Ah, new relationships. As exciting as they are, when you’re in your 30s, there’s more pressure to make responsible decisions. You’re not young enough to get away with certain behaviors (so long, flings) that would fly in your 20s; every move you make could come back to haunt you—and sooner rather than later. This new person in your life could be the one you’ve been waiting for all along, so you don’t want to mess things up.
That’s the required disclaimer about acting wisely and considering the consequences of your actions—but most of us still want to be intimate. But when is the right time? Does having sex early on ruin any chance of a new relationship making it? Lately, I’ve been wondering if there’s a winning side—or, at least, a general consensus—in the great “when to give it up” debate. So, I polled a few experts—a.k.a., people in long-term relationships that are working.
“I’ve been married for five years, and sex is still a point of leverage,” says Stuart, 33. (Is it ever not?) “Samantha gave it up two weeks after our first date, before leaving for vacation, to ensure I would be here when she got back. Good move on her part, because I might not have been!” He’s only half-kidding. Sam, also 33, says: “Personally, I think sex early on was important. You have to test drive a car before you buy it, right?” Um, point taken, although you’re on your own, Sam, with that analogy.
Marsha, 33, newly married, agrees that sex early on helped take her relationship to the next level. “I don’t think the relationship would have continued so strongly if I hadn’t given it up,” she says. But she knows that many relationships suffer from driving in the fast lane, so to speak (that one’s for you, Sam). “Bottom line is, it’s probably better to wait a bit,” she says. After all, a car depreciates in value the minute you drive it off the lot.
In my 20s, I dated a guy pretty seriously with whom I’d been friends for years. Making the transition from friends to something more was tricky, so we ended up waiting months before becoming intimate. It wasn’t necessarily a conscious choice; the physical feelings just weren’t as powerful as our rapport. (Looking back, I probably should’ve seen that as a sign.) Maybe we waited too long—or maybe it was never really there in the first place, because our relationship hinged on friendship more than lust.
Ben, 38, who’s a bit more old-fashioned than most guys his age, says establishing a bond first can lead to better sex. “[In] every meaningful relationship I’ve had, and [in] the most sexually or sensually charged ones, I’ve waited to have sex,” he says. “You know that feeling of having bad sex? I think a lot of it has to do with energies gelling or not gelling yet. I’m not getting spiritual or New Age on you— just stating that when people are intimate after they’ve established a sensual bond, it can be a lot better.”
Julie, 35, is dating a man with whom she waited a couple of months to have sex. She thinks that waiting (although a month can feel like a year at this age) helped build the emotional connection that’s integral to a strong relationship. “Getting to know someone and building up that excitement is a very special feeling,” she says. “Being intimate with someone is best when there’s an emotional attachment already.” Like most of us, Julie is no stranger to the casual encounter: “Don’t get me wrong; casual intimacy is enjoyable, but it’s not a good idea if you think it could be more than a fling. Setting the tone early on is very important. If a girl gives it up too soon, the guy will think it’s more casual than it is.”
So I asked the guy I’m dating, who’s 31, what his take was. “I definitely would not have sex with someone I liked right away, and especially not on a first date,” he said. Then he paused, looked at me, and said, “I’m glad we waited.”