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Friends With Benefits

Monday, Apr. 4, 2011

Seniors Sarah and Ben, who have been good friends since freshman year, became “friends with benefits” after a party a month ago. They just kind of fell into bed with each other. Over time, though, Sarah has started to have romantic feelings for Ben. She continues for a while in their current arrangement, in the hope that Ben will at some point begin to reciprocate her feelings. Eventually, however, as she comes to realize that a long-term relationship doesn’t seem to be in the cards, she tells Ben that she no longer wants sex to be part of their relationship.

That weekend, they decide to go to a party together. The beer is flowing freely, and both of them get drunk. As the evening wears on, they end up going home together and hooking up. When she wakes up in Ben’s apartment the next morning, Sarah realizes that she and Ben have had sex even though she had told him she didn’t want to do that anymore. She’s furious with Ben, but he reminds her that they both were pretty wasted.

Who is at fault? Why?

Best student response to this case wins $50.  Comments must be posted by April 10 at midnight.  Rules

Here are some resources that may help: 

Alcohol and Consent (Dalhousie University)

Hooking Up (Religion and Ethics Weekly)

Sex and the Soul (video of Donna Freitas)

 Risk Factors and Consequences of Unwanted Sex Among University Students

Comments Comments

Deepti Shenoy said on Apr 5, 2011
While both people in this case are, to a certain extent, at fault, I think Ben is more to blame than Sarah is. In my mind, he has exploited her all along. They were platonic friends for years before the benefits got tacked on. During that time, Im pretty sure Ben would have developed enough insight into Sarahs personality to be able to tell when she started to have romantic feelings for him. He must have sensed she was hoping for a more serious relationship. Despite that, he continued to use her for sex. Though he would have known that maintaining a sexual relationship with her would lead her to continue to hope for something more, he chose to ignore her feelings. Following this train of thought, I wonder whether Ben took her to the party in the first place in the hope that she might fall back into bed with him. If that was so, his actions qualify legally as rape. Even if this wasnt the case, it was selfish of him to enter a situation that might lead to the two of them having sex. Im not letting Sarah off the hook. If she didnt want to end up having sex with Ben, she shouldnt have gotten drunk with him. On the other hand, as a friend, Ben should also have avoided alcohol, considering the possible consequences of the situation. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Cameron Tow said on Apr 6, 2011
As any college student knows, this kind of situation happens all the time between couples, friends with benefits, even complete strangers. People get drunk and have sex with someone they would avoid if they were sober, especially when the couple has a prior history. In this case, Sarah did not resist. Obviously, Ben took this as an indication that Sarah had changed her mind about the situation, and it seems like, at least for the moment (and thanks to the alcohol), she did. How can Ben be completely at fault for this encounter? Ben and Sarah had had a consensual sexual relationship. It's reasonable to assume that both of them had enjoyed the sex. Even though they both agreed to return to a platonic relationship, the connection doesn't go away that easily. Alcohol eliminates inhibitions, and makes sex seem that much more appealing. Its not as if Ben purposefully got Sarah drunk to have sex with her; they were equally drunk and probably fell into bed together just as they had the month before when the relationship started. They both had equal say in the decision, and there is no indication that Ben coerced her at all. I would write this one off as a mistake, and advise them not get drunk with each other in the future. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Miriam Schulman said on Apr 7, 2011
I don't know if Ben and Sarah want to hear the mother's perspective right now, but that's my job, so here goes: I'm going to start just expressing a general frustration I have about the behavior I see too often in college. Students are so anxious to be adults and to make their own decisions, but then, when they get the chance to be and do so, they give their decision making powers over to alcohol. "Oh, I'd never do something like that except that I was wasted." But this will not work as an excuse because drinking too much is also a decision. When you combine drinking too much with sex, you get a very dangerous brew. It doesn't sound like Ben coerced Sarah and it doesn't sound like Sarah will report this experience as a rape to the campus police. But she couldshe had expressly told Ben that she no longer wanted to have sex--and whether or not she prevailed, the consequences for Ben would not be pretty. Now that I've gotten the scared-straight stuff off my chest, I'd also like to say a few words about sex. People may debate about whether sex should be reserved for marriage or can simply be a pleasurable physical experience for both parties. But what is not debatable is that sex should be consensual. I'm not talking about the law here; I mean that the people involved should make a conscious decision that this is something they want to do. They should have a common understanding of what the sex means in the context of the relationship and be comfortable with that. I don't see how Ben and Sarah's post-party party meets this standard. If they are friends, I think they have to acknowledge this failure and figure out a way to make sure it doesn't happen again. - Like - 2 people like this.
emilyk. said on Apr 8, 2011
Who is at fault? Both Sarah and Ben are at fault, obviously. They both made the conscious decision to go to the party TOGETHER, but they weren't in a conscious enough state to resist the temptation of hooking up- whether either of them wanted to or not. Either of them could have made the decision to not go to the party with the other, or go at all for that matter. So both are at fault while in their normal mind. Either of them couldn't resist what they had done before-hey it didn't hurt anything right? So both are at fault while in the drunken state as well. Lesson learned? "Friends with benefits" relationships only end up in grief and emotional scarring. - Like - 2 people like this.
David DeCosse said on Apr 8, 2011
