Sex in early dating: When is too soon? When is too long? (And is there really a “too soon” and “too long?”) In this episode we’ll look at the signs that it’s not the right time to have sex–and signs that it is the right time. We’ll explore the three essential ingredients to cultivate a soulful, erotically wonderful, emotionally safe connection with someone we’re dating.
Listen to the podcast here:
Table of Contents
- Instances When Having Sex in Early Dating Ruins the Chance of a Relationship
- Don’t Jump Into Early Dating Sex When You Don’t Feel Safe
- Three Questions to Ask Before Engaging in Early Dating Sex
- Stay With People Who Can Honor Your Space in Early Dating
When To Have Sex In Early Dating
When should you start having sex in early dating? When is too early? When have you waited too long and lost an opportunity for erotic connection? Stay tuned to this episode of the Deeper Dating podcast to learn more.
Hello everybody and welcome to the Deeper Dating podcast. I’m Ken Page and I’m a psychotherapist, the author of the book Deeper Dating and the host of this podcast. And today, we’re going to be talking about sex in early dating.
Every week, I’m going to share with you the greatest tools that I know to help you find love and keep it flourishing and heal your life in the process because the skills of dating are nothing more than the skills of love. And the skills of love are the greatest skills of all for a happy and rich and meaningful life.
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So let’s jump in. We are going to talk about sex today. I want to talk about something that I think is so important for so many daters which is, “what’s too early to have sex?” What’s waiting too long to have sex? And how do I know what the right time is to have sex in early dating?
So I come from the gay men’s party culture. I came up in like the 80’s and the 90’s and sex was just what you had as quick as you could. And then that was fun and then you would look for a relationship out of that. For some people that worked really well. For me, it worked horribly.
Yes, I had a lot of sex and a lot of that sex was really fun but there was an emptiness and loneliness in that whole period for me because it just wasn’t the way I was really built to operate. So by the time I met my husband I had learned a lot and he teases me to this day about how long we had to wait to really have sex.
So to deny your Eros, to not let it grow and develop is not a good thing and that holds back the vulnerability that happens when you show and express sexual interest to somebody.
Instances When Having Sex in Early Dating Ruins the Chance of a Relationship
It’s a very, very beautiful thing when that’s mutual. But to have sex too quickly often ruins the chance of a relationship, and why? So many different reasons. One reason is that sex without enough intimacy is like miracle grow for our fear of intimacy.
If you have sex before you feel really emotionally safe, if you have sex before there’s a sense of deep intimacy with someone or growing intimacy with them, the chances are great that after that sex you’re either going to want to leave, stay away, go back to the thrill of the hunt or you’ll get needy and you’ll get clingy and you’ll start imagining and projecting a kind of deeper love that it may not be time for, or that may not even be right in this relationship.
Now, can it happen that early-on sex can be great and then a relationship could begin? Absolutely, and all of us are built differently and all of us have to think about this for ourselves. But I want to share some thoughts about when I think it’s really not so good to have sex yet.
But just to say first, the context that I’m speaking about this in is not recreational sex. The context I’m speaking about this in is the context of someone who really would like a real soulful, healthy, connected relationship. And if that’s your goal, then I think these ideas will apply to you more fully.
Here are some times that I think in early dating it’s best not to jump into sex. Early dating – don’t have sex when you’re high, don’t have sex when you’re intoxicated.
When the Connection Is Not Ripe
Because especially in early dating, if you do, there’s a sense of discrimination that you lose. There’s a way that you miss the subtleties of what feels right and what doesn’t feel right. Often that’s why we get intoxicated because we don’t want to feel the ways in which a connection doesn’t feel right yet, isn’t ripe yet, hasn’t grown enough yet.
Our fears and our insecurities are still big because this person is still a stranger to us and so we get high, we drink to kind of get over that and it works. We do get over that but we lose so much discrimination in the process. So I do recommend that early on in a relationship it is best not to be intoxicated before making the decision of whether or not you’re going to have sex.
