Carrie Bradshaw and her friends popularized the three date rulethe idea that, when it comes to sex, theres supposed to be a short waiting period. The goal is to give you a chance to evaluate the other person before hopping into bed. Plus, you dont want to give the other person the impression that youre overeager, but you also dont want to wait too long to start having sex in case it turns out youre incompatible.
This rule is basically the Goldilocks approach to dating: Its about figuring out the time to have sex thats just right. Is there any scientific backing for this idea, though? And is the third date really when most people start having sex anyway?
Researchers struggle studying the topic because it's unclear what is considered a "date."
Believe it or not, social scientists havent yet established which specific date is the most common one for people to start having sex, in part, because date is a pretty nebulous term. What counts as going on a date anyway? For example, does it have to be one-on-one, or can going out with a group of friends count, too? Also, how is dating different from talking or hanging out with someone?
Even if people could agree on a definition, the number of dates isnt all that meaningful to look at because people space them out very differently. Some people go on several dates in the same week, whereas others space them out over a month or more. In other words, two couples could be on their third date, but one pair might have known each other a lot longer than the other.
In order to get around these issues, researchers who study this topic have focused more on the length of time people have known each other rather than on how many dates theyve had.
How long people wait, according to research.
A study published in the Journal of Sex Research of nearly 11,000 unmarried adults who were in serious or steady relationships inquired about when participants started having sex and looked at how this was related to their relationship satisfaction. Most participants (76 percent) had been in their relationships for more than one year, and nearly all of them (93 percent) reported having had sex with their partners.
Of those who were sexually active, a slight majority (51 percent) said they waited a few weeks before having sex, while just over one-third (38 percent) had sex either on the first date or within the first couple of weeks. The remaining 11 percent had sex before they even went on their first date.
Did the timing of sex matter in terms of how people felt about their relationships? Not in a meaningful way. There were only small differences between the groups, with those who had sex earlier tending to be slightly less satisfied. However, all of the groups were highly satisfied on average.
The fact that those who had sex earlier were a little less happy is to be expected based on research showing that sexual passion and excitement tend to decline over the course of a relationship. So if you start having sex sooner, the passion will wear off a little faster, unless you put in the work to keep it going (which you can do by regularly mixing it up in the bedroom).
It's more important how you think about sex, then when you have sex.
Theres something far more important than when you start having sex, and thats what your personality says about how sex and love go together. Everyone has whats called a sociosexual orientation , which is basically the degree to which you think sex and emotions are intertwined versus totally separate.
People who think that they go together tend to agree with statements like, I do not want to have sex with a person until I am sure that we will have a long-term, serious relationship. These folks have what psychologists call a restricted orientation.
By contrast, people who think that these things are separable tend to agree with statements like sex without love is OK. These people have what psychologists refer to as an unrestricted orientation. Unrestricted people are more comfortable with casual sex, and they tend to report higher sex drives and greater numbers of sex partners over the course of their lives. As a result, the amount of time it takes for them to be comfortable having sex with a new partner is much shorter than it is for someone with a restricted orientation.
Neither orientation is inherently better or worse than the other, but knowing where you fall on this trait will give you insight into whether having sex sooner or later is the right approach for you. Understanding differences in sociosexual orientation can also help us to understand why so many couples disagree on the right time to start having sex as well as how much sex they should be havingif you put a restricted and an unrestricted person together, it might be challenging for them to get on the same page.
So, what's the final verdict?
What all of this tells us is that there are no hard and fast rules for dating. Different things work well for different people depending on their personalities, so figure out where your comfort zone isand your partners, toorather than subscribing to some arbitrary rule.
Gigi Engle, Promescent brand advisor and author of All The F*cking Mistakes: a guide to sex, love, and life , summed it up perfectly when she told Mens Health, The only people who have any right to choose when is the appropriate or right time to have sex are the people who are planning to have it. She continued, Sex is a co-created experience between two or more people, and while we are always going to be influenced by our sex-negative, sociopolitical outlooks on sex, we can actively choose to move away from a place of shame and into a place of empowerment."
So have sex or dont have sex. Its totally your call. What matters is that you and your partner are enthusiastically consenting and ready to get down.
Justin Lehmiller, PhD is a Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute and author of the blog Sex and Psychology . His latest book is Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life . Follow him on Twitter @JustinLehmiller .