Q: Is it bad to have friends with benefits? I am new to sex as of a year or so ago and I’ve only had sex with 2 people many times. I am only 18, but the two people I’ve had sex with were/are (I’m having sex with someone presently) not my boyfriends. Is it bad if I’m just trying to learn, and should the guy always be the one to teach the girl?
A: You’ve touched on a lot of different things with your question, so we’re going to try to break it down and address one thing at a time.
It’s interesting – your question is fairly short, but you asked “is it bad?” two separate times over the course of it. We would say that there tend to be very few objective good and bad things about sex (with exceptions being things like, “consent is good!”), but rather things that are good and bad for the individual, or that work well or don’t work well for the individual (and also for the couple or the involved group of people). For instance, future Mr. Paperispatient and I both really enjoy being slapped during certain kinds of sex, so we’d describe slapping as good or good for us, but if someone were to just haul off and slap their partner with no warning and no prior discussion, and the receiving person was not interested in being slapped at all, we’d feel pretty comfortable calling that bad. The distinction we’re making here might be subtle, but in a social context in which people (and especially women) are frequently shamed for their sexual desires and practices and made to feel bad for a whole host of sex-related things, we think it’s an important one.
So, friends with benefits can be great, as long as it’s what both people want and they’re clear with each other about their expectations for the arrangement. Most of my sexual experiences have been with FWBs, and it was awesome; I wasn’t interested in having a relationship for most of college, so I got to have sexy fun on a regular basis and in a way that I personally found more satisfying than one-time hookups but without having to dedicate time and energy to a romantic relationship. So if what you want is to have sex with somebody you know and are friendly with but not dating, and that’s what they want too, I don’t see anything bad about that at all.
It can be important, though, to reflect a bit about why you want what you want. (And that goes for anything – friends with benefits, casual hookups, committed relationships, and so on.) You mentioned that you’re trying to learn – now, this may just be me projecting eighteen-year-old paperispatient onto you, but stick with me for a second. When I first went to college, I felt extremely insecure about my lack of sexual experience. Besides a few extremely awkward makeout sessions with a boy who later made himself a tinfoil hat that looked like a dick and wore it to study hall every day, I didn’t do anything sexual in high school (though not for lack of horniness!). So when I first got to college, I felt like I was “behind” everybody else and needed to catch up. I eventually realized that it’s much more complex than that and that sex isn’t a game of Chutes and Ladders where I could get left behind everyone else.
So, what that ramble is meant to say is, if you’re having sex because you feel like that’s what you’re supposed to do or you’re worried about being more inexperienced than other people, it might be good to reflect on those feelings and why you feel the way you do. But if you’re simply having sex because you’re curious and it’s fun and you’re horny and you like discovering new things, I say have at it.
Now, you asked, “Should the guy always be the one to teach the girl?” Our answer to that would be no, for two reasons: 1. “always” seems like an awfully long time, and 2. “should” is kind of like “good” and “bad” in that how sex “should” be or what a partner “should” do is going to differ widely from person to person.
That’s not to say that it’s a problem for you to feel like you’re learning things from the guys you’re having sex with (not at all), but it might be less them teaching you and more both of you learning together. You can fuck one person or you can fuck a hundred, and any time you have a new partner, it’s probably going to be a learning experience for you (and for them too). It likely won’t feel like you’re starting completely from scratch with every new partner, since you’ll have some past experiences to draw from and tricks to try, but what gets you a “OH GOD YES MORE!” from one person might get you a “OH GOD STOP IT WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT” from another. And the kinds of things you learn can vary too; it might be something small, like, “I should not try to give head after smoking that much weed,” or it might be something big, like “Dominating my partner is one of the most intimate and satisfying experiences I can have.”
You can learn things about your partner and you can learn things about yourself – and with the latter in particular, it’s not really about somebody teaching you so much as it is about the discovery process that can take place between people during sex; we prefer to think about it that way because that seems more mutual than the idea of there being a teacher and a student. (Unless, you know, you like some good role playing now and then.) It can be easy to feel like someone with more experience than you just plain knows more than you and thus must have things to teach you, but that’s often not really the case. (It’s also not always the case that having more experience means that you’re better at sex than someone who has less experience. Personally, I’ve had some really fantastic sex with people who had never done those things before and extremely mediocre sex with people who’d had far more partners than I had and had been having sex for longer than I had.)
In short, as future Mr. put it, there’s nothing wrong with having sex “just” to learn, any more than there’s anything wrong with taking a part-time job that you don’t plan on turning into a career. Either way, you’re gaining new knowledge and skills (communication, an understanding of your body, etc.) that you can apply to other situations further down the road, and that’s pretty unlikely to be a bad thing.
Keep the great questions coming! (Hee.) Got a question to ask, subject you’d like us to discuss, or myth you’d like us to bust? You can e-mail us at FriskyFeminist@persephonemagazine.com or send us an anonymous message via the spiffy new Ask Us! feature here.