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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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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.

Dating Rules: Talk It Over with Yourself First

Having an honest conversation with yourself about sex is just as important as discussing it with your partner, experts say.

"