Delayed gratification: should you wait to have sex?
This week, resident sexpert Olivia Petter explores the highs and lows of holding out on the fun at the start of a new relationship
Friday 2 December By Olivia Petter Illustration by Vasya Kolotusha
He told me there was a five-date rule and I was furious. I’d been dating Mark (not his real name) for a week and my god, I really fancied him. So much so that I brought him back to mine on the first date, hoping it would happen. It didn’t. On the second date, I extended the invitation again. We slept in the same bed – nothing. On our third date, I asked if there was a problem. I thought things were going well. Why hadn’t he made a move?
That’s when he explained the rule: he doesn’t sleep with a woman until he’s been on at least five dates with them. It was nothing to do with me, he stressed, but he found that it was often better to wait, particularly with someone he saw a genuine future with.
The sentiment was sweet, sure, but I was aghast – and, frankly, a little insulted. Aren’t I supposed to be the one who’s holding back? Shouldn’t I be imposing rules on him? Because he’s a straight man and therefore needs limitations imposed on his insatiable desire for me?
For context, this was a couple of years ago. My self-esteem was a little more fragile than it is now and my sexual experience somewhat minimal. Hence why I was so taken aback by Mark’s very reasonable – and honestly quite decent – approach to sleeping with me. Nonetheless, I think it’s relevant to this question.
The idea of waiting to have sex with someone before ‘putting out’ is a contentious one, particularly where gender dynamics are concerned. As one Urban Dictionary example reads: ‘It was already the second week they were going out and Chris was starting to lose interest in Ashley because she wasn't putting out.’
Millennials like myself were reared on the ideologies perpetuated in this sentence: that when it comes to sex, men are always up for it and women need convincing. Sleep with them right away, though, and you’re a slut. Hold back too long, and you’re frigid. To me, this question encapsulates this Madonna-whore paradigm better than any other where modern dating is concerned. And it’s a problem, because either way, you’re sort of screwed. And not in the way you want to be.
I don’t know your gender or sexual orientation. But I’m using this example to make the point that the whole idea of ‘waiting’ to have sex with someone is fundamentally flawed. Sure, it can be healthy to impose boundaries, as poor Mark did with me. But when you place so much meaning on ‘the wait’ that it starts to become a power game, you’re entering murky waters.
I’ve done this in the past, too: held out to sleep with someone even though I really wanted to, in the hope that it would make them respect me more. It didn’t. In truth, I don’t think it would have made much a difference had we slept together any sooner.
My advice is to stop overthinking it. If you want to have sex with someone and they want to have sex with you, throw the rulebook out the window.
The quick-fire round
What if you are so satisfied with your current relationship, you’re afraid it might end?
This is a brilliant problem to have. Because the only thing that’s wrong in your relationship is your very normal anxious brain. See if there’s something fuelling this anxiety beyond this. Could it be work? Family issues? Whatever it is, don’t let it damage what sounds like a healthy, lovely relationship. You have something special – cherish it.
How do I deal with my partner being cold when we live together?
It’s no secret that domesticity and romance are occasionally mismatched bedfellows. An unfortunate by-product of cohabitating means that anger can build from something as small as not emptying the dishwasher. I’d have a conversation with your partner and ask what’s bothering them. Cook them a lovely dinner first to relax them.