Dating Apps Are Killing Friends with Benefits (No, Not Literally)

Swiping right is even easier than sending a 1 a.m. “You up?” text to your old lab partner.
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Publish date:
October 11, 2016
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friends with benefits, hookups, Tinder, dating apps, Fuck Buddy, Dating

About five or ten years ago, millennials had a reputation for finding and keeping fuck buddies. While previous generations were known for picking up partners at the bar, the signature move of many millennials that I know is to Facebook-message someone they went to college with, then let things unfold, so to speak. We were the generation that made casual sex friendly.

While I do not wish to judge or shame anyone who enjoys anonymous sex or picking up at the bar, it’s easy to see how the fuck buddy phenomenon makes a certain sense; it’s two people who know each other, like each other, and hopefully feel comfortable with each other. It’s an elegant solution for those facing the problem of not wanting to be in a relationship, but also not wanting to brave some nightclub for a hookup to get their needs met.

While it's important to acknowledge that sexual assault is most often perpetrated by someone who is known to the victim, I personally know many women who feel an uneasiness about going home with someone they met that same night. My childhood friend Maggie is one such enthusiast for “friends with benefits” arrangements. A 30-year-old professional living in a smaller Canadian city, Maggie says, “It's a great alternative that helps me feel safe and comfortable with the person that I engage in a fun, sex-based friendship with.”

Indeed, the plusses of finding a trustworthy fuck buddy if you aren’t interested in maintaining a romantic relationship is obvious for a sexually empowered person in the 21st century.

Logical as they are, there was a time when fuck buddies were ubiquitous. In 2011 alone, two Hollywood comedies took on the subject (both starring alumni of That 70s Show who ended up marrying each other in real life, oddly enough). Ashton Kutcher and Nathalie Portman played former camp friends who get it on in No Strings Attached, while Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake play people who befriend each other through work before falling into a noncommittal bed in Friends With Benefits. Only five years ago, it seemed sex friends ruled, and they were here to stay. Shonda Rhimes herself integrated them into countless plot lines on Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and Private Practice, so you know they were zeitgeist-y.

Then dating apps came to prominence, and let’s face it: swiping right can be even easier than sending a 1 a.m. “You up?” text to your old high school lab partner.

So, are friends with benefits falling out of favour? It’s a question one might pose to Tinder’s 10 million daily users. Not to mention the countless individuals who are patrons of the other dating apps available to consumers with smartphones. While some are known for more casual encounters (Tinder is a go-to example here), others, like JSwipe, Coffee Meets Bagel or Hinge, could be used for casual hookups, but bill themselves primarily as a way to meet people you actually want to date. Still, with an app for everyone, sex has never been so accessible.

It’s now 2016, and my friends are divided about whether fuck buddies are an endangered species of sex partner. While the aforementioned Maggie still has one, I know other friends who say they are a dying breed.

A couple of weeks ago over a snack of avocado toast, my friend, 28 year-old Delia, declared, “It’s impossible to find a friend with benefits today. Tinder just made it too easy for straight guys to find one-night stands. A lot of dudes would rather swipe right until they find a match, because it’s ultimately less work than managing a respectful, long-term casual sex thing.”

Indeed, for the lazy hookup, swiping right until you find a hottie you don’t care about is probably easier than sexing a friend, worrying whether the romantic comedies are right and you're doomed to fall in love if you fool around enough. If the whole point of noncommittal sex is to remain non-committed, it would seem apps have the advantage. Apps make it unnecessary to venture to the bar and pay for several overpriced drinks in the hopes of chatting up a one-night stand as previous generations did; however, they simultaneously eliminate the conundrum of whether good manners dictate one must buy one’s regular fuck buddy a birthday gift.

Of course, in heterosexual dating, it’s not all men — nor is it only men — who are interested in one-time sex encounters. My friend Lydia, an artist in her early 30s, asserts she often has no interest in a committed romantic relationship when she uses her dating apps. Lydia says she has enjoyed a few fun and satisfying one-night stands from Tinder, though the men she meets sometimes want more.

Lydia told me, “What I find is that more and more men are looking for actual relationships on Tinder, which is a little strange.”

Ultimately, there is no consensus amongst my girlfriends about whether apps have killed off the friend with benefits in the hetero dating scene, or if he’s just been downgraded from star of the show to a recurring character. However, with the abundance of hookup opportunities that technology provides, it really does seem like sex friends may be an endangered species.