There was a time when sex rarely, if ever, preceded a marriage, let alone a relationship. But it's 2019 and that's just not the way the world works anymore. (Le sigh.) Nowadays, you're not only stressing about what to wear or where to go on your dates, but also how many dates you should go on before having sex with this person you're into. It's a perfectly legit question, especially if you're a pretty sexual person, but one that, for many, is really tough to answer.
But here's the thing: While there is no hard and fast rule (puns not intended!), there is an ideal timeframe that can help protect yourself from pain and disappointment that could come with sleeping with someone you really like. Let me explain.
Ideally, you should have been on a few dates with this person over the course of a month (at least).
This has nothing (I repeat: nothing) to do with seeming promiscuous and everything to do with sussing out a person's potential. (I'm speaking entirely as a psychologist and not an old-school traditionalist here.) There's absolutely no shame involved in how quickly you go to bed with someone—to each their own!—but if you're seeking a committed relationship with this person, it's helpful to think of sex more strategically.
By that, I don't mean as a way to control the other person. (Never do that, please.) I mean that if you're interested in a healthy, long-term relationship with someone, it's really important to see that this person is stable and reliable in various settings and situations. That's really hard to do in just one or two encounters.
Think about it this way: Fortune 500 companies interview exec-level candidates at least three times (on three different days) to see that they are reliable and can show up (not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, too) on a regular basis. Anyone can ace a single interview, but not everyone can be their best self over and over. The same goes for dating.
Of course, if you're not hoping to get into a committed relationship with your date, this is much less important. If you're feeling the sexual chemistry and wanting a fling, use your best judgment to decide when you're ready to heat things up (and be safe!). But if you're hoping for something more serious...
You want to have had a relationship convo.
I say "a relationship convo" and not "the relationship convo," because this early in the game, all you need is a general chat about what you're both looking for in the long run—not necessarily with each other.
After just two or three dates, you might not KNOW if you want to be in a solid relationship with this person, and they might not either. That's totally fine! But if you know that your goal in dating is to have a relationship, then you want to make sure that they have the same goal before you sleep with them. (More on that in a sec.)
Note that someone who is "open to a relationship" isn't the same as someone who is "looking for a relationship." Somebody who has a goal of something will be willing to work through challenges to make it happen; conversely, somebody who is just open to something is more likely to walk away if it doesn't seem to be happening without challenges. And by now, you probably know firsthand that all relationships come with some challenges and require effort to work through them, together.
Many women are afraid to openly talk about wanting a relationship (you're not alone—I hear it all the time in my practice), because they're worried they'll sound desperate. But it's not desperate at all!
What you're actually saying is: "I will exclude anybody who doesn't have the same goal as me of having a relationship." That is incredibly empowering—you get to choose who does and doesn't deserve your time. You're like the bouncer to the very exclusive and A-list club that is your heart.
Why does any of this matter? Because sex changes things.
Two major reactions happen when women sleep with a date:
- Especially if the sex is good, your body produces the bonding hormone oxytocin (the very same hormone that nursing mothers release, btw). If your partner is male, he'll produce more testosterone, the "hunting hormone." Unless he's very clear about wanting to be with you and has a plan to do so despite any challenges that pop up, he's likely going to continue hunting...as in, sleeping with other people. (Next time you get mad at a guy for "a f*ck and chuck," remember that human physiology is much to blame.)
- Once you've felt a bit of that bonding hormone, you're probably going to stop trying to sleep with other people. (Not every woman does this, but most do—women generally don't like sleeping with multiple men at once...perhaps because of a subconscious fear of getting pregnant, if you want to bring evolutionary theory into it.) This may lead you to become accidentally monogamous—and now you've taken yourself off the dating market for someone who hasn't indicated that they want to commit to you. Womp.
You can—and should—verbalise if you want to wait to have sex.
If the subject of sex comes up (or ya know, a makeout session starts getting really heated), take the opportunity to say your stance. Try something like: "I'm really flattered and I feel a lot of chemistry with you, but I'm a relationship person and I want to make sure I don't get ahead of myself."
If they miss the chance to pick up the ball and talk about relationships, you can probably take the absence of their statement as a statement in itself. (Read: A relationship is not on their mind.)
If they are onboard, cool—proceed when you feel ready, and when you've established that they are indeed the kind of stable, reliable, and commitment-oriented person that you could truly be with for the long haul.
And if they aren't on board? All good. If a relationship is what you want, having sex with someone who doesn't want one likely isn't going to change their mind. Be grateful for their honesty—it's crucial intel that'll spare you the post-orgasm blues.
Now do yourself a favour and kindly send them away from your proverbial red carpet to make space for someone who deserves it. They're out there...and I promise you: The sex will be great.
"Dr. Chloe" Carmichael, PhD, is a relationship therapist in New York City, author of Dr. Chloe's 10 Commandments of Dating, and proud member of WH's advisory board. She's here to answer all your dating, relationship, and life questions—no holds barred.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.