naked, either due to lack of the right opportunity or because there isn’t quite the right attraction. There are the friends you look forward to chatting with at every event, and sometimes play with them, but you don’t talk to each other in between. There are the friends that you meet for socializing and/or sex privately, and keep doing that because all four of you get along so well. There are the friends that you play with, but also have integrated them into your lives to the degree that you get together sometimes and don’t have sex, and they have met your children. There are the friends that you have a sexual connection with and also a deep intellectual connection, so that you text them daily and keep each other up to date on your vanilla lives. And finally there are the swinger friends who are all of the above, plus you admit secretly that in an alternate universe where you were either single or polyamorous, you would give them a shot as a primary relationship partner.
So, you see? There is a whole spectrum of “friends” in the lifestyle. I frequently assert that swingers and polyamorous people are not two states of a binary, but actually are points on a spectrum. Pure swinger: go to club, have sex with people anonymously and never meet them again. Pure polyamory: you have opened your relationship to a degree that you not only love people in addition to your spouse, but they move in, share your money and help raise your kids. It should be pretty easy to agree that whatever swingers mean by “we want FWB” they are looking for something in the middle of that big range. But we need people to explain more about exactly where in the middle they mean.
I suspect that anyone who uses the term friends with benefits is referring to an ongoing relationship where they have sex, and also get to know the people as individuals. Whether it goes as far as learning about their everyday lives, or meeting family members, or being a source of emotional support is going to depend on the user of the term. Another wrinkle is that, as before, swingers can be very emphatic that they aren’t having “relationships” or “feelings” with their ongoing sex partners. So they might be emotionally relatively close to the polyamorous end of things (not the moving in together part, but the part where they have emotional connections and care about each other) and still use the term FWB to keep their rhetorical distance from polyamory.
That is kind of what happens in our own relationship. We have always wanted to make swinger friends who we enjoyed physically, but also shared things about our daily lives and were close friends in other ways as well. Over time we realized that when we found the right couples we really did have “feelings” for them. At least “friendship feelings” for sure, but both of us have met partners we admit we would consider dating if we didn’t have each other. And now that we have ongoing partners that we have separate one on one dates with, we have to admit that’s more than “just friends” or “just FWB.” I have concluded that this type of relationship is really “where swinging and polyamory meet in the middle,” and gradually am becoming more comfortable with the idea of being some kind of poly, at least in some of my behaviors. Mrs. seems to agree with me when describing in detail what kind of close relationships we enjoy, but is reluctant to use the term polyamory, possibly because she doesn’t think herself as interested in the “deeper” kinds of poly. But we largely mean the same thing, even if we use different terms.
So, what are friends with benefits in swinging? As we have seen, there’s a range of definitions, and you really need to ask someone to define their terms.
Do you agree with me? Disagree with me? Please let me know by leaving a comment. I always am happy to discuss with people who disagree with me, as long as we stick to the subject and it doesn’t get personal.