Don’t have sex if you don’t feel safe with the person and safe is completely subjective. It’s how you feel inside. Even if you tell yourself your reasons for not feeling safe are silly or not valid, if you don’t feel safe, don’t jump into sex.
Now with a really wonderful person, if you don’t feel safe you might be able to share with them why you don’t feel safe or what you need instead. So many people early on just say, “I want to start out by being held. I want to start out by just making out. Let’s keep our tops on. Let’s keep our bottoms on.”
A Huge Early Dating Red Flag
Whatever it is for you that will help you feel safe and again it’s completely subjective and no matter what it is it’s valid. Because if you don’t feel safe and you jump into sex early in a relationship it’s going to bite you in the butt. It’s somehow going to hurt.
It’s going to hurt the relationship, it’s going to hurt you, it’s going to hurt your self-esteem. The feeling of safety must, must, must be honored. Another thing that goes with that is, don’t have early sex because you feel pressured. In fact, if the person you’re with is pressuring you to have sex before you are ready, that is a huge red flag. A huge red flag.
It is not a good sign. If you let the person know that you’re not ready and they can’t honor that, that’s a major red flag and a good, good, good chance that that’s someone to stay away from.
So this is really a big one. You want to watch for the tendency to have sex because you’re trying to make the person more into you.
You know that you’re really good in bed and they’re going to like you more so it would be a good idea to have sex. Or you know that it might make them want you more. Or maybe you somehow are kind of clicking their sense of desire in such a way that you’re going to get them more into you.
These are not good ideas. Those are in fact the opposite of self-love when we do that.
Don’t Jump Into Sex During Early Dating When You Don’t Feel Safe
And another one that connects with all of this is that if the person you’re with is pressuring you or wants you to have sex that doesn’t feel safe to you, because of COVID times, because of STDs, because of whatever, if you don’t feel safe in the way the sex is being had, that must be honored.
Again, if the person you’re with can’t honor that, major problem right off the bat, it’s really, really true. Eyes wide open. The other thing here is that sex is a spectrum.
Sex is not just obviously intercourse. There’s so much in the realm of sex.
There could be holding hands. I remember speaking to someone who had come from a history of sex addiction. This person said to me that he was in recovery and he said to me that he was dating somebody and he said, “We held hands in the movies.” And he said, “When I think of all the sex I had, the feeling I had just holding hands was like a gourmet meal and all of the other stuff, no matter how wild and crazy and whatever it was, was like McDonald’s. Just holding hands was so sexually gorgeous.”
And I remember someone else talking about being with his wife and they were shopping for kitchen appliances together and there was such a sense of love at that moment between the two of them that he said this was sex, shopping for kitchen appliances together was sex. “I was so aroused. It was so suffused with turn-on because we were so beautiful together.” So there are so many kinds of sex.
Deeper Turn-On of Intimate Moments in Early Dating
And in early relating, if you can have the kind of sexual connection which involves holding hands, which involves touching, which involves expressing what turns you on or what you’ll want to do in the future, if you allow yourself to get into that deeper turn-on of intimate moments, you can have the richest sexual relationship pre-intercourse.
This is a wonderful, wonderful way to nourish and grow the tendrils of erotic desire with someone you really like. Another way is fantasy. Let’s say you’re not up to the point yet where you’re going to have full-on sex. How rich it is to just fantasize, to sexually fantasize, about the parts of their body you like or love or imagine or picture or what you would like to do with them or what you would like to do with those parts or what you would like them to do with you.
These kinds of rich, rich building of this suffusion of Eros is a glorious, glorious way to build a connection. And as we know, when we’ve got that erotic richness combined with the sense of the goodness of the connection and the goodness of the other human being, that is ecstasy. That is joy. That is the only place we want to be if we’re really looking for a truly healthy, romantic relationship.
