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Can Men and Women Just Be Friends?

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Essay title: Can Men and Women Just Be Friends?

According to recent research, over one half of the people in cross-sex friendships report sexual attraction or sexual tension (Afifi, 2000). Not only is sexual attraction present, but it can also be perceived as a benefit in such relationships. In a study done by Bleske (2000), “men evaluated the potential for having sex with their close opposite-sex friend as more beneficial than did women.” Men are also more likely than women to view their cross-sex friendships as precursors to a romantic relationship (Reeder, 2000). The current research tested the hypothesis that men, more often than women, think of their opposite-sex friend sexually. A survey was distributed to students in General Psychology and Intermediate Spanish. The survey asked 12 questions to determine how often the participants thought of their opposite-sex friends sexually. Results showed that the differences between men and women were statistically significant, supporting the hypothesis that men, more often than women, think of their opposite-sex friends sexually.


“What I'm saying is -- and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form -- is that men and women can't be friends because the sex part always gets in the way” (Reiner, 1989). This statement about relationships was boldly made by Harry in the film When Harry Met Sally. Historically, relationships between men and women have always been thought of as romantic. However, recently, researchers have been focusing on cross-sex friendships. Much of the research has been aimed at investigating the statement that Harry made in the film When Harry Met Sally: “Can men and women just be friends?” (Reiner, 1989).

According to recent research, anywhere from 58% to 62% of people in cross-sex relationships report sexual attraction or sexual tension (Afifi, 2000). This finding makes it seem that, at least for most cross-sex friends, a sexual element definitely is present, and perhaps Harry was right when he said that men and women cannot be friends without sex getting in the way. This sexual element is perceived by some as a negative in the relationship, while others see it as a positive and feel it spices up the friendship. Whether the sexual attraction is seen as a positive or negative in the relationship, it has always been assumed by researchers that if any sexual relations did develop between a man and a woman in a cross-sex friendship, they occurred after the friendship had shifted to a romantic relationship. In essence, the belief was that once sex entered the relationship, the two people involved took the relationship to a different level (Afifi, 2000). However, in a study by Afifi and Faulkner (2000), 26% of participants reported having sex with a cross-sex friend. Of those participants who had engaged in sexual intercourse, only 13% reported having since become romantic partners. The majority of people in this study felt the sexual encounter had improved the relationship quality (Afifi, 2000). This study seems to suggest that not only is sexual tension very much a part of most cross-sex friendships, but also sexual intercourse is often involved. Even after such elements presented themselves in the relationship, most of the males and females remained friends. This disproved the notion that men and women are either in a platonic relationship or a sexual, romantic relationship. It suggests that men and women can be friends, along with being sex partners.

Researchers were surprised by the high number of cross-sex relationships that involved sexual elements, as found in Afifi (2000); however, it is important to keep in mind that not all male-female friendships involve sex. Messman, Canary, and Hause (2000) performed a study to determine why some cross-sex friends choose to maintain a platonic relationship while others do not. In their study, they found there are six main motives for cross-sex friends to remain just friends. The most commonly reported motive to remain platonic was lack of attraction to the other person. The second most commonly reported motive was network disapproval. This means the person would not date their opposite sex friend because friends or family members would disapprove. The next motive found was labeled time out. In this circumstance, the person either did not want or did not feel ready to be involved in a romantic relationship at the time. The fourth motive reported was labeled safeguard relationship. This means the person did not want to get involved in a romantic relationship because he/she did not want to lose the friendship. The next most commonly reported motive was labeled third party. Under this circumstance, participants reported that one of the friends was involved in a romantic relationship with someone else. The final motive was labeled risk aversion. In this case, participants

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