'Friends With Benefits' And The Newly Divorced

07/26/2011 10:18 am ET Updated Sep 25, 2011

Hollywood always seems to be a little behind the times. Twice this year the big screen has explored a sexual concept that's almost at the ho-hum stage -- Friends with Benefits. You know: two friends who like each other but not as boyfriend-girlfriend material so they have no problem sleeping together in between "real" relationships without things getting weird.

Things don't get weird in the newly released "Friends with Benefits" with Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis or in January's "No Strings Attached" with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, but they do get predictable; in both movies the couples end up falling in love. Maybe we're not ready to see friend sex work on the big screen because a lot of us can't make it work in real life, either, even though many of us think we can.

"It looks great on paper, but it's a very treacherous road," says Dr. Drew Pinsky, host of the radio show Loveline, and VH1's Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. "Particularly women need to pay attention to what is unique to their own personal biology and emotional systems, and not deny it."

It's that darn oxytocin -- the cuddle hormone -- that can mess up casual sex for women.

Men often have an easier time separating sex from emotions, says dating coach Evan Marc Katz. "A lot of women aspire to it, but it backfires."

But if you're newly divorced, you'll see a lot more attempts -- and successes. It may not be ideal for never-married 20- and 30-somethings who eventually want commitment, the picket fence and the Volvo station wagon one day, but if you're just getting out of something like that, a relationship is the last thing you need. Yet, who wants to be celibate? You just need some sex from time to time, something more than what your battery-operated boyfriend can provide. That's why friends with benefits (FWB) and no-strings-attached (NSA) sex are almost custom-made for new divorcees; you can keep yourself focused on rebuilding your life and career and being present for your kids while also having your sexual needs met and a certain level of intimacy without commitment.

It worked for Delaine Moore, a divorce coach who blogs at I Am Divorced Not Dead and whose memoir, "The Secret Life of A Newly Single Mom: A One-year Memoir of Finding Sex & Satisfaction After Divorce," will be published next spring.

Like many other newly divorced people, Moore, the mother of three, knew she wasn't ready for a new relationship after her marriage of seven years ended. And she didn't want a series of one-night stands. "But I liked the idea of frequent awesome sex with one (sexy, decent) man," she says.

She and many of her divorced friends didn't have FWB relationships as much as NSA sex -- they'd get together with someone a handful of times but it was strictly for bedroom activities, not real "friendship."

"Time spent together was fun, sexual, consensual, pleasurable and mutually respectable," she says, "but they wouldn't call each other to say, go for a coffee or for a walk." Mostly because neither wanted to; they were clear on what the get-togethers were about.

What she and others found is that not only did it satisfy them sexually, but it also allowed them to experience and explore their sexual side "without guilt, romantic agenda or biological clock ticking. This can translate into a power, an awakening" some may never have experienced before," she says.

No only is that liberating, says marriage and family therapist Dr. Jane Greer, host of the Internet radio show "Doctor on Call" and author of "What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship," but it restores confidence. It also can be a reminder that you're desirable -- so essential in starting a new life as a divorced person, especially if your marriage ended because of infidelity. It can kick-start your sexuality for when you're finally ready to meet someone new.

"Given the toll divorce can take emotionally, coupled with the demands of life as a single parent or simply being on your own for perhaps the first time in years, being able to remain sexually active in a relationship with someone you trust, feel safe with and know has your back can provide tremendous security during a time that can be fraught with insecurity," Greer says.

It may fulfill sexual desire for a while, Dr. Leah Klungness, a psychologist and co-founder of Singlemommyhood.com, says. But because the newly divorced are vulnerable, "it's essential to avoid emotional attachment, expectations for companionship, and hopes for genuine intimacy. Some people struggle unsuccessfully to keep emotional distance and expectations in check -- particularly during the inevitable tumult of separation and divorce."

And that's the complicated part. A lot of people go a little wild after a divorce, sometimes out of a need for validation or a hunger to make up for all that was lacking in their marriage. Sometimes they're just embracing the incredible sense of freedom. Some are eager to have sex with as many people as they can and then get stuck in a pattern of serial dating; others too easy fall into a rebound relationship because they miss having someone to cuddle with at night, fear that they better grab the first thing that comes along or they'll end up old and alone, or they just don't know how to be alone.

No one should even be thinking about meeting people in the first few months after the shellshock of a breakup; most people are emotional messes even if they wanted the divorce, even if they've been planning it for a long time. At the same time, if you're still having FWB arrangements several years after your divorce, you might want to explore what the heck is going on.

It's hard to advise for or against FWB or NSA arrangements, says Katz, although he says, "It's pretty weird to spend that much time and share that much intimacy with someone you have no feelings for." But as long as no one's getting hurt, so what? "It's a personal, moral, ethical choice. If you want to have fun, go out and have fun. Go out in public and someone will hit on you."

What's most important is that you know yourself well enough to understand what you can and can't do when it comes to casual sex, he says. That means you need to do a "careful and candid emotional self-appraisal," says Klungness.

And both you and your friend need to be on the same page about what's going on, Greer cautions. It's essential both clearly understand that the arrangement is for sex and sex alone, "so that no one runs the risk of turning it into something more romantic and potentially jeopardizing the friendship."

Because the last thing the newly divorced want to do is be like Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis and turn a perfectly good FWB arrangement into a relationship -- especially before they're ready for one.