Sex Gets in the Way of Friendship, For Men

when-harry-met-sallyHarry told Sally that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.

Sally didn’t believe him.

Maybe that’s because the sex part often gets in the way for men, but not so much for women.  

One study found that about a third of women, and more than half of men, were at least somewhat attracted to their closest cross-sex friend. But few had discussed it in a serious way.

Another study found that women often had friendships with men, without experiencing any sexual tension. But sex seemed to be on most men’s minds. As Doug Barry over at Jezebel put it:

Men were often more attracted to their female friends than vice versa. This romantic ardor didn’t dissipate if, say, either friend was already dating someone else… Men also thought (incorrectly) that their female friends were also secretly harboring major crushes.

Apparently, a lot of men hear that women are much better at the whole relationship thing, and figure that if women want friends they’ll befriend other women. So they must secretly want sex with yours truly.

More so, a lot of guys think that their attractions are mirrored by their women friends. On the flip side, since women usually aren’t attracted to their men friends, they think the guys aren’t attracted to them, either.

Meanwhile, men will pursue a hot woman, regardless of her relationship status. Women are much more likely to see “taken” guys as off-limits.

A lot of us think that men and women can’t be friends. And that’s too bad because having female friends humanizes men, says Michael Kimmel, an expert on men and masculinity. Men with close female friends are less destructive, less cruel, less likely to rape, and more likely to see women as whole human beings.

Viva cross-sex friendships!

Related Posts on BroadBlogs
Can Men and Women be Friends?
Male/Female Friendships Help End Rape

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on March 24, 2014, in men, psychology, relationships, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 33 Comments.

  1. I absolutely love this blog! 🙂 Anyway…I think the whole “men & women can’t be friends because someone will be sexually attracted” thing is dumb. Even if it’s true: so what if one of them is sexually attracted? (As long as that’s not the *only* reason the person is befriending the other person.) Sexual attraction can exist in friendships…hell, even sex can exist in friendships, that’s why “friends with benefits” exist…emphasis on the word *friends*.

    Oh and the whole “men & women can’t be friends because sexual attraction” is also dumb because it implies that bisexual people (bisexual men specifically) can’t have friends at all, lol.

    By the way, I have a question: have you written on a post giving your opinion on why women lose their libidos after 2 years in a monogamous relationship? I have a feeling it might be because husbands start to let themselves go, and women are pickier about physical appearance when it comes to *casual* sex, so maybe that crosses into sex during marriage, too, after the honeymoon phase is over? I wonder if infidelity happens more often after the honeymoon phase…

  2. I think men and women can be just friends. But from experience I also have to admit that there is always that sexual tension present in the relationship that the two have decided not to act upon. And sometimes in the heat of the moment, those two people could decide to put away their initial hands-off rule I have been friends with guys I never slept with, and trust me, one of us was thinking about it and the friendships somehow diminished……


    Because one was thinking about it, maybe the other was thinking about it and didn’t want to go there, and I suppose the best way to deal with those feelings for many people is to stay away from that person, if you really don’t want to pursue a relationship with them, for fear of treating them like a jump off, or fear of hurting that person you call friend, feelings.

  3. My two current “best friends” are both female. I believe that men can be friends with women without sex getting in the way. However, although I feel very wrong for feeling the way I do, it would have been very difficult to be friends with my two best friend without sex getting in the way if I found them sexually attractive.

    I mean, it makes logical sense. Sex would not get in the way of my friendship with girls I don’t find sexually attractive because I do not biologically consider them as potential mating partners. However, if the girls are attractive, it is impossible for me to say that sex is not in the way, because my brain consider attractive girls as potential partners.

    In either situation, I do not, and will not act on my sex drive because I know that the relationship I share with the girls is not sexual. However, I will feel a sexual tension if the girls are attractive. Whether this is considered “sex getting in the way” is subjective.

