Research has given us the answers to several of our biggest sex questions, from how often couples should have sex in a relationship (it depends on your sex drive) to whether having more sex will make you happier (it usually won’t).
But when is the optimal time to start being sexually intimate in a relationship?
Like many relationships, the answer is a little complicated.
One of the reasons it’s so hard to determine the best time in a relationship to have sex is because there haven’t been a ton of studies that address that specific question. Plus, the studies have been conducted on very specific samples: married heterosexual couples and college-aged men and women.
Few studies have taken a look at the health of a relationship as it relates to when the couple first had sex. And what’s out there is somewhat conflicting.
Here’s what we know:
Back in the early 2000s, Illinois State University communications professor Sandra Metts did a study to find out if having an emotional connection — in particular saying “I love you” before having sex — could have a positive impact on the trajectory of the relationship.
Her study of almost 300 college-aged men and women found that it did.
In fact, Metts found, couples that had sex first and said “I love you” after had a negative experience: The introduction of that conversation was often awkward and apologetic.
Though not a clear indicator of the exact timing to have sex, Mett’s study did provide a checklist of potential steps partners should take before they get physical. That emotional connection is one of the key elements of any relationship, Toni Coleman, a psychotherapist from the Washington, DC area, told Business Insider. Having a good level of communication and an understanding of where the relationship is also helps make sure the experience is positive, she said, referring to her professional experience working with single men and women working toward successful relationships.
Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist from California, agreed that being on the same page emotionally is helpful for finding the best time to start having sex.
“The most important thing is you both agree not to push,” he said. “Be clear that the person is comfortable.”
In other words, it’s best to wait at least a little bit, at least until you’re comfortable with one another and have a better picture of what each of you want in the relationship. But when it comes to how long you wait, that depends.
Option #1: Wait as long as possible
In 2010, Dean Busby, the director of the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University, did a study which suggested that the longer you delay sex — especially if you wait until marriage — the more stable and satisfying your relationship will be.
To be fair, Brigham Young University, which funded Busby’s research, is owned by the Church of Latter Day Saints, and they have some thoughts when it comes to sex and marriage.
Of course, all social science studies are somewhat subjective: Many are taken with surveys and interviews, and participants may respond based on what they think the researcher wants to hear.
Option #2: Give it a few months
In Coleman’s experience, and based off the findings of studies, she suggests at least three months — or when it’s clear the honeymoon phase of the relationship is over — is the best time to start having sex. The honeymoon phase is the first few months of a relationship, when everything is new, feelings of attraction are intense, and it seems like the person you’re with is perfect.
“You move past that and your feet are more on the ground,” she said. “I think that’s probably the point at which [Mett’s study] said, the couples who waited until that level fared a lot better than people who had sex on the first, second, or third date.”
Option #3: Give it a few weeks
Goldsmith disagrees. He thinks the time after the honeymoon period, or the time before a couple has children, is too late. By then, he says, the strong desire to have sex may have already subsided. A 2012 study on sexual desire found that after the beginning phase of a relationship, sexual desire drops, particularly in women.
In his experience, 36 hours spent together is all it takes. And that 36 hours doesn’t have to be consecutive, says Goldsmith. It would probably take a few weeks to add up.
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