Joanna*, a 25-year-old woman living in Brooklyn, New York, has a hard and fast rule about when she sleeps with someone new. “My rule is five dates, and he has to have been responsive and engaged that whole time. So texting me often, showing up when he says he will, that kind of thing.”
Joanna isn’t alone in creating guidelines around sex. While some people have sex when they’re ready, others are a little more calculated about it, believing establishing a set of rules will protect them from getting hurt down the road. “The ‘right’ time to have sex while dating takes up a lot of space in people’s minds, but it’s incredibly subjective,” says Amanda Carver, LMFT.
It makes sense that it’s impossible to create a specific formula around the so-called right time to have sex — people are incredibly complicated and nuanced, after all. But can you figure out the right time for you? Maybe. Let’s take a closer look.
Be honest with yourself about what you actually want out of your current romantic situation.
As you get ready to take your relationship to the next level, it’s important to ask yourself what you want. Is it a no-strings-attached situation or something more serious? Having sex quickly certainly doesn’t mean that your relationship can’t become serious — plenty of serious relationships start with having sex in the early days. But going in with clear intentions about the other person can help you get in tune with what you actually want.
“The very best thing you can do is ask yourself a number of questions, and be honest about the answers,” Carver says. “Has [having sex early on] felt okay or bad to you afterward in the past? Are you looking for an ongoing dating experience? Do you have a sense of whether the other person has similar intentions? Do you tend to hurt others by pulling away or becoming quickly attached because of sex?”
Above all, Carver notes that the two most important questions you can ask yourself are if you feel safe and if you feel a genuine connection with the other person.
Once you’ve done that, you may have a better idea of just how ready you are to have sex. Hey, a little introspection never hurt anyone.
Get on the same page as your partner.
Of course, there are two people in the equation — so when you’re thinking about whether or not it’s the right time to have sex, it’s important to consider your partner’s feelings too.
Carver’s suggestion? Talk about it. “This can be difficult, but reading minds or making assumptions to avoid the discomfort of the conversation only makes for more discomfort later when you realize you weren’t on the same page,” she points out.
Relationship coach Jillian Turecki agrees that crystal clear communication is key. “It might not be comfortable, but it’s so important,” she says. Let’s say you’re afraid that having sex will cause you to get attached and create problems. Turecki suggests saying, “‘It’s important to me to wait X amount of weeks or months before we sleep together because I’m looking for something special and I don’t want to get attached before I know you.” And conversely, if you are interested in getting physical in the early dating stages, it’s important to be upfront about your desires without pressuring your partner. Even saying something in the moment like, “I’m super attracted to you — whenever you’re ready to take things to the next level, I am too,” can be enough to open up the dialogue.
Over the course of the conversation, you’ll probably gain insight into other things, too — like whether or not either or both of you are looking for a serious relationship. Consider it a nice bonus.
Examine past patterns around sex and how they made you feel.
Most people have experienced a number of different feelings after having sex with a new person for the first time. These feelings can range from elated, content, and hopeful to depressed, anxious, and disappointed.
According to Turecki, one of the best ways to determine your future feelings around sex is to look to your past. “If your pattern is to begin relationships with intensity and lust only to find they crash and burn, my advice is to break that pattern and go slow,” she says. “Get to know someone first. Wait to see if the person you’re dating is someone of character, and is even someone you want to commit to.”
On the other hand, if you have a pattern of going very slowly in the beginning but relationships haven’t worked out the way you’d hoped, it’s important to examine that behavior, too — and whether your motivations for any strict rules you may have created for yourself are serving you.
Nathan*, a 30-year-old man living in Oakland, California, recently examined his own patterns around sex and it drastically changed his relationship to intimacy. “I feel like as a guy, the expectation is that you have as much sex as you can, but that didn’t feel good for me,” he admits. “After months of sleeping with someone as quickly as possible and feeling weird and disconnected afterward, I decided to try something different when I met a girl I really liked. We waited two months, and when it finally happened, it was really special. As it turns out, waiting is more my style.”
And on the opposite end of the spectrum, if having sex quickly feels right for you, that’s great, too. “I’m not looking for a serious relationship right now, and I’ve been having sex with people pretty quickly into knowing them,” says Amber*, a 31-year-old woman living in New York. “I enjoy it, and it makes me happy. And guess what? If someone would ever judge me for that, I wouldn’t want to be with them anyway.”
Above all, when it comes to sex the most important thing you can do is listen to your gut and tune out all the noise. “Despite what society may tell you, there is no right or wrong time to have sex,” says Turecki. “There’s only a wrong time for YOU. Wait until you’re ready or don’t wait. It’s your life and your body.”
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of innocent daters everywhere.