My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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friends with benefits

Damn, the NYTimes has been really compelling lately. And their apology about their coverage of the Iraq war makes me think i should re-acquire my subscription (i cancelled it because i was peeved with their coverage after 9/11).

Anyhow, over the weekend, the NYTimes ran an article on friends with benefits. It’s a fascinating article about teenage relationships and i really want to know how common the described practices are. I mean, if girls are really calling the shots about sex, what are the long-term implications? Damn that’s rad. If girls are calling the shots, will it help combat HIV? (Historically, male pressure to not use condoms has put women at great risk in hetero relationships.) And if a matter-of-fact attitude about sex is emerging, can we begin to be more serious about realizing that marriage is just a contract, not some hormone-driven fantasy about love? If this is actually true, what all falls out?

And is FaceTheJury facing the jury because of aiding and ebedding teens under the guise of an 18+ site?

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20 comments to friends with benefits

  • tony

    Kind of like an eskimo society-multi-males to one woman? No-but less birthrate,increased need for labor(import workers from 3rd world). I guess we’ll be like Japan and european nations in 10-20 yrs.

    marriage is a contract-it will cease when the benefits are less than the costs,(take away joint income tax, housing deduction and other benefits) and marriage will decline.Well,religious folks will still do it-intrinsic benefits.

    Facethejury-kids always find a way to get in-that’s being a kid-“too smart” to not stop your own stupidity from doing things that could mess you up. Live and learn.

  • Nancy

    But did you notice what kinds of sexual activities the kids were engaged in? The “benefits” all seemed to accrue to the boys. The girls serviced (and I use that word deliberately) the boys, whereas the reverse was considered “gross.” In that sense, the girls were definitely NOT calling the shots.

  • Pescatello

    I thought the NYTimes article about “Friends with Benefits” was pretty misleading. While it sounded like women were calling the shots, it seemed that they they were actual performing sexual acts for men and getting nothing in return. Sure they were proactive, but that doens’t translate to being empowered. They’re still capitulating to men’s terms.

    From what i read, it sounded like the women were rarely fulfilled, which means they’re not really “calling the shots” but merely being more up front about what’s going on.

    It’s probably a good first step, but a better one would be a woman dictating the terms and the actual sexual activity.

  • And here I am, in my mid 20’s, feeling like a sucker for a decade of paying for sex with dinners and flowers and phone calls. Had I known I could’ve skipped all that, I probably could have saved up enough money for a new car or enough time for new hobbies. And for what? Nothing but a lousy wake of uninspired 5-minute-ers.

    This blows. Now I’m depressed.

  • I thought that piece was fascinating too, I figured I’d read the first few grafs but ended up reading all the way through. My complaint is that it seems to extrapolate a hell of a lot about teens nation/worldwide from (mostly) a series of conversations with just one tiny circle of teenaged friends. Even assuming these teens didn’t pull the reporter’s chain at all, their lifestyles don’t necessarily represent all of their peers’ lifestyles. I’ve got to take pieces like this with a grain of salt before proclaiming the age of the hookup.. The same goes for the recent mini media frenzy over “toothing.” It was a great read but like you say, I want to know how common these practices really are.

  • My first reaction upon hearing this story was “Wow, white kids in Vermont finally discovered the magic of the booty call.” Then it was “Wow, the NY Times *just* picked up on this?”

    This isn’t a new phenomenon. It was pretty standard in my high school over a decade ago. Same dynamic. New decade. Same name.

  • Interesting article; I too wonder how widespread a phenomenon this really is. Overall I think I agree with you, but I’ve written up some thoughts on the matter here —

    http://www.derf.net/elsewhere/20040608_teenagers_and_sexuality/

  • Let me clarify. The whole thing really began with an “if”. I’m not saying that’s what’s going on, but it made me think of what fell out if it were true.

    As for the sexual activities delimeter, there’s actually more going on here than simply boys thinking that giving head to girls is gross; at that age, a lot of girls think it’s pretty gross too. That’s part of the problem. Girls acquiring control over what they do does not mean that they’ve acquired comfort with their bodies.

    Yet, more than anything, this article piqued my interest in the topic, not at all convincing me that the NYTimes had the answers. I definitely agree that booty calls and friends with benefits have been going on for a long time. What intrigued me was the possibility of a switch of who was calling the shots; this was more something i saw that happened in the college time period.

    I don’t know… but i’m definitely curious to know more.

  • But, the girls aren’t calling the shots – they are reacting to situations (boys aren’t dating, they aren’t inclined to get involved in a relationship). It is clear from the article that the girls are treating this as a pseudo-relationship, and are quite upset when it ends. Having sex, and claiming to have no emotional ties, is not the essence of liberation, if it isn’t the relationship of choice, but, rather, the only one they can get. It is a desparate “choice”, and a rather pathetic one.

    The mothers are no better off. I have sat through teary sessions with women who “took their sex like a man”. At least, they did until the end of the “hook-up” devastated them.

