My First Time is a column and podcast series exploring sexuality, gender, and kink with the wide-eyed curiosity of a virgin. We all know your "first time" is about a lot more than just popping your cherry. From experimenting with kink to just trying something new and wild, everyone experiences thousands of first times in the bedroom—that's how sex stays fun, right?
This week, we're talking to Helen Thomas about her experiences of a friends-with-benefits situation. You can listen to My First Time on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
I met Alex on Tinder. We went on a date and instantly liked each other, and so he came back to my house and we fooled around. We continued dating for a few weeks, and I think we were both worried about it turning into something more serious just out of convenience, rather than because we actually wanted a relationship. Especially because we were entering cuffing season at the time, and I’d actually had a cuffing season relationship the year before which hadn’t worked out.
I work in social media and I’d posted a joke on a brand’s Instagram page about cuffing season. The next time I saw him, he brought up that post, and he basically asked whether I wanted to be in a relationship. He told me that he’d been worried I really wanted a relationship, and that’s why I’d posted that thing on Instagram! Like me, he’d also been in a cuffing season relationship the year before that, and he didn’t want to repeat it.
We were both open with each other and agreed that neither of us wanted to be each other’s boyfriend or girlfriend, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t keep hanging out, because we really enjoyed each other’s company. Especially as the sex was amazing!
The first time we had sex after we’d had that conversation felt different. I hadn’t felt romantic feelings for him before then, but he was really lovely and gentle with me, and we lit candles and listened to Frank Ocean. There was this moment where he said, “You look amazing,” and I remembering thinking, have I made a mistake? Am I going to get really hurt by this guy? But then those feelings went, and spending time with him became something comforting and relaxing that we could both fall into.
Because we had had that conversation so early on, it took the pressure off the situation. We didn’t have the expectation that things might develop into a relationship; we realized that we were just two people being friends and experiencing intimacy with each other in a non-romantic way.
Since then, we’ve got to know each other in a really intimate way. When you have sex with someone you see them at their most vulnerable. It’s like you’re witnessing a really pure version of someone, and so often you confess your soul in those pillow talk moments. It’s different from a normal friendship because you’re more exposed.
There was this period of time where I was exploring my feelings for another girl, whilst also seeing Alex, and they both knew about each other and were fine about it. She went back to the States, where she lived, and I felt so deeply sad. I really felt like maybe I was in love with her or something. And I was seeing Alex a few days later, and he could sense something was wrong with me. We were kissing, and he pulled away and said, “are you OK?” It was nice that he was so in tune with my body and emotions that he could tell something was wrong. That’s sort of the beauty of being friends with benefits—if you find someone you trust, you can have that perfect bond of intimacy and friendship, without expectations or jealousy.
We see each other about once a week, although we’re not that fixed about when we hang out—sometimes we’ll go a few weeks without seeing each other. That’s another great thing about having a fuck buddy. You don’t have to constantly think about them or make time to see them, and you don’t prang out if you haven’t heard from them for a few days. And when you do get to hang out, it’s just this beautiful time you can savor and really be in the moment.
Normally when we hang out we’ll go around to each other’s house, watch TV, order pizza, then fuck. It’s so great. Sometimes we go out on dates, so we’ll go for dinner or to the cinema together. It feels cute and couple-y, but also chilled. And of course, there are the late-night booty calls where you’re both up at 3AM.
I never worry that we’re catching feelings for each other. Everything is stress-free, mostly because of the lack of expectation between us. The only times I’ve wondered if it is developing into something is when he calls me, because typically millennials don’t speak on the phone. So if we’ve gone to our parents for Christmas, he may call and say “Happy holidays," which is a bit unusual. But I think he just doesn’t have that anxiety about using the phone that so many millennials do.
Some of my friends find our arrangement a little weird. They were a bit protective of me at the start; they thought that maybe I was going to fall for him, and get hurt. Other people seemed slightly jealous. But now everyone’s OK with it—they know what’s going down, and they know who Alex is, and like him.
I’ve never felt like I’m in love with Alex. I definitely have a lot of affection for him, and a real admiration for who he is. But when I had that romantic interaction with the girl who moved back to the US, it felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. It was such a big, romantic love. That’s how I knew I wasn’t in love with Alex, because I’d never felt like that around him. Maybe I am fooling myself, but that’s how it feels.
My advice to anyone who wants to have a fuck buddy without getting hurt is to try and keep feelings at bay by not texting each other all the time, or seeing each other too much. When you hang out all the time, it starts to feel like a relationship. I remember this one time we hung out three times in a week, and I was walking around his flat in leggings and no makeup, and I just thought to myself, this feels too comfortable, like we’re going out. My other advice is to be clear in the language you use to refer to each other. Say, “friends with benefits,” or “fuck buddy.” You should be really clear at all times exactly what you’re both getting into.
If either of us suspected we were becoming too involved with each other, we’d probably call it quits. But I think the only thing that would really throw a spanner in the works would be if one of us got into a relationship with someone else. That would obviously fuck things up. But I wouldn’t begrudge him that: I hope Alex does find someone he really wants to be with. He’d make a great boyfriend—just not for me.
This article originally appeared on Broadly.