Can Heterosexual Men and Women be ‘Just Friends’?

As a heterosexual woman, I firmly believe heterosexual men and women can be “just friends.” I have also dated, made out with, or had romantic or sexual thoughts about the vast majority of my male friends (and, by various friends’ admission, been thought of in that way). I’m no math major, but even I can see something here does not compute. After a healthy debate at Greatist headquarters, we decided to let science answer the question once and for all. Can heterosexual men and women really be “just friends?”

Before we dive into the science, let’s start with the public perceptions. A survey of more than 1,450 members of the dating site (perhaps not the most unbiased sampling) found someinteresting stats: 83 percent of those surveyed believe men and women can be platonic friends, while 11 percent disagree and six percent aren’t sure. At the same time, 62 percent of respondents admitted they’d been in a “platonic” friendship that turned romantic or sexual. And 71 percent said they hoped a hypothetical future romantic partner would be their friend first.

Given the statistics above, it’s not surprising that heterosexual male-female friendships often involve some element of sexual attraction — though this might depend on gender. Men, more than women, report maintaining opposite-sex friendships for the chance of having sex; men are also more likely to prioritize physical attractiveness in their female friends (whereas women tend to prioritize economic resources and physical abilities)[1]. And men seem to be more attracted to their female friends than the female friends are to them, regardless of either party’s relationship status (so that’swhere jealousy comes from!).

Public perception echoes the science: According to the survey, 67 percent of respondents said women are better at keeping sex out of a platonic relationship (13 percent said men are more able to abstain, and 20 percent said they weren’t sure). But despite either party’s best efforts, sex in supposedly “platonic” male-female relationships does happen. A lot. Some studies have found around half the heterosexual college student population has engaged in sexual activity (not surprising) in an otherwise platonic cross-sex friendship (only sorta’ surprising). Interestingly, the majority of these friends-with-benefit situations don’t transition into a romantic relationship, suggesting people prefer the friendship over the sex…

Read more: Laura Newcomer,  Greatist


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