Tracey Cox sex blog: Can men and women REALLY ever be "just friends"?

Can men and women REALLY ever be 'just friends' MailOnline's resident sexpert Tracey Cox answers the eternal dilemma…



16:41 GMT, 31 October 2012

Tracey Cox is the UK's leading expert and author on sex and relationship issue. With an academic background in psychology, 14 books on sex, relationships and body language under her belt and a television career spanning decades, she is more than well equipped to answer your dilemmas.

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Sexpert: Tracey Cox investigates the age-old dilemma of whether men and women can be friends

Sexpert: Tracey Cox investigates the age-old dilemma of whether men and women can be friends

Look around pretty much any workplace that employs both sexes and you’ll usually spot a few men and women who enjoy a close friendship.

Now answer this honestly: have you ever wondered if, well, there’s anything else going on

Science has now put its hand up to express an opinion on the whole ‘Can men and women ever just be friends’ question.

New research in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships focuses on 88 pairs of American undergraduate students, all opposite sex friends, who were grilled separately (and mercilessly, it seems!) by researchers.

Crucially, all the information was given anonymously and guaranteed to be kept confidential.

If one friend confessed undying love and the other said ‘Couldn’t think of anything worse’, neither would ever know.

The result Men and women thought differently. Now there’s a surprise.

Turns out men are more attracted to their female friends than vice versa – and way more likely to think their female friends fancied them. Any romantic or sexual feelings they felt were assumed to be mutual.

Because women tended not to fancy their male friends, they assumed the lack of attraction was mutual as well. In short: men overestimated how much their female friends fancied them, women underestimated.

Given this, it’s not surprising that men were also more willing to make a move on a female friend – regardless of whether she was attached or not. Whereas women, sweet creatures that we are, weren’t interested in pursuing male friends who were already involved with someone else.

Most telling of all though, was the finding that both sexes found it more a burden to fancy a friend than a bonus.

Even the topic is prickly – one that’s guaranteed to divide the table at any dinner party, no matter who you’re with or what company you’re in.

It makes people feel uncomfortable. If you don’t fancy the pants off your best male friend, you don’t want to think that while you’re moaning to him about work in the queue at Pret, he’s got you in a corset and nasty looking spiked heels, reenacting some weird Fifty Shades of Grey dungeon sex scenario in his head.

Friends with benefits: Patrick Kielty and Cat Deeley were pals for many years before their relationship turned romantic

Friends with benefits: Patrick Kielty and Cat Deeley were pals for many years before their relationship turned romantic

If you’re the one dreaming of the day when they stare into your limpid, loving eyes and say, 'Sod it! I know I’m risking a lot here but I just can’t not do this any longer' before pulling you in for a deep, long, satisfying snog, it’s equally off-putting to imagine their reaction as ‘Yuk!'.

The scenario of one person thinking it’s just friendship, the other desperately hoping it will turn into love, happens. It happens a lot. I know this because it’s a common theme of emails sent to me by both men and women. No wonder both sexes see it as a negative: it is!

Fancying a friend is a knotty, tricky, risky situation to be in and requires crafty, cunning manoeuvring because there’s so much to lose.

Not just the friendship but your pride. Being rejected by a stranger in a bar is ego-deflating but being rejected by a best friend who knows you intimately is devastating. If you’re not lovable to a good friend, who is going to love you

It takes a brave soul not to take the coward’s route and simply pump a mutual friend for information or send them in search of answers.

Said friend then has to casually mention something like ‘Sarah’s terribly attractive, don’t you think Have you ever thought about, you know, the two of you…” then report back. (Said friend’s heart meanwhile dropping into her boots knowing it’s not going to be pretty if the answer is ‘No. But I do fancy Rachel’.)

Which is why I heartily recommend the ‘I had a dream about us’ technique for solving this one.

Here’s how it works.

The next time you’re chatting with the friend you fancy, you simply say, ‘Oh my God, I had the strangest dream about us last night! You and I were going out! How funny is that” Their reaction will tell you all you need to know.


Sex therapists classify a marriage as
‘no sex’ if you’re having sex less than 10 times per year.

Around 20% of
American couples have ‘no sex’ marriages – and figures are thought to
be the same in the UK

If they’re confident and feel the same, you’ll get a cheeky, broad grin and alert interest: “What happened What were we doing”.

If they’re not so confident but feel the same, they’ll probably flush and dip their head, but still look back up at you, a little embarrassed but hopeful.

If they don’t feel the same, you’ll get either ‘Ewww! How weird is that!’ (at which point, you consider rushing out into the traffic) or ‘Hilarious! Could you imagine” accompanied by much guffawing and slapping on the knee (when your eyes narrow and you instantly decide you actually despise, rather than desire them).

Your heart might be splitting in two, but at least the situation is easily rescued with your friend none the wiser. If they aren’t interested, all you need to do now is chime in with ‘I know! Ewww/funny indeed! Dreams are weird, right’, swiftly change the topic and move on.

You have your answer and the friendship remains intact without everything being all weird and awkward afterward.

Believe me, it works a hell of a lot better than pouncing after five drinks too many!


Q: My husband and I both wanted kids but
we’re really struggling now they’re here. It’s relentless – I had no
idea it was going to be like this and I worry that sexually, we’ll never
get back to how we were. Any tips on how to get through this

A: It’s ironic that the product of sex –
children – threatens the very thing that brought them into the world.
It’s not just sleep deprivation that can turn a sexually charged couple
into who-can-be-bothereds in under a week. The first thing to do is not
panic. It’s normal for sex to be put on the backburner for the first two
years. Your sex life hasn’t disappeared forever, I promise!

Here are some ways to stay both sane and sexual:

Go to bed at the same time and sleep naked. Skin to skin contact will keep the connection going.Get and use babysitters. Bribe parents, sibings, cultivate a tribe of people you trust to look after your children.Grab any sex you can. Don’t be fussy. OK sex is better for your relationship than no sex.Don’t worry if you don’t ‘finish’
having sex. When was the last time you finished a meal while it was hot
It’s just how it is for a while.

Just do it. You’re both tired but
avoiding sex – pretending to be asleep, worrying that you’ve hurt your
partner by saying no – takes more effort than it does to have a quickie
and both go to sleep with a smile on your face.Cheat with sex toys. Using a
vibrator means orgasms for you are more guaranteed and – crucially –
quicker. Time is precious when you have children. Make the most of it
and have a browse through Lovehoney.


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