Is postponing sex a numbers game?
For matters of the heart (or bedroom), we look from Reddit to Instagram to everything in between. Google “How long should I wait to have sex?” and you’ll quickly realize that you’re not the only person asking this hotly debated question. There’s a reason we’ve taken to the universe for advice, and a reason its response to our SOS comes with bated breath: It’s a waiting game with no one path.
One common directive that pops up across pop culture is the “three date rule”– supposedly long enough to seem respectable, quick enough that you won’t have gone too far with someone before you work out if you’re compatible. Unsurprisingly, this rule is not based on science and it doesn’t seem like many of us stick to this (slightly arbitrary) rule. One survey found that, on average, US couples wait for eight dates. 17% of those pairs kiss on the first date. It also found that gender splits opinion on when best to get to it, with men nine times more likely to have sex on the first date.
We’ve outlined a few reasons why you might want to wait.
This centers around what we are taught–in school, by our peers, and by our communities. One such teaching is chastity; say your culture frowns on sex before marriage. Throughout the United States, more than half of the sex education programs teach abstinence-only (this means no banana-condom demonstration or STI facts). We can attribute the ‘save yourself’ narrative to religion, as many of these programs exist where church and state are tightly wound.
Trust in your Partner
Sex is an intimate act, and for many of us, knowing that we will feel safe with another person, emotionally and physically, can take a while to work out. In the conversation over how long to hold off, women tend to wonder if they will be judged for having sex with a partner “too soon”. But according to one Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute, most important to deciding “when” is actually asking: What kind of sexual person are you? If your outlook on sex is more “unrestricted”, and you do not so closely equate sex with relationships, it might be natural to you to bite the bullet and have sex earlier on. If it is what researchers call “restricted” it might be better to bite the back of your hand and hold out.
Having sex with someone new for the first time can be daunting, so waiting can help ease the pressure. It also gives you a chance to build up communication, exploring what one another are into verbally. Or on the flipside you might actually want to let the sexual tension reach boiling point. Like Tom Cruise in the movie Vanilla Sky, some of us are just “pleasure delayers” (or just masochists, depending on how you look at it)–otherwise known as fans of delayed gratification, putting off something you’re craving to get a bigger kick out of it.
The research tends to find that waiting can benefit a relationship, even if just a little. One study by Cornell University found that long term couples who had waited at least six months to have sex were happier than those who didn't. Another paper asked 11,000 adults in long term, sexually active partnerships about their sex lives and found that those who had sex earlier on in the relationship tended to be a little less satisfied.