No Strings? No Problem

Ah, the joys of modern friendship: knowing that your loyal pal is always going to be there for you—as a shoulder to cry on, a buddy to laugh with, or…a sexual partner whenever you’re in the mood.

Recent studies have found that the practice of having sex with a good friend without any romantic strings attached—a type of relationship often known as “friends with benefits”— is becoming increasingly common among young people. Hollywood is just now catching up with the real-life trend: In a slew of upcoming film and television offerings, “sex buddies” will take center stage.

No Strings Attached, a romantic comedy hitting theaters , stars Natalie Portman as a busy young doctor who enjoys having sex but doesn’t have the time or patience for traditional dating. As such, she establishes a purely physical relationship with her close guy friend (Ashton Kutcher), with the understanding that neither one of them will let any romantic feelings enter the picture. (Or so they think.)

“I am a huge romantic-comedy fan,” says the film’s writer, 28-year-old Elizabeth Meriwether “and I hadn’t really seen a romantic comedy that felt like it was about my life or my friends’ lives.” So she set out to write a rom-com “that felt real and that didn’t end with a kiss, but started with one.”

Meriwether also “didn’t want to tell the story of some girl who has been planning her wedding since she was a little kid—I wanted to tell a story about a girl who has other things going on and who doesn’t necessarily want the things we expect girls to want.” Indeed, Meriwether’s script takes many of the previously established norms of the romantic-comedy genre and turns them upside down. A “morning after” scene, for example, features Kutcher’s and Portman’s characters waking up together, mortified—not because they’d had sex the night before but because they’d spent the night cuddling. “A lightbulb went off in my head,” says Meriwether about conceiving the on-screen moment. “It was like, this is the scene where they are totally embarrassed—when they wake up fully clothed, spooning each other.”

On the small screen, NBC will feature a Brian Grazer–produced comedy this spring called Friends With Benefits, from the writers of (500) Days of Summer. The concept of friends enjoying a physical but nonromantic relationship is “essentially the jumping-off point for the show,” says cowriter Scott Neustadter, 33. Two of the show’s main characters are “a guy and a girl who are great friends—they might even love each other,” says Neustadter, “but their priorities are different, the timing isn’t right, and for lots of reasons they simply wouldn’t make for a very good couple. Each one is searching for that perfect person, but in the meantime, it’s nice to know that there’s someone you can turn to in all matters, who is waiting on the other line—or on the other side of the bed.” Thanks to the “relaxing of labels,” says Neustadter, these two characters “can absolutely have a physical relationship without having a romantic one.”

Still hungering for more “friends with benefits”–themed entertainment? You’re in luck. Portman’s Black Swan costar Mila Kunis teams up with Justin Timberlake, playing a pair of pals who use each other for sexual satisfaction in a romantic comedy directed by Will Gluck (Easy A) coming to theaters this summer. Its title? You guessed it: Friends With Benefits. (As if all this weren’t confusing enough, Friends With Benefits was also, at one point, the name of the Natalie Portman movie.)

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June 2011
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