Two ethical approaches suggest themselves for making sense of Sarah and Ben's case: one centered on respect, the other on friendship. Respect is a sort of ethical minimum that is nevertheless demanding: What is the least we have to do to see ourselves or others as persons of value AND treat ourselves or others accordingly? In this sense, respect doesnt mean a deep emotional involvement with another. But we hope that respect is at least the building block on which deeper emotional involvements -- like friendship -- are based. To what extent do Sarah and Ben share a fundamental sense of respect for themselves and for each other? Do they respect each other as persons worthy of making choices about their own lives? Do they respect each other as persons whose value is inseparable from their longing for romantic and sexual love? Overall, I think that Sarah falls short (especially in terms of self-respect) and Ben falls further short (especially in terms of his respect for Sarah). The notion of friendship helps complete this ethical picture. "Friends with benefits" is a term-du-jour, but, as a way of thinking about friendship, it represents an updated if pretty jaded version of what the Greek philosopher Aristotle called friendships of mutual use or mutual pleasure. As he described it, "when the motive of affection is usefulness, the partners do not feel affection for one another per se but in terms of the good [or pleasure] accruing to each from the other." That description of friendship gets at the mixed motives and careening path of Sarah's and Ben's friendship. But imagine what their relationship could have been if it were closer to Aristotle's definition of the highest form of friendship: "those who wish for their friends' good for their friends' sake." How might the trajectory of Sarah's and Ben's friendship have gone had they approached their relationship in such a spirit --not thinking only of what each of them wanted for themselves but also of what would truly benefit the other? - Like - 2 people like this.
Robyn L. said on Apr 9, 2011
I dont think Ben is at any fault here. If anyone is to blame, Sarah she should blame herself. She should have been more responsible and not have drunk so much to not remember the night before. If she was not so inebriated, she could have rejected Ben and told him that she did not want to have sex with him. But no, she went home with him. She did not deny him. Since Sarah did not resist him, maybe Ben thought Sarah changed her mind about their friends-with-benefits relationship. Or maybe Ben could not even remember she talked about no sex in the days before, and they both habitually fell back into their sexual relationship when they went home together. Seeing that Sarah could not even remember the previous night (of sex) illustrates how intoxicated she was. Sarah is actually lucky that Ben was around her. If he was not, Sarah could have gone off with some attractive stranger guy who might have injured her, given her a disease, etc. At least with Ben, Sarah knows she wouldnt have such a problem. - Like - 2 people like this.
Marissa said on Apr 10, 2011
I think that even though they both have some responsibility in this situation, overall Ben is mostly at fault. Despite the fact that Sarah had told Ben that she did not want to have sex with him anymore, he went ahead and had sex with her anyway on a later date. Granted, they were drunk, therefore limiting their inhibitions, but alcohol never allows consent according to the law. If Ben was a real friend, he would have respected Sarah's wishes and refrained from having sex with her. Some people may argue that because they have had relations in the past, having sex after this particular party is no different than previous instances and Sarah may have actually wanted to rekindle their physical relationship. Irregardless of her desires, though, Ben should have instead refrained from having sex with her. If she actually did want to have sex, they could have talked about it in the morning and discussed what she wanted their relationship to entail. Instead of being a good friend, though, Ben instead let his lust take over and put Sarah's desires on the back burner. Overall, Ben needs to take responsibility and apologize to Sarah if he wants their friendship to continue. - Like - 4 people like this.
muhammad alhadi said on Apr 10, 2011
both are at fault.... they both have the right to drink, but when romantic feelings arent reciprocated should they both be drinking? it could have easily been preventable if one stayed sober enough... they both were thinking its a party lets have some fun, but neither anticipated sleeping together with each other.... i feel its bens fault partially because he didn't think of her enough to not drink that much and i feel its partially sarahs fault because she didnt stay sober enough to disrupt the pattern they already developed between them over the past month. if they both were sober i'm sure that them being friends with benefits would have stopped. - Like
Mr. Man said on Apr 12, 2011
Irregardless is a nonstandard word. You don't lend any credibility to your argument by using a double-negative. - Like - 1 person likes this.
VANESSA said on Aug 4, 2011
Ben is in the wrong for hooking up with Sarah after the party because she told him previously that she no longer wanted sexual contact with him. He should have been prepared to give her space so that she can get over him. Also, by engaging in sex with her knowing that she has romantic sentiments Ben is using Sarah for sex. Their feelings for each other are not mutual and Ben shouldn't manipulate that to his advantage. Sarah is wrong for being angry at Ben when she realized she slept with him yet again. She is an adult and needs to accept culpability when it is due. She should blame herself for sleeping with him. Instead of projecting anger, Sarah should have told Ben she is very disappointed to revert back to the FWB arrangement and left. Also, I would like to add that I think popular culture is also partially responsible. Music lyrics, movies, and television shows regularly glorify casual sex. A lot of the time it seems like casual sex is the norm or precursor to a relationship. All that Sarah can do in the future is be aware of these situations and acknowledge that casual sex is not for her. In the future Ben should discuss up front his desire to remain single should he engage in casual sex again. - Like
Bri said on Jan 25, 2012
Sarah is wrong because she shouldn't have allowed herself to lose control like that. She can't really blame Ben if they were both under the influence. No one forced her to drink. - Like
Erinn said on Feb 12, 2014
Truly, I believe that Sarah is wrong in this situation. No, it is not solely her fault that this happened, but she should not put the blame on Ben. She had told him that she did not want to have sex with him anymore, but she had alcohol and became intoxicated, so she was not in her conscious mind, but it doesn't seem as if Ben was either. Both of them seemed to have been intoxicated and not thinking with a clear head, however, it is not Ben's fault that they had sex. Sarah is also responsible for her actions, so if she decides that she is going to get drunk, then she must face the repercussions of her actions. They were both intoxicated, and it seems like they were both not making good decisions, but if one of them was wrong in this situation, it would be Sarah because she cannot solely blame Ben for something that they took part in together. - Like
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Tags: alcohol, ethics, hooking up, sexuality