  4. I agreed with this article as well. I think that is is true that often times both parties are not entirely on the same page. I think that a guy who is friends with a girl will most likely be willing to be more than just friends. Most of my really good female friends started off as me being attracted to them but they weren’t having it! For an example, I liked a girl and tried to find ways to interact with her. So she and I became acquaintances and friends. Eventually you find out if she is attracted to you or not. But theres already a friendship developed and you guys eventually end up hanging out. So at least for me, I started out as being attracted to my female friends. The friendship stayed and I moved on. But I would definitely say they are attractive, or I mean I find them attractive.

  5. This really did have me stop and think about it. In addition, the part about how men and women both reflect their attractions or lack there of is something I can understand. People are simply not used to thinking in different perspectives, how everyone sees the world through a man’s eyes except individualized in this case. The bit about how men pursue women regardless of relationship status while women mostly does not makes me laugh and think of “men think with their little head and not their big head.” Lastly how having close female friends makes men less destructive, less cruel, less likely to rape, and more likely to see women as a whole human being; it makes me wonder about the whole concept of fraternities and that subculture.

  6. In my opinion, I think that men and women can be friends. I have had a close male friend since I studied at middle school. We used to talk about homework, teachers, etc. He was funny, but I had never thought about having sex with him. Like the article says, “since women usually aren’t attracted to their men friends, they think the guys aren’t attracted to them, either.” I do not think that he wants to have sex with me, either. We chat with each other sometimes. Besides, he was proud of me about my academic achievement because I had received the letter of admission from my favourite university for transferring. We are still friends.

  7. Sex gets in the way of friendship,for men.
    I do believe that men and women can be JUST friends and never end up liking one another. I have an abundance of male friends, and they all are like brothers to me. We constantly fight, and pick on each other, and sometimes we will have actual conversations with each other; just like siblings. I have to say in some situations I find myself having a little crush on one of my male friends. Sometimes I am not sure if it is just because I spend a lot of time with my certain friend, or because i am lonely. But the “crush” feeling I have always ends up going away. Probably because I don’t really like my friend, its just that we spend a lot of time together. I also feel that if a man and woman truly just want to be friends and nothing more than it is possible for that to happen. And most likely it is the man that wants more to the relationship, but if the an is not willing to respect what how their female friend feels than he is not a good friend to begin with. So to sum it up, I honestly do believe that a woman and man can always be just friends.

  8. I found this post very interesting. as a female, I normally do not find myself sexually attracted to my close male friends. Yes, I do sometimes find them attracted as in good looking, but never to the point where there is sexual tension. I think this is because in the past i have dated to of my very close male friends. The first close male friend I considered a very close friend of mine. The relationship did not last that long and I believe it is due to the fact that it got really awkward taking that next step. We were such good friends, it just felt kind of awkward dating. I did not even kiss him. We are still good friends now and I prefer us that way. The other male friend i dated I considered one of my best friends. That relationship was on and off for 6 months and during that time he broke up with me twice and the last time I broke up with him and we were done. During the time we dated, he would cheat on me, and during the times we were considered broken up, we were still in that “talking” zone. After our relationship ended for good, our friendship got kind of awkward and I was afraid that he was so mad at me for breaking up with him that he would spill all of my secrets because I told him everything considering we were best friends first. But now our friendship is decent and he is dating one of my good friends. I do not think I regret dating close male friends of mine, but I am not sure how i would feel doing it again because I am afraid of it putting a strain on our friendship.

  9. Really interesting insight. One aspect of cross-sex heterosexual relationships that I’ve noticed among friends is that sometimes, when one friend gets in a relationship, their significant other gets “jealous of their friendship” & denounces their friendship. I believe this builds barriers and reinforces the notion that the opposite sex cannot be just friends.

