Once upon a time, in the depths of a 70s women’s weekly, a well meaning Agony Aunt made up a set of arbitrary sex and dating rules that filtered down into our collective psyches. Along with tips like “alternate between ice cubes and warm tea in your mouth to give your guy a blow job he’ll never forget”, they also advised that a set amount of time should pass before two people could be rewarded with the sacred act of sex.
Depending on where you get your information from, this can wildly range from the “three date rule”, popularised by Charlotte York in Sex and the City, to five or even ten intense and increasingly sexually frustrated dates. This week a British tabloid professed, in light of “a recent study”, that we should be patiently waiting eight dates before even considering banging each other.
Despite the fact that contraception has been widely available for the past 50 years and the stigma towards casual sex has. decreased a fair amount since then, “should you have sex on the first date?” is still one of the most searched questions on the internet.
Whoever is thirsty enough to ask the internet for advice is probably really looking for permission. Questions like “Will I ruin any chance of a relationship with this person?” or “Will they judge me as being ‘easy’?” will undoubtedly pop into your head when trying to settle this coital conundrum. But what you and the other person want out of the date should be your main focus here.
So, how do real people both in and out of the dating scene feel about this apparently universal question?
“I think gay men, broadly speaking, aren’t particularly moralising about that, nor does it suggest the relationship is off to a bad start, but still sometimes I prefer not to,” says James, 29. “I feel like if there’s no kiss on the first date, it’s a straight up failure or write off. But I’m more ambiguous about sex. If I like someone, I’d rather not be super pissed the first time we have sex.”
Sean, 26, favours waiting to get to know someone before doing the dirty, allowing more time for sexual chemistry to develop. “I think it’s definitely true that first-date sex is kind of bad,” he says, however that’s not because he believes that the sanctity of sex should be preserved. “The big danger is being like ‘well, that was crap’, getting embarrassed and moving on, in my opinion. But it just all depends on what you’re ready to work with at that point. Sometimes you want dates where fucking is the whole point.”
Meanwhile, Sophie, 29, took the complete opposite approach with her current partner. They’d been speaking for months prior to meeting IRL, so before they went out on a proper date, they decided to have “preliminary sex” to avoid any awkwardness at dinner. “This is probably an insane way to do it, but it was a weird balance where we’d known each other for months at this point but still never met,” she says. “Also, we kind of knew we wanted to spend our lives together. It just made total sense to get the first shag out of the way.”
Laura, 36, also dove straight into the deep end on her first date with her current partner, who later confessed that he’d initially judged her for it. “He since claims he didn’t but he definitely admitted it when he was high,” she says. Aside from potential judgement, though, Sarah points out the upsides to first date sex. “It’s also nice to know if they have potential, I guess. It filters out the dicks like garden mushrooms. I’d be gutted to find one of those once I’d caught feelings. Imagine the horror!”
Getting older has also made the first-date-sex problem more complicated. “I don’t think I was really judged for it when I was younger, but I would be now,” says Sarah. “There’s a lot of factors, especially after having kids. Like, are your kids upstairs? If there’s no date, but you’ve just said ‘come on over’, I wouldn’t expect that to lead to anything more than a friends with benefits situation.”
I personally operate on the “try before you buy” way of life. Putting time, effort and money into getting to know someone for three to eight dates is exhausting. Nothing could be worse than listening to someone go on about their boring job and how they like to do something called “Everesting” on their Peloton for fun over the space of potentially a few weeks, only to find out that, when one of you does eventually ask the other back home, the sex is awful.
That’s not to say that jumping into bed on every first date is recommended. But perhaps the way we frame dating needs to be reexamined before we start internally slut shaming, or stressing ourselves out for being a prude.
Largely, the way we initially meet people for dating has inherently changed. We no longer chat someone up in the pub or club. Meeting someone in the office has declined as working from home has become the norm.
If dating apps were popular before the pandemic, they are now the primary way to meet people. This has given way to a completely new way for people to communicate and get to know each other. If you can look past ignoring people you match with, dead and dry conversations that go nowhere, and a Whatsapp archive that looks more like a graveyard, full of names like “Tom Tinder” who have ghosted away, then you can actually have some meaningful conversations with someone that you might not have had screaming at each other in a loud pub over messy pints.
Getting to know each other this way probably constitutes at least three dates, especially if you add in some FaceTime and synced up Netflix film nights. Immediately shagging on a first “date” is therefore no longer morally ambiguous transgression. Even if you haven’t started an online love affair, who cares? Break the ice. Fuck before the first date, if you must. There are no rules.