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The Dating Game: When's the Right Time for Sex?
Experts discuss the consequences of not playing by your own dating rules.
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By Elizabeth Heubeck
WebMD Feature Reviewed by Cynthia Dennison Haines, MD
Whether you're new to the dating scene, a regular player, or jumping back into the game after a long hiatus, the same questions about dating rules apply: How soon do you lean over for that first kiss? Is it too early for a steamy make-out session? And last -- but by no means least -- how do you know when the time is right for sex?
"There's really no formula that I've encountered," says 28-year-old Andrew Reymer, a single resident of Baltimore, Maryland. "It depends on how rapidly or slowly things progress."
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Joan Allen, a relationship expert, finds that baby boomers are far more likely to wait to have sex than younger daters.
"Especially among older people who went through the sexual revolution, with maturity they realize there are emotional consequences for getting involved in a sexual relationship," says Allen, author of Celebrating Single and Getting Love Right: From Stalemate to Soulmate.
According to the singles whom Allen has encountered, boomers generally play by far different dating rules than young, 20-something daters.
"I spoke with a young man in his early to mid-20s who told me that if he didn't have sex on the first or second night, he'd move on to the next person," she recalls.
While you can't apply a one-size-fits-all response to sexual dating rules regardless of age or experience, professionals who have studied the topic say it is a good idea to develop a set of prudent dating rules - before the big date.
Dating Rules: Why Wait?
By and large, Allen and other relationship experts endorse a cautious approach to the dating rules of sex.
"My advice is this: wait as long as you can," Allen says.
Her rationale for these dating rules may seem obvious, but many people tend to forget in the heat of the moment. "You might find that you don't even like the person," Allen tells WebMD.
Other experts agree that sex too-soon can lead to undesirable consequences.
"It becomes much more difficult to objectively see each other's character traits" says Susanne Alexander, a relationship coach and author of Can We Dance? Learning the Steps for a Fulfilling Relationship. "Some couples then slide into engagement and marriage only to discover they have missed seeing major aspects of each other."
Dating Rules: Talk First, Act Later
While not every dating scenario that involves sex leads to marriage or even a serious relationship, couples do owe it to themselves to talk about where they see their relationship going and how sex might change the relationship -- before they get in bed together.
"There needs to be a conversation up front. The woman may assume sex implies a commitment; the man may not see it that way," Allen tells WebMD.
|A former member||
Great article, Fena. What I've personally discovered over the last decade plus spent with anywhere from a toe to both feet in the dating pool is that there really ARE no rules these days.
Both men and women seem more comfortable with the whole "no strings", "casual encounters" or "friends with benefits" arrangements if they lead busy lives and are not interested in a committed relationship. This is particularly common among 20 and 30-somethings.
However, problems arise when there is an imbalance of expectations (read "needs") between the partners. There are at least 2 blogs out there I've read devoted to helping women who wind up in lopsided pseudo-relationships with men who are not interested in relationships, but the women believed that having sex with the same man on a regular basis would mean the man wanted a "relationship".
I think that for those individuals who want a steady monogamous relationship (whether that includes marriage or not) need to be prepared to set some firm boundaries about what they will and will not accept in the dating arena. Being vague or coy hoping your partner will "read your mind" or that things will just be magically assumed to be x, y, or z only works in romantic comedies but leads to disaster in real life.
While waiting to have sex with someone you've just started dating might not be the most fun thing in the world, and requires patience, nerves of steel, and (again) solid boundaries I think that it can pay off in the end. There are no guarantees in this world that if you DO wait, that you'll get the relationship you want but waiting will help weed out those folks who might not be a good match.
I once wrote in a blog of mine that sometimes dating (and sex) is a bit like standing in line for hours at the all-you-can-eat buffet of life only to find that what's left is some cold chicken wings, some stale rolls, a bowl of scary-looking green jello, and one perfect slice of chocolate cheesecake.
Do you wait for the buffet to be refilled? Or do you take the cheesecake (or chicken wings) knowing that it will cure your hunger temporarily, but make you feel guilty and maybe a bit nauseous after you've eaten it.
Some folks wander off with the cheesecake, gobble it down, feel the sugar rush and then promptly pass out face down on the empty plate.
If casual encounters are your thing, then put on your big boy (or big girl) pants and be up front about it with folks you are looking to hook up with. There's a chance that the other person will say "no thanks" and go on their merry way, but that's certainly a more honest and noble approach than being vague.
If not, then you also have to be upfront about it too and be willing to go hungry for a while until that buffet is stocked with something more likely to sustain you. Knowing what YOU want and what you need is half the battle.