  10. I have many male friends with whom i have good rappo as compare to female friends. Sex have crossed my mind. One of my best friend is also a male. And more than friendship i cant even think for him but he is bestest friend. Nice post 🙂

  11. I always enjoy having cross-sex friendships. It is always interesting to have a conversation with the person who has a different perspective. I like to learn new things through friends no matter the gender. For me, it is sometime difficult to have a male friend because of other people’s eye. Even though both of us believe our friendship, other people will think differently. Other people’s opinion occasionally interrupts the relationship. If one of us is married or in a serious relationship with another person, people consider having an opposite sex friend is an affair. If I hear it, I tend to stop or limit seeing my male friend. I don’t want to send anybody a wrong message. Therefore, I feel it is difficult to keep our friendship for a long term.

  12. One of my best friends is male, I find male friends are sometimes much less bitchy and complicated female friendships! Interesting read, I could relate with it 🙂 x

  13. The study you cited is correct.
    Women can be friends with men without having any romantic feeling.
    But men is highly unlikely to be friends with women. You mentioned “more than half of the men”, I would say that’s valid for almost all men, even those who are already in relationship.
    Men when they have a female friend, they ALWAYS have in their back of their mind the thought of being more than friends with her.
    That’s the truth.

    Another truth that was mentioned in that study is that men always overestimated women’s feelings towards them. Men project their own feelings of attraction to women and they think that the woman they like she likes them back.
    It could be Nature’s way of making sure that men constantly pursue women and thus humans reproduce.

    So girls know this, when you have male friends that YOU definitely have no romantic feelings for them, that doesn’t apply to them. 90% of your male friends have some kind of attraction to you even if you aren’t attracted to them.

    This post in a way “confirms” that men fall in love faster than women.
    If a man compliments a female friend that’s no big deal but if a woman compliments a male friend be sure that he most likely think that the woman is attracted to him

    Men can fall in love with female friends or even strangers like “switching on the lights”

  14. Kind of shows how men have the higher sex drive and are hornier than women and most likely due to biology. I highly doubt it’s because of repression because if it was, women might lust after their male friends, but simply not act on it, because of fear of how they will look. But it’s simply sex crosses their mind less toward a male friend or much less a component to women and it’s just easier for women to be friends platonically without lust involved.

    • You don’t understand how repression works.

      In the early stages repression can be at least partly conscious, as you describe. But after consciously repressing for a while — in addition to all of the unconscious forces of repression — sexual feelings actually lessen or completely disappear. 44% of women have experienced sexual dysfunction: Lack sexual feelings, can’t orgasm, etc. That’s why. Repression blocks sexual feelings/energy. Maybe you want these feelings after you get married — when it’s “ok” — but you can’t have them anymore.

      I have probably experienced repression much more than you, which makes it hard for you to understand it. I was much more interested in sexuality at puberty (and even before) than when I was 20, after I had consciously repressed my feelings, after I had become more punished, seen women be more punished, felt my body wasn’t attractive, etc. I didn’t see the process happening as it happened. But after I learned more about repression and looked back on my life — the fact that I was far more interested in sexuality around age 10 than age 20 — understanding repression helped me to understand why. I guess I should write about this sometime so I can send a link. Because people so often misunderstand it.

      But repression goes a long way to understanding why platonic love is easier for women.

      So, I must thank you once again for a blog post idea. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  15. I agree- most of the time there is a tension in such relationships even if not acted upon. And that definitely, in my experience, it is easier for women to be in friendship with guys, not feel the tension, and not know it’s there on the other side.

  16. I love the idea that men need “humanizing”! 😀

  17. Perhaps women have fewer crushes on their male friends because they are generally less visually oriented? When men see an attractive woman, many of them begin to view her as a potential mate/sex partner. This doesn’t mean they dehumanize her…they simply appreciate her for her body first since they know nothing of her personality yet. When you have a female friend, who the man enjoys spending time with, is probably at least average in physical attractiveness, and shares his likes and dislikes…of course there’s going to be some sexual tension.

