EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


March 11, 2014

When talking to teens about sexuality, don't preach. Listen.

Dear Doctor,

I have heard my oldest son, a 16-year-old high school student, use the term “friends with benefits.” I would like to know if you can tell me what this means.

Afraid to Ask

Dear Afraid,

Ah, yes, you have heard a term used by most teens to refer to an “arrangement.”

I first heard the term about 20 years ago. It was and is a term to describe an agreement, spoken or unspoken, to be available for sex without other entanglements. When I first heard the term it was used in only one high school. Now, at least in these parts, boys use the term to refer to sexual availability by mutual agreement. Girls use it too but with a slightly different nuance. That, too, appears to be changing into a frank statement of sexual availability.

By the way, I did a poll at the local luncheonette. My breakfast crowd, most in your age bracket, did not know what the term meant either.

A generation ago such an arrangement would likely have been unthinkable. Sexual mores are changing and dramatically so. Before everyone becomes hysterical and alarmed, think about it. Young people are more open and frank. They do have very strong moral guidelines, but they are based upon regard and respect, less on a religious prohibition. I know of few teens who do not have many friends, close and personal, of the opposite gender, and all with no “benefits.” There is a clear demarcation between those who will and those who won’t. I suppose that has always been true.

Now that the mystery is solved, why don’t you have a conversation with your son. Ask him what gives and share your understanding of relationships. Don’t preach. Listen. Then offer your take on sexuality and commitment, whatever it may be.

A teen will teach you something new every day!


Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. Email him questions or comments at lrryllrsn@CS.com.

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