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The Dating Game: When's the Right Time for Sex?

Experts discuss the consequences of not playing by your own dating rules.
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WebMD Feature

Whether you're new to the dating scene, a regular player, or jumping back into the game after a long hiatus, the same questions about dating rules apply: How soon do you lean over for that first kiss? Is it too early for a steamy make-out session? And last -- but by no means least -- how do you know when the time is right for sex?

"There's really no formula that I've encountered," says 28-year-old Andrew Reymer, a single resident of Baltimore, Maryland. "It depends on how rapidly or slowly things progress."

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Joan Allen, a relationship expert, finds that baby boomers are far more likely to wait to have sex than younger daters.

"Especially among older people who went through the sexual revolution, with maturity they realize there are emotional consequences for getting involved in a sexual relationship," says Allen, author of Celebrating Single and Getting Love Right: From Stalemate to Soulmate.

According to the singles whom Allen has encountered, boomers generally play by far different dating rules than young, 20-something daters.

"I spoke with a young man in his early to mid-20s who told me that if he didn't have sex on the first or second night, he'd move on to the next person," she recalls.

While you can't apply a one-size-fits-all response to sexual dating rules regardless of age or experience, professionals who have studied the topic say it is a good idea to develop a set of prudent dating rules - before the big date.

Dating Rules: Why Wait?

By and large, Allen and other relationship experts endorse a cautious approach to the dating rules of sex.

"My advice is this: wait as long as you can," Allen says.

Her rationale for these dating rules may seem obvious, but many people tend to forget in the heat of the moment. "You might find that you don't even like the person," Allen tells WebMD.

Other experts agree that sex too-soon can lead to undesirable consequences.

"It becomes much more difficult to objectively see each other's character traits" says Susanne Alexander, a relationship coach and author of Can We Dance? Learning the Steps for a Fulfilling Relationship. "Some couples then slide into engagement and marriage only to discover they have missed seeing major aspects of each other."

Dating Rules: Talk First, Act Later

While not every dating scenario that involves sex leads to marriage or even a serious relationship, couples do owe it to themselves to talk about where they see their relationship going and how sex might change the relationship -- before they get in bed together.

"There needs to be a conversation up front. The woman may assume sex implies a commitment; the man may not see it that way," Allen tells WebMD.

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