    I myself experience some tension around various guy friends, as well as a few girl friends when I still had them. But I recognize those feelings and don’t act on them (for personal reasons and because most of my friends are married and love their wives).

    As for this book by Michael Kimmel, it sounds pretty bad. Men with female friends are “less cruel, less destructive, and less likely to rape”? Really? This sentence assumes that men who *don’t* have female friends are destrucive, cruel, and likely to rape…which is false. The majority of men do not act like this, regardless of friendship status.

    His book also engages in shaming men for not getting married or having relationships with women. From the product description;

    “Why do so many guys seem stuck between adolescence and adulthood? Why do so many of them fail to launch? Just what is going on with America’s young men?

    The passage from adolescence to adulthood was once clear, coherent, and relatively secure: in their late teenage years and early twenties, guys “put away childish things” and entered their futures as responsible adults…

    The average young American man today is moving through a new stage of development, a buddy culture unfazed by the demands of parents, girlfriends, jobs, kids, and other nuisances of adult life…

    In mapping the social world where tomorrow’s men are made, Kimmel offers a view into the minds and times of America’s sons, brothers, and boyfriends, and works toward redefining what it means to be a man today—and tomorrow. Only by understanding this world and this life stage can we enable young men to chart their own paths, to stay true to themselves, and to travel safely through Guyland, emerging as responsible and fully formed men of integrity and honor.”

    The fact that men who are choosing to stay single, not date, not have children, and using their hard-earned money on their own hobbies are described in such a way is just pathetic. Why does this sociologist believe these men aren’t *already* ones of integrity and honor? Why is he defining masculinity as someone who “puts away childish things” or who caves in to the demands of parents, girlfriends, jobs, or kids? Why does Mr Kimmel hold the view that such relations and personality traits are *necessary* for men to be considered responsible adults?

    I’m sorry if this last part comes off as angry…it’s not meant to. If anything, it’s just frustrating to see someone who claims to have spoken to hundreds of men about their lifestyle choices and *still* come down on them and shame them as being irresponsible. It’s as though this Mr Kimmel heard but didn’t actually listen.

    • I suspect the reason is what I suggested to TK above.

      You should read Kimmel’s book before judging him. The sentence doesn’t imply that at all. He’s a very compassionate, loving man. Loving of both men and women. The book is focusing on “guys” not men. Males who are biologically adults but aren’t taking responsibility or treating women well. It’s not healthy for them or anyone else. He has studied these “guys” in a way you have not.

      But thanks for your thoughts.

      • Fair enough. I haven’t read his book, though now I plan to…perhaps even write a post about my findings. If what you say is true, that this Kimmel person is actually a compassionate human being, then whoever wrote the description for his book needs to be fired, because it most certainly doesn’t read that way.

        And you’re right, I haven’t spoken to or interviewed these men in the same way he has. However, I have had in-depth conversations with over 50 men who fit the description here, many of whom feel shamed or angry that society calls them “irresponsible” or “perpetual adolescents” because of their life choices and desires. These are the men I was defending in my previous comment.

      • I look forward to your blog post.

      • Thank you. I plan on purchasing his book tomorrow for my iPad.
        Again, sorry if my first comment sounded angry…it’s not, just exasperated.

      • I hope you will feel better soon.

      • Lol, it’s alright. Doesn’t affect me on a daily basis.

  18. Men and women can totally be friends. Maybe you just have to find the right man. I wonder if men think this way for some kind of biological reason, or if this is just our society telling men what they should think about women.

    • Not sure. Some men can be friends even though an awful lot seem to want something else. But for socialized reasons (possibly biology too) men have a higher sex drive — men are less repressed and women are more sexualized, for instance.

  19. I have several male friends and they are all wonderful. Sex or attraction has never been an issue, which isn’t to say my male friends aren’t nice looking guys, I just don’t see them that way.
    I reckon there would be a lot of truth to the suggestion that men with close female friends are less cruel and less likely to rape.
    I agree, viva cross-sex friendships!

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