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Third Wave Feminism and Emerging Adult Sexuality: Friends with Benefits Relationships

Abstract

Using U.S. third wave feminism as the cultural backdrop, this study examines emerging adults’ participation in heterosexual “friends with benefits” (FWB) relationships. We investigate both the role of gender and feminism in FWB relationships at a United States college, and ask whether identification with feminist ideology impacts students’ motivations and assessments of their relationships. Through the use of an anonymous survey, our research explores whether and how young women and men engage in FWB relationships, the degree to which they find such relationships fulfilling, and the presence of social stigma or acceptance related to this sexual behavior. While we find some gender differences in motives for and satisfaction with FWB relationships, we also suggest that the association between sexual agency and participation in a friends with benefits relationship is complicated and requires further research and exploration.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Our focus on heterosexual FWB relationships stems from our lack of data on gay and lesbian relationships; an overwhelming percentage of our survey respondents identified as heterosexual. This is in keeping with other research that has found, for example, 98.7 % of those who reported participating in a FWB relationship did so with someone of the opposite sex (Bisson and Levine 2009). Relatedly, the FWB literature focuses on heterosexual relationships almost exclusively, and the cultural discourse, represented by mainstream movie portrayals of FWB relationships, refers to cross-sex relationships.

  2. 2.

    Effect sizes were calculated using Cohen’s d. The findings on feminist identity are in keeping with national polls asking women and men about feminism. For example, a widely-cited CBS news poll conducted in 2005 reported higher identification with feminism for women than men. In answer to the question, "do you think of yourself to be a feminist, or not?" 24 % of women and 14 % of men answered yes. Forty-seven percent of men said the women's movement had made their lives better compared to 69 % of women (Alfano 2005).

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Acknowledgments

The data for this study were collected as part of an undergraduate senior project, completed by Olivia Giorgi, under the supervision of the coauthors. We thank Olivia for her efforts. We'd also like to thank Nikki Lanshaw for her assistance on this project.

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Correspondence to Jean Calterone Williams.

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Williams, J.C., Jovanovic, J. Third Wave Feminism and Emerging Adult Sexuality: Friends with Benefits Relationships. Sexuality & Culture 19, 157–171 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-014-9252-3

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Keywords

  • Friends with benefits relationships
  • Sexuality
  • Third wave feminism