A Brief History Of The “Third-Date Rule.” – maude Skip to content

A brief history of the “third-date rule.”

A Brief History Of The “Third-Date Rule.”

Does sex hit different on date #3?

The number three takes up significant real estate in the world of idioms: Third time’s the charm, rule of thirds, three’s a crowd, the list goes on. And in the romantic world, too, the numeral has a notable place: Namely, in the context of the “third date” rule. 

As a law so oft-cited, hardly anyone knows where, exactly, it comes from, the third date rule states that one must withhold sex until the third date when fraternizing with a new suitor. While largely popularized by the cast of Sex and The City — the source of many a rogue dating mandate somehow sworn into our global roster of romantic commandments — some sexologists believe the theory has been around since the ‘80s. While no hard and fast data remains, a good deal of literature was distributed during that period in service of “protecting a woman’s virtue.”

There are plenty of theories, of course, as to the merit of this particular guideline — the first being the antiquated notion that giving it up too quickly might cause a partner to lose interest. For all the ways this particular stance is both sexist and outdated, however, some small piece of this ethos has transformed into a more contemporary stance: The fear no longer seems to lie in coming off as easy per se — instead, it feels far more mired in the idea that three dates offer enough time to build some level of comfort or sustained interest in a person…the likes of which makes the vulnerability of sex that much easier to stomach. Of course, this is true for some, and deeply untrue for others, which again, calls into question the unique sanctity of the hallowed third date dictum. 

Additionally, there’s a case to be made that prolonging the pre sex waiting period can heighten the pleasure that follows — though it’s doubtful that this was, in any sense, the intention behind the guideline in its original format.

Of course, all of the above is a matter of personality — and no formal data has ever suggested that the longevity or success of a relationship hinged upon how long sex was withheld — and on that note, in plenty of circumstances, the third date might feel too soon. There’s no one-size-fits-all algorithm here. Moreover, plenty would even posit that the “law” is decidedly sex negative, in that it deprives folks from indulging their sexual inclinations honestly, in any regard. We no longer live in an era whereby courting takes on a traditional arc. Physical intimacy is dictated on case-by-case terms — and we’re far past a world where “protecting virtue” operates as a prevailing romantic goal. 

Dating, in 2024, presupposes countless intentions. Sure, you may be dating in service of finding lifelong partnership, in the interest of having fun, falling in love, building up fodder for a future memoir, sexual exploration, emotional exploration, the list goes on. Vintage theories like the three-date rule leave little room to contemplate all of the ways in which sex might be the whole point of the endeavor — or, for that matter, entirely irrelevant. Long story long, three is but a number. Listen to your gut (and/or your loins).
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