Here’s another really interesting thing is that sometimes a relationship begins and it becomes sexual, it’s really good, it’s fine, and then all of a sudden you feel yourself falling in love in a deeper way. Where you feel the two of you having that happen.
Falling in Love in a Deeper Way
And all of a sudden you don’t want to have sex any more and you wonder what is wrong with me? What happened? Is this like this total fear of intimacy thing? And this is something I’ve seen happen to a lot of people and this happened to me too.
Well, what it is, I think, is that there’s dropping down into a deeper level of connection and the psyche has to re-calibrate to the vulnerability, to that rewiring where love and connection meet eros in a deeper way and there’s a pocket of needing to wait or needing to stop.
So if you find that at a point when you’re falling in love in a deeper way and there’s this pocket where it feels eros disappears, honor that.
Go with it, give it space, but watch because little by little you will see and feel the tendrils of eros growing newer and stronger and fresher and differently than they had before. And these are the things that we want to have happen.
Hollywood and porn and so much literature teaches us that real love begins with this giant boom and stays that way and if it’s anything less, A – we have intimacy problems or , B – the person is not right for us.
But sex is so deep and love is so deep and so profound that we can’t really get our arms around it and it’s going to surprise us. And the ways that it surprises us are part of the mystery of our own love life.
The Madonna-Whore Complex
Why all of a sudden am I feeling all of this? Why all of a sudden have I stopped feeling all of this? Why all of a sudden have my feelings changed? Why are they evolving in the ways that they are?
And that’s where we need to listen for our own heart language, our own sexual language because sex, like love, like life, like creativity is so much richer, so much deeper, so much more original, so much more tender, so much more wild than we give it credit for.
Sigmund Freud coined the phrase Madonna-whore complex. He described this painful but familiar kind of state where sex and intimacy, deep sex, and deep intimacy cannot coexist. Lustful, lustful, wild, horny sex and spiritual, emotional intimacy can’t coexist.
This is how he said it, of course, speaking about only men, “Where such men love, they have no desire and where they desire, they cannot love.” And what I wrote in my book, Deeper Dating, is in relation to both the word Madonna and the word whore, my response is the same. You say that like it’s a bad thing. Well, it’s not.
So as we grow in a healthy new relationship, we feel both of those things. We feel wild and horny and dirty, in the most dirty, I mean in a great sexual way, in really wonderful ways.
We also feel a soulful connection, a space that is above just sex, above just horniness. It’s spiritual. It’s deep. And the two together are the most amazing thing. But we do need to give that time for those circuitries to grow.
Three Questions to Ask Before Engaging in Sex While on Early Dating
We do that by not having sex too quick, but by cultivating the beauty of the sexual connection and the emotional connection. Because you could be having sex with someone and it could be really good and really hot and exciting but then you look into their eyes and if you feel love and they feel love and you see that, it completely changes the experience.
It completely up levels it. And maybe you feel like you would have been fine just doing it the other way but then you experience this and you say, “Oh my God, this is what I was looking for.” And there’s a feeling of safety and a home in that kind of sex that is combined with excitement and turn on that is just, as I said, so amazing.
So three questions that we can ask ourselves as our sexual relationship with someone begins and in a future episode I’m going to use these ideas to talk about how we can discover our sexual and romantic core gifts. So the questions are these, “Do I feel safe?”, as we talked about huge question? That’s the foundation. That’s the ground of being able to get to these other spaces.
Because if you don’t feel safe, something has to be adjusted, something has to be fixed, something has to be changed. Or you need not be having sex with that person or you need not be having sex with that person at this time. So safety is again so profoundly important and really want to encourage you to give yourself the space to say, “Do I feel safe?”
What Moves You in Sex?
If in a general way you feel safe with someone, the next breakdown of that question is, “What do I feel safe doing right now?” And then that’s what you give yourself the space to do.
