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How would you define friendship What is meant by the claim that friendship is based on intimacy Can a friendship also include sexual intimacy Are there different kinds of friendships, whether it be Facebook, gender-related, or intersectional

References: use of 5 appropriate references from the unit reading list plus additional, appropriately selected material that is compatible with the sociological canon. Harvard referencing is used. Major points in the argument are referenced throughout.

What is friendship

Interpersonal relationships can take various forms, such as acquaintance, friendship, romantic relationship, kinship, family, marriage, clubs, neighbours, communities or social groups. Interpersonal relations can be intimate or superficial, and can have various levels of intimacy (Simpson 2014; Easterbrook and Vignoles 2015). Friendship is one such type of interpersonal relationship that can develop between individuals. Friendship differs from any other form of interpersonal relationship, and it can be highly diverse depending on the type of contact and relation that exists between the people (Rawlins 2017; Bukowski et al., 2018). This has also been a topic that has been extensively studied as well as debated in the academic context.

The purpose of this essay is to develop an understanding about what friendship is, as proposed by various theories and by different authors, comparing and contrasting them to identify essential elements that characterize friendship. The essay also discusses how intimacy can be important for friendship and how friendship can develop in an intimate relation. Furthermore, the essay also tries to briefly outline the different types of friendship that can be seen in our society, and how each is developed under specific circumstances.

What is friendship

Friendship is a type of interpersonal relationship that is built on mutual affection and this relationship is stronger than association (Bukowski et al., 2018). Within the academic literature various theories have proposed that explains friendship and how this relation is maintained, these theories include the equity theory, social exchange theory, theory of attachment and relational dialectics (Forsythe and Ledbetter 2015; Blau 2017; Holmes 2014; Baxter and Braithwaite 2015) An early theory of traditional friendship was proposed by Aristotle where it was suggested that there are three components to friendship, the first component is that friends should be enjoying the company of each other (pleasure), the second being that friends must be useful to each other (utility), and the third they should share a common commitment towards what is good for them (goodness) (Kristjánsson 2016; Pereira 2016).

According to Cicero, the foundations of good friendship is laid when friend asks for, or does something that is good for their friends, and that friends should be eager to help each other, willing to do anything that can be helpful, give advice to each other (West 2018). It is also suggested that in a good friendship, equality exists among the friends, even if one of the friends have better opportunities than a friend who is less fortunate in order for the friend not to feel inferior. Virtue is another important factor of a good friendship according to Cicero as it can both create and preserve a friendship (Abbey 2018).

Theories on friendship

According to Adam Smith, friends have the motivation to help each other, not through ‘frivolous fancy’ but instead through generosity and sympathy towards each other, and if given the opportunity would gladly help again when needed without hesitation and with cheerfulness and composure (Yamaguchi et al. 2015; Rasmussen 2017). David Hume suggested that politeness is an important virtue of friendship, as well as dedication and the willingness to sacrifice one’s own motives to help a friend (Rasmussen 2017). Adam Ferguson however argued that such values cannot be maintained in competitive situations (Meer and Sher 2016; Sutcliffe 2017).

According to CS Lewis, proposed that friendship arises from companionship where the companions realize some common interests, ideas, views or tastes, which they might not share with others and both friendship and companionship can involve shared activities (such as fishing, hunting or playing games) (Holt-Lunstad 2017). The common characteristics most of the theories have on friendship are the factor that support and maintain friendship, these factors are: loyalty, honesty, altruism, sympathy, virtue, dedication, sacrifice, love, respect, kindness, trust, empathy, compassion and mutual understanding.

Friendship can also be a type of an intimate relationship, which can include both emotional and physical intimacy. Here emotional intimacy refers to a relation where the individuals can share their deep seated thoughts, fears or motivations with each other, which they would not want to share with others (acquaintances or strangers). The intimacy is based upon emotional bonding. On the other hand, physical intimacy can involve sexual intimacy. In this context, intimacy can be understood as a close bonding between two people (emotional or physical, or both) (Byron 2017).

What is meant by the claim that friendship is based on intimacy?

            Intimacy can be understood as the form of close familiarity with each other. This can be in the form of either emotional or physical intimacy or both. An intimate relation can often lead to friendship, and friendship can be based upon the intimacy between friends. When individuals are intimate to each other, they can share their thoughts with absolute honesty, and also helps to develop a sense of trust and respect towards each other. With such form of intimacy, friends can get to know each other in a better way, and thus develop a strong bond of friendship. Friendship that is based on such type of honesty and intimacy tend to become strong and close (Rogers and Tuckwell 2016).

The role of intimacy in friendship

This shows that friendship is based upon intimacy. This also shows that within an intimate relation friendship can often prosper, since such honestly can also give rise to compassion, sincerity, altruism, respect, kindness and trust. The reason is that sharing the vulnerabilities exposes the individual in front of the friend, and thus creates the absolute form of honesty (Rawlins 2017). An example where friendship can develop in an intimate relationship can be seen in care of intimate relations that start with a romantic or sexual interest which can lead to individuals showing all the hallmark characteristics of friends (Byron 2017). So, using the theoretical understanding of what friendship is, it can be implied that friendship can develop in an intimate or romantic or a sexual relationship.

Such a phenomenon can be observed in the behaviour of couples in a romantic relation, where they also consider their relation to have both romance as well as friendship, and that apart from being lovers, they are also each other’s friends. In such a context, an intimate relationship in itself can be a form of friendship where the individuals are very close to each other, and in a way that might not be applicable for other friends (Chan and Lo 2014). Such a context has understandable given rise to the innuendoes such as ‘special friends’ or ‘girlfriend/boyfriend’.

