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Do long-term, no-strings sex arrangements ever work?

Do long-term, no-strings sex arrangements ever work?

Can you have sex with someone for years without dropping the L-bomb or calling what you have a relationship? For some people, the answer is yes, yes, yes

Rachel always felt she knew exactly where they stood, because they talked about the nature of their relationship, discussing the limits of what they expected from each other

It is no longer the case, as in When Harry Met Sally, that ‘men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way’. Photograph: Everett Collection/REX FEATURES

Rachel always felt she knew exactly where they stood, because they talked about the nature of their relationship, discussing the limits of what they expected from each other

It is no longer the case, as in When Harry Met Sally, that ‘men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way’. Photograph: Everett Collection/REX FEATURES

I t is 30 years since the release of When Harry Met Sally. Nora Ephron and Rob Reiner’s genre-defining romcom had so many hilarious, timeless lines, from: “How long do I have to lie here and hold her before I can get up and go home?” to: “When I get a new book, I read the last page first. That way, if I die before I finish I know how it comes out. That, my friend, is a dark side.” But one line that does seem to have aged is arguably the most famous, and the premise of the whole film: “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” It is not just the heteronormativity that feels outdated; three decades on, speaking to some of the Harrys and Sallys of the millennial generation, the question now is less can they just be friends, and more, can they just have sex?

For Rachel, a bisexual woman in her early 30s, the answer is an enthusiastic yes, yes, yes! For about five years, she has gone through periods of regularly having sex with a friend she met at university, “with the agreement that we wouldn’t develop a deeper relationship,” she says. “We didn’t contact each other frequently in between dates or ask for the sort of emotional support you’d get from a partner. I cared about him, but I wasn’t dependent on his affection and I didn’t feel responsible for him beyond how you’d feel about a friend. And we’d have really good sex.”

“When you are in an arrangement like this, you have to talk about things rather than make assumptions, and I really enjoyed how honest we were both able to be. I found it incredibly freeing that he didn’t ask anything from me.”

As someone who has never had this sort of relationship, I found it difficult at first to get my head around it – not because I felt judgmental, but because I felt admiring. I think you have to be quite emotionally mature to be able to accept something for what it is, without trying to turn it into something more, or denigrate it for not being something it is not.

“Relationships like this,” says Rachel, “where you are enjoying sex for what it is without making it represent something deeper, ask you to think about how sex usually functions in society.” She describes how, if you have sex with someone and get into a relationship with them, you are turning something that started off as a fun encounter into something that completely secretbenefits discount code changes your life. You might end up spending most of your time with this person, making decisions about your life based on their input, using them as your main source of emotional support. “People assume that’s the natural trajectory, and sometimes that’s great – but sometimes it’s nice to just have sex with someone you like without those assumptions and expectations,” she says.

By fast

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