    From the girls description of the activities, it’s clear that the girls are giving, not taking pleasure. So, how is this a “benefit”?

  • Links That Make You Go “Hmmm”

    Here are a few lil links that I felt were just too… interesting to pass up writing about. Yesterday Danah Boyd linked a New York Times article on the growing shift away from dating and the formation of relationships…

  • As Linda said: it’s a pseudo-relationship. There’s no change in the dynamic; that’s how the writer interpreted the situation.

    In order to get a guy, they do things that would *in teenage girl theory* get a guy to like them. Guys, of course, thing “Whoa! I’m getting ‘free’ sex” (sex without strings).

    When the girl realizes that the her efforts aren’t working (i.e.: he’s not going to be her boyfriend), her reaction is either:

    1. Tears and anguish
    2. False bravado about being able to have detached sex

    Either way, her feelings are getting hurt.

    On the other hand … as you point out: “Girls acquiring control over what they do does not mean that they’ve acquired comfort with their bodies.”

    There is something personally empowering about realizing that your body — with its scars, pimples, stretch marks, cellulite, extra 10 lbs., etc. — can be a source of pleasure and desire for someone else. I’m not completely convinced that there is *no* benefit to the girls.

    It’s clear, though, that these teens are still working in our current heterosexual paradigm and its over-emphasis on male pleasure.

  • I dunno, seems to me that even if these kids are deluding themselves in claiming that they have no attachment and it’s just hooking up and nothing more, I would say that that’s better than what I think has been historically more common among teenagers (and a large portion of adults, for that matter), namely to delude themselves in believing that they’ve found the love of their life and that they’re going to be together forever, blah blah blah.

    The fact that they’re hurt when the hookup-relationship ends doesn’t necessarily mean it was wrong to have the hookup-relationship, any more than any adult relationship that ends painfully was necessarily wrong to enter into…

  • What I see as interesting is the quote about gay teenagers wanting to date. In the case of queer youth, the pendulum has swung the other way from the sexual promiscuity and hook-ups of their elders. Fascinating article, thanks zephoria!

    –Ryan.

  • Mike

    Yeah, the NYT article just amazed me. It really didn’t seem as if young women were calling the shots- it seemed as if there is simply a shift in the dynamic of how exploitation occurs.

    It is discussion like this that makes me think a bit more about some of the radical feminist’s (Mackinnon and others) arguments on the not truly consensual nature of “consensual” heterosexual sex.

  • Tess

    Well, I didn’t even read the article, but it sounds to me like everyone is focused on the intercourse part of the “friends with benefits.” Having had this myself, as a 16 year old girl, i had no emotional ties. We strictly made-out and it went no farther than that. It’s getting just a little sexual tension out and you don’t have a guy calling you every night. Committment can be a good thing to some people, but some don’t want it at certain points in their life. I think friends with benefits is just a great way to have some fun and have no afterthoughts and reprecussions.

  • kei

    being an 18-year-old female. with no previous sexual experience, no boyfriends, no close ties. i suppose i am a “friend with benefits.” despite the lack of attention from the opposite sex, i am still very sexually driven. this may seem very odd. and i admit. i am an aloof person and i don’t often talk sex with close friends in real life, nor do they know the sexual side of me at all.

    however a mostly online friend that i had met from college approached me with the idea of getting together through instant messenging. i am much more open and playful online and after much deliberation, nervousness, and worrying i agreed to it.

    i was looking for more information online about what happens to friends with benefits. do people actually develop emotional attachments while the partner does not? undoubtedly. it is sex without love. but i wanted it. or something close to it. do i regret it? no. it felt good. and perhaps some might think this is a bad reason to engage in sexual activities.

    the range of opinion on sex acts is enormous. there are some that believe sex is a sacred act, reserved for only after marriage, and then there are others that go around in life. just having sex because it feels good. each person is an individual. i was not pressured into sex, it was something i wanted. works for me. i think the way sexual favors should work is give and take, but often it doesn’t work this way. with the woman/girl doing most of the work. however. has it crossed people’s minds that the girls engaging in the act, may actually enjoy pleasuring a man? so perhaps it’s unequal and unfair. until the woman demands her part. mmm…

  • kei

    some may think it “pathetic” that rather than find a real relationship this is what i resort to that’s fine. any type of relationships has bumps one must grind through. if i am not romantically interested in neone and have not been for a couple years, but i still want sex. is that wrong? even if there are no emotional ties. people still want attention and loving. thsi is perhaps how it happens. cuz in the act there is someone holding u, pushing back ur hair, listening. not for everyone, and maybe i a little deluded. but it’s all good.

  • kei

    some may think it “pathetic” that rather than find a real relationship this is what i resort to that’s fine. any type of relationships has bumps one must grind through. if i am not romantically interested in neone and have not been for a couple years, but i still want sex. is that wrong? even if there are no emotional ties. people still want attention and loving. thsi is perhaps how it happens. cuz in the act there is someone holding u, pushing back ur hair, listening. not for everyone, and maybe i a little deluded. but it’s all good.