If you’re with someone who allows that and you’re giving that gift of dignity to yourself and then you do whatever that is that feels safe to do and you both do it with full heart, who cares about intercourse?
Well, I mean everyone to some degree cares about intercourse but in another way it really doesn’t matter. Because there’s such a joy in that state that it’s worth everything.
So the second one is, “what moves you in sex?” What touches your heart? What makes you feel moved and touched and inspired? What makes you feel love? What makes you feel seen? What makes you feel that somehow the way your partner is being with you and the way that you’re being with your partner allows for access to those deeper states of emotional connectedness?
And the third question is, “what really turns you on?” And that’s a question that we really have to think about sometimes. And I’m going to describe two different ways that I think there’s work that needs to be done for each of us in our own sexual user’s manual and our own sexual self-discovery. So one is, “what really is exciting to me?” What pacing really is deeply exciting to me? And here we got to leave the realm of what’s expected and what’s normal.
Assessing When the Pacing Is Too Fast or Too Slow in Early Dating
You might feel like my pacing is too slow. You might feel like, “Oh, my pacing is too fast and too wild and it’s not appropriate.” but between us and us, we need to acknowledge what really turns us on. It’s an act of bravery and it’s a gift.
And I want to say that for so many people, there are two things that scare us about what turns us on. One is that what turns us on sexually is too vulnerable, is too tender, is too soft, is too unathletic, too un-pyrotechnical, too simple because of everything we hear about what sex is supposed to look like.
The other is that what really turns us on is too wild or too kinky or too crazy but it’s an act of beautiful self-discovery to admit these things to ourselves. I’m talking about things that are safe and I’m talking about things that are consensual and I’m talking about things between two adults.
So given that there are probably whatever your things are that turn you deeply on, there are so many people who would find those things, the cat’s meow and would experience them as a gift.
My friend David Schecter, who is a playwright and a lyricist said something really wonderful to me once. He said he thinks he has a different understanding of the word perverse.
He said perverse means per verse like through poetry. Whatever it is that we are most turned on by, be it very tender, very vanilla, very wild, very crazy is a poetry of our being. It’s a language of a deep inner self that gets expressed through our sexuality. And I love that concept of what perverse actually means.
A Compulsive Relationship With Sexuality
So one last thought that I want to share is for people who have had a history of some degree of sexual compulsion where they have used sex as a way to get love, they have been in a compulsive relationship with their sexuality, their sexuality has been mixed in with a lot of drinking or a lot of drug use, and I think that’s a big portion of the population who has struggled with something like that, if not the great majority.
So that adds in another dimension and the dimension is when are we being triggered? It’s like if you think of the image of taking a mound of jello and pouring hot water on it.
That hot water is going to create a groove in the jello and that groove is going to get deeper and deeper and deeper so that if water is then poured on the jello it’s always going to go down that same canal. That’s what it’s like with our sexual wiring, so there’s rewiring that needs to happen.
We may feel really turned on, really connected, but it may be compulsion. And we will, through our work on our own growth, either in a recovery program or with other kinds of help and support recognize the times that our sexual expression as right as it may feel is really not so right and is leading us to not such a good place.
Does this complicate things? Yes, it does. But all of us, like we need to rewire in our intimacy journey, we also need to rewire in better ways in our sex lives, in our sexuality, in our sexual expression. And that’s true in very particular ways in early dating.
Stay With People Who Can Honor Your Space in Early Dating
So as you take these ideas and live them in early dating and only, only, only stay with people who can honor them as well and honor the space for that as well.
As you do that, you will be rewiring, rewiring in such a way that your healthiest self, your hottest, most erotic self, and your most deeply loving self will all be able to rejoin together and that’s really what we want.
So thanks so much for listening to this episode. And you can get a transcript and join my mailing list by going to DeeperDatingpodcast.com and I’d love to have you as part of this learning community for this and all of the other projects that I’m working on. So thank you so much and I’ll see you on the next episode of the Deeper Dating podcast.