This extremely popular video argues they can’t:
Via Andrew Sullivan who relays an article from a decade ago that makes the case for the value of male-female friendship (based in part on the work of Kathy Werking of Eastern Kentucky University. Werking’s book is We’re Just Good Friends). That same article gives advice to avoid potential pitfalls:
Overcoming Attraction: Let’s Talk About Sex
The reality that sexual attraction could suddenly enter the equation of a cross-sex friendship uninvited is always lurking in the background. A simple, platonic hug could instantaneously take on a more amorous meaning. “You’re trying to do a friend-friend thing,” said O’Meara, “but the male-female parts of you get in the way.” Unwelcome or not, the attraction is difficult to ignore.
In a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Sapadin asked more than 150 professional men and women what they liked and disliked about their cross-sex friendships. Topping women’s list of dislikes: sexual tension. Men, on the other hand, more frequently replied that sexual attraction was a prime reason for initiating a friendship, and that it could even deepen a friendship. Either way, 62 percent of all subjects reported that sexual tension was present in their cross-sex friendships.
Establishing Equality: The Power Play
Friendship should be a pairing of equals. But, O’Meara said, “in a culture where men have always been more equal than women, male dominance, prestige and power is baggage that both men and women are likely to bring to a relationship.” Women are at risk of subconsciously adopting a more submissive role in cross-sex friendships, he said, although that is slowly changing as society begins to treat both genders more equally.