Get Real! When Is It the “Right Time” for Sex?

Heather Corinna

On Get Real!, Heather talks to a young woman wondering when it's the "right time" to have sex to keep guys interested.

Editor’s Note: We’re delighted to bring Get Real!, Heather Corinna’s
popular sexuality advice column, to you on Rewire, now every week!

Jes asks:

I am 22 and
was the kinda girl that always had a boyfriend, all through junior high
and high school and moved in with my h.s. sweetheart. I have become
single for the last year and truly enjoy it. I rarely engage in
intercourse (major STD fears) but do enjoy some PG13 action. I date
very often and like to try and keep it all very old fashioned. It’s not
a rule I’ve made but I don’t kiss on the first date and keep ’em
wanting more till at least the 4th date when they finally get a lil
makeout. I was casually dating a guy for about a month and felt he was
really into me. I wanted to have sex so we did and now he is MIA. My
girlfriend said thats what will always happen, they’ll stick around til
you put out than they peace out. 2 of my guy friends said they like a
lil chase but if after a month of hot dates they still don’t get any
action at all they move on to the next. So when do I put out? To wait
or not! I know theres no general rule or cookie cutter answer here but
I would like all of your personal opinions. People say just wait til
the time is right but c’mon… I’m not 16 and the time is always past
due and very right. Thank you for the advice as well as this excellent
site! Keep up the good work!

Heather replies:

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There is no one way to do things when it comes to sex which will guarantee that a partner sticks around or does not.

There also is not any one way men feel or behave when it comes to
sex and relationships, nor any one way women do. Generalizations about
these kinds of things are very infrequently helpful and are often
grossly inaccurate. When people in small social communities talk about
these things, they tend to forget that social circles tend to have
their own dynamics, which become more pervasive the more everyone
starts to behave the same way, believing something to be universal
which is usually nothing of the sort.

Ultimately? When you should have sex with a partner is at whatever
time it is that it’s what you both want to do together, and at a time
when it’s something you both feel ready for, individually. None of us
is perpetually ready for or interested in sex with everyone and anyone
at a given time because we’re a certain age or because we’re single.
When we want sex, and with whom we want to have it, is going to be
based on unique sets of circumstances at any given time. We might go on
six dates and never want to have sex with a given person (or they with
us), and then be on one date with someone else and very strongly feel
that mutual desire and want. One set of rules for every person we date
only makes so much sense, unless you just know there are things you
unilaterally do NOT want to do, with anyone, period, or in a certain
time frame or situation (some people, for instance are only comfortable
having sex within committed monogamy, while some people can be the
opposite at times, only comfortable with more casual sex, for
instance). I’m 38 years old and have been very sexually active for
decades now, but that doesn’t mean I always want to have sex just
because I enjoy sex or am the age I am. We’re not always in the mood,
we’re not always attracted to just anyone, and interpersonal dynamics
and chemistry between any two (or more) people vary wildly.

Trying to schedule sex in such a way that’s not about sex at all,
but about trying to control someone else’s behavior by withholding sex
both doesn’t work to give you that result, and tends to take the sex
out of sex altogether: sex with someone else is about sharing physical
and emotional pleasure and adventure, about developing intimacy (either
just during that one time, or, if a relationship continues, about
developing more over time), about getting to know someone in a sexual
way. A healthy sexual relationship between equals who mutually respect
one another isn’t about a barter to get someone to stick around or give
you a commitment you want. In my opinion, withholding sex not because
that’s what you want to do in terms of your desire or readiness, but
because you’re trying to convince someone else to spend time with you
in the hopes that eventually you’ll put out is manipulative and
sex-negative, and turns sex and dating into a cheap powerplay rather
than a shared expression of mutual accord, pleasure and desire, which
is what it’s all supposed to be.

No matter when you have sex, not everyone you date is going to share
the same end goals you may have, or want to continue a relationship of
any kind. Sometimes, the reason people move on after having sex is
because sex really was all they wanted. Sometimes, it’s because they
discovered with that sex — or might have known before, but figured
they’d see how the sex was to see if that changed their feelings —
that they just don’t really feel a connection with that person that’s
sexual or romantic. Sometimes, they move on because the sex just wasn’t
very compelling for them, to the point they’re not interested in having
another go, even if it does improve over time.

If you want to know what someone is really looking for when you’re dating them, the way to find that out is to talk about it.
Ask if they’re looking for something long-term or more short-term, open
or monogamous, exclusively sexual or something which is also romantic
or about friendship. Express what you’re looking for yourself.
Obviously, you don’t want to get too into that on a first date (that’d
be a bit overwhelming for anyone), but as you move into second or third
dates, those are totally appropriate discussions. And if you feel like
you’re only comfortable with things becoming sexual once you’ve
procured a given commitment, then you voice that need. You’re far more
likely to find people for whom that’s a shared want by talking than you
are by withholding sex or having sex. If the people you’re dating
aren’t initiating these kinds of conversations, then maybe you need to
open that door yourself. Ideally, one or both people in a dating
relationship will bring these things up soon enough.

The guy friends you have may be saying what they are because they
want a sexual relationship, and feel that at a certain point, if it’s
not put forth, that’s not what the person they’re dating wants. They’re
then moving on because they feel they and those dates don’t share the
same wants in a relationship. That’s not unreasonable, but it’d sure be
a lot easier for them to find out if they really do or don’t share
those same desires by just talking about it. These really just aren’t
things we can intuit or discern based on when someone does or doesn’t
have sex with us.

None of this is to say it’s not perfectly fine for you to enjoy the
anticipation of sex when it comes to putting it off in your dating
patterns. It sounds like you like that part of it. Anticipation can be
pretty exciting, after all, and really rev up desire and arousal. I’d
just encourage you to think about it that way, and approach it that
way, than to see it as a way to keep someone wanting more in the hopes
of fending off what it sounds like you and your mates think is an
inevitable escape after sex finally happens.

So, when is the right time for you to have sex with someone you’re dating?
When it’s — and by it, I mean sex, plain and simple — what both of
you want, in a situation or scenario that feels right for both of you.

While how two people communicate in terms of sex, and how two people
conduct a sexual relationship certainly has an effect on if something
good sustains itself, any time you have sex with someone you just have
to accept that you cannot control how sex will make either of you feel
about the other, nor can it — or the absence of it — control if
someone will be interested in continuing the relationship.

As an aside? Again, no matter what the situation is when you don’t
want to have sex, that’s fine. But when it comes to sexually
transmitted infections, waiting a few dates for sex alone doesn’t
protect you from sexually transmitted infections: either not having sex
at all, or using safer sex practices with any sex you have is what we
know prevents the transmission of STIs. So, I’m including a link below
to help get you filled in on that.

Here are a few extra links to help you out:

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