In the film, No Strings Attached, friends Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher) hook up in what is commonly called a “friends with benefits” relationship (Beware: spoilers ahead!). Basically, a friend with benefits is one that offers sexual intimacy without any obligations or commitments.
In the film, Emma is the high-powered professional who sets boundaries for the relationship; it doesn’t take long for Adam to push those boundaries to win her sole attention. Predictably, it gets messy from there.
One would think that such casual relationships only happen in Hollywood. Sex sells, and partnering Kutcher and Portman is a sure cash cow. Unfortunately, there are many young adults that engage in these types of relationships every day.
Nearly six out of every ten young adults are sexually active; at least a third have had friends with benefits. Even Christian teens are susceptible because many young churchgoers do not consider some forms of sexual intimacy sex. After the Saturday night party is all said and done, they believe that they can still come to church as virgins.
Unfortunately, this fad is not a new concept. It existed during biblical times within the confines of Roman and Greek (among other pagan) religious systems. Whenever a man (women were not as “free” as their male counterparts) desired a casual, sexual encounter, they visited the nearest Roman temple. There, they would find temple prostitutes who ensured a blissful experience good enough for gods and mortals alike. If you happened to live in Corinth, you had your pick of a thousand prostitutes.
I hate to compare friends with benefits with prostitutes, but the underlying issues are the same. When a person engages in a casual sexual relationship, he or she is exploiting that friend’s sexuality for one’s own selfish pleasure. Exploitation is a prostitute’s calling card.
Friends with benefits might “promise” relationships with very little commitment, and no commitment means no emotional roller-coaster ride. Yet, God has designed us to be people of commitment. One way or another, we will desire to fulfill our spiritual needs with the stability that only a long-term commitment can provide, so having friends with benefits actually increases the chance of getting on that roller coaster.
The irony of No Strings Attached is that Adam does end up falling in love with Emma. The more he spends time with her, the more he wants to commit his life to her. But Emma refuses for most of the movie, and a slapstick tug-of-war follows. Just goes to show that having friends with benefits is not beneficial at all. The idea that two people can meet casually without feeling severe emotional side effects is a delusion.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminded his audience that their bodies were not their own. A Christian’s body is a “temple of the Holy Spirit.” It is a vessel that Christ “bought at a price” when he died on the cross (1 Cor. 6:1-20).
This is not some abstract theological concept; it is a foundational conviction: Our bodies–and sexuality itself–is reserved for the one person whom God intends for us to marry.
My feeling is that the friends with benefits mentality throughout our culture is a root cause for so much emotional turmoil amongst our teens and young adults. It reminds us that churches have to continue to battle against this rising tide of sexual promiscuity.
To echo one youth leader who spoke at a conference in Atlanta last month, we need to promote abstinence, convince young people that “Modest is hotest,” and encourage them to maintain physical, mental, and emotional purity, which is the best way to safeguard against destructive entanglements. God’s way provides all the real benefits.