This Is How Many Dates You Should Wait Before Having Sex
Sorry, folks, there's no one-size-fits-all answer.
From the antiquated idea that women should never make the first move to the “No sex before monogamy” maxim that Patti Stanger preached loud and proud on Bravo TV’s Millionaire Matchmaker, there are dozens of relationship “rules” that are outdated, at best, and sexist, at worst. But, in 2019, we’re all about keeping the lines of communication open and doing what feels right in the moment. After all, sex is one of the most personal experiences in the world and shouldn’t be governed by a rigid set of rules.
To help you navigate the waters of early relationship sex, we asked the experts all your most pressing questions about first-date sex, the “third-date rule,” and everything in between. (We’d also be remiss not to specify upfront that there’s no universal “right time” to have sex. Every person, every date, and every relationship is different, as are individuals’ comfort levels when it comes to physical affection.)
Can you have sex on a first date?
Here’s the short answer: Of course you can.
The consensus on whether or not sex on the first date is still a taboo is somewhat split. “Times are changing and now most people don’t wait until they are married to have sex,” says Lana Otoya, a millennial dating coach at Millenialships. “But having sex on the first date still has its societal implications. We’re not quite there yet.”
Jenna Birch, a strategic advisor for Plum, a dating app, and the author of The Love Gap, argues that any taboo is rooted in outdated ideas. “I think people avoid sex on the first date due to old, patriarchal ‘wisdom’ that women should make men work for sex and generally delay it,” she says. To Birch, the concept that a woman needs to “prove her value” before sex is toxic. That’s because it perpetuates the idea that men are the only ones receiving pleasure from a sexual encounter and that women should safeguard their sexuality.
On the flip side, Tina B. Tessina, PhD, (who goes by “Dr. Romance”) a psychotherapist and the author of Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today, says that getting down on the first date can sometimes make a statement about a person’s long-term goals for that relationship. “Having sex on the first date gives the impression that sex is the most important thing about your relationship, and may even end in a one-night stand,” she says.
And if you are looking for a long-term relationship, statistics suggest that waiting could be beneficial. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Sex Research looked at four sexual-timing patterns—having sex prior to dating, initiating sex on the first date (or shortly after), having sex after a few weeks of dating, and sexual abstinence—and found that waiting to initiate sexual intimacy in unmarried relationships was generally associated with positive outcomes in the long term.
Instead of focusing too much on the matter of first-date sex, Birch suggests instead establishing what you’re looking for—be it a long-term relationship, a short-term hookup, or something in between. That way, “you can be on the same page and no one’s feelings get hurt if the end goals are different,” she says.
What is the third-date rule?
Waiting to have sex with a new partner until after the third date used to be the benchmark, thanks in no small part to Charlotte York, Kristin Davis’s iconic Sex and the City character. But according to the findings of one 2017 Groupon survey of 2,000 U.S. adults, it may not be entirely correct. According to the survey, the average time people waited to have sex with a new partner was eight dates, with women waiting nine and men waiting five. The survey also showed that men were nine times more likely to be okay with having sex on the first date.
Otoya, who coaches mostly women on the complicated processes of millennial courtship, says she usually advises clients to wait until at least date five. Her reasoning is simple: “Sex can cause both parties to have rose-colored glasses,” she says. “If you’re having great sex, it’s harder to stop seeing someone even though they might not be a great fit for your life in the long-term.”
But who is really to determine the Goldilocks of dates?
“I think the only ‘rule’ you should follow in dating is to be true to yourself,” advises relationship therapist and dating expert Dr. Susan Edelman. “That might take 10 dates or more than three months. Having a set rule puts you under pressure to make a decision based on an arbitrary timeline.”
How to decide when to have sex with someone you’re dating:
Whether you choose to have sex on the first date, the third date, or the tenth date does not determine or impact your eligibility as a long-term partner. “If you meet someone who is your perfect match and has long term potential, having sex ‘too early’ doesn’t exist,” says Otoya. “It won’t matter when the two of you had sex because you just get along on every level.”
1. Pay attention.
According to Otoya, you should really be paying attention to what happens after sex has been introduced to the relationship. If there’s suddenly more “Netflix and chill” situations than romantic dates, and you’d prefer things to revert, then take the time to verbalize what you want. Couples who want to explore their love will also want to do so outside the bedroom.
2. Understand what sex means to you.
Knowing and understanding what sex means to you before you jump in the sheets will help clarify the experience.
“If you tend to get attached after physical intimacy and you’re not sure you want to dive all the way into a relationship, you can hold off until you’re ready to take another step,” says Birch. “If you’re more about living and connecting in the moment, and just seeing where things go, enjoy! Ultimately, it’s all about comfort. Wait until you feel incredibly comfortable with the person, in that moment.”
3. Know that there is no set timeline.
The bottom line is there is no romantic timeline. Edelman notes that when you have no set timeline, you can let your main focus be whether you’re a good match.
So, no, there is no magic number of dates you need to go on before having sex with a new partner. “Sex should be about mutual pleasure and relationship-building,” says Birch. “If you’re trying to time it perfectly date by date, you may overthink it and miss a great moment to connect.”
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