Such relationships show that friendship can often develop in a relationship that involves intimacy, but also that such friendship might be a unique one, and ‘different’ from other types of friendship. Similarly, in case of individuals in an emotionally intimate relation can also develop friendship, as it exposes each other mental and psychological vulnerabilities and through the sharing of through that are most intimate to them. The honestly that develops through such sharing of through helps to create a friendship. This shows how friendship can be based upon both emotional as well as physical intimacy (Sutcliffe 2017; Byron 2017).

Can a friendship also include sexual intimacy?

It has been suggested by many authors that intimacy is an important component in friendship (Sutcliffe 2017; Byron 2017; Chan and Lo 2014; Rawlins 2017). This can be understood through the expectations of honesty and clarity in a friendship. Intimacy can develop in any friendship depending on the type of friendship and the dynamics of friendship. In some cases, an emotional intimacy can develop, where the friends share their intimate thoughts with each other, in some instances a physical intimacy can also develop between friends, either through the development of a sexual interest in each other (Carolyn 2016).

Can friendship include sexual intimacy

Additionally, a friendship can also develop into love, where the individuals can become both emotionally and physically intimate. In either case, intimacy can quickly develop in a friendship, depending on the nature of the friendship. According to some authors, a close friendship develops when individuals are able to share their vulnerabilities with each other (Hill 2015; Sutcliffe 2017; Byron 2017; Schultz et al. 2017). The vulnerabilities can be mental, emotional and physical, none being mutually exclusive, and might not be in any particular sequence. Additionally, sharing such vulnerabilities occur in an intimate relationship also (Schultz et al. 2017). This highlights that friends would share such intimate emotions and physical relation when they feel they are close to each other. On the other hand, friendship that is not very close might not develop that level of intimacy (Hill 2015).

Friends who are emotionally very close to each other can also develop a sexual interest to each other in some cases, depending upon the sexual orientation of the individuals and the dynamics of the friendship (same gender or cross gender) (Hill 2015). According to some authors, the development of friendship and emotional intimacy can often lead to the development of a sexual intimacy (Hill 2015; Sutcliffe 2017; Byron 2017; Schultz et al. 2017). Other studies show that friendship can also develop into romantic relations, which then can involve sexual intimacies.

On the other hand, sexual intimacy can also develop in a Platonic Friendship, where the friends can engage in a sexual contact without necessarily involving an emotional intimacy (Reeder 2017). The term ‘friends with benefits’ is often used in such a context referring to friends who share a physically intimate relationship but such relation is not an exclusive or even a unique one to them, and more importantly it is marked by the absence of any romantic interest (or love) (Jacobi 2016; Myers 2017)). Thus it can be implied that sexual intimacy can develop in a friendship, but however it is influenced by the type of friendship.

Are there different kinds of friendships, whether it is Facebook, gender-related, or intersectional?

Friendship can be classified into different kinds or types, based upon the environment and the context in which the friendship developed. Each type of friendship can have different dynamic and different extents of intimacies or closeness. Such types of friendship can develop at various stages in life, and each can be based on different utilities of the relation (Hiatt et al. 2015). These types of friendship can include:

Different types of friendships

Social Media Friends (such as Facebook friends): Here the friendship occurs over the social media (such as Facebook). Such friends are able to share and views ideas on the social media platform, and also communicate over it (Yau et al. 2018).

Gender-related friends: Such friendship can be gender based and gender specific, occurring either between the genders or within the same gender. It can be developed under various circumstances and various reasons, such as work, academia, recreation or a romantic relation (Mjaavatn et al. 2016).

Intersectional friends: This type of friendship develops between two sections of the society, community or even nations. The friendship is identified through the diversity of the backgrounds of the friends, and can be developed through various contexts (Romero 2016).

Classmate: Here the friendship usually takes place in an academic environment, where students in the same class or same academic institute can form a bonding. The relationship can develop through the regular interactions occurring in the class, and can later develop into a closer friendship (Rawlins 2017).

Workplace Friends: This type of friendship develops in a workplace between individuals working under the same employer, or employed in the same work. This friendship develops due to the interactions during the work hours, and can involve the friends helping each other out in their work (Easterbrook and Vignoles 2015).

Platonic Friends: This friendship is characterized by an emotional closeness between the friends, but without any sexual intimacy. Platonic friendship can develop in various circumstances and in different types of environments (Rawlins 2017).

Best Friends: This is often the term used for the closest of friends, where all the important elements of friendship exist, including intimacy. Best friends are often very selective and few (Rawlins 2017).

Friendly Neighbour: This is a loose form of friendship that can exist between the neighbours, and might or might not develop into a close friendship (Rawlins 2017).

Party and recreational friends: This type of friendship usually occurs at parties, where people can meet up and have an enjoyable time partying or indulging in recreational activities such as games (Rawlins 2017).


From the discussion above it can be well concluded that friendship is a special type of interpersonal relationship that develops through loyalty, honesty, altruism, sympathy, virtue, dedication, sacrifice, love, respect, kindness, trust, empathy, compassion and mutual understanding. Classical understanding of friendship emphasizes on 3 important factors utility, pleasure and goodness, which implies that good friendship is supposed to have practical utilities, make the individuals feel good and share objectives of common benefits and pleasures. Friendship can also be very intimate, involving physical or emotional intimacy and give rise to other forms of interpersonal relations such as romantic relations.

The intimacies shared by the friends also can lead to the development of sexual intimacies, which is not an uncommon phenomenon. Friends who are close to each other can share their vulnerabilities with utmost honesty, which makes such friendships intimate ones. However, not all forms of friendship have such characteristics, and different types of friendship can develop under different circumstances, each with different levels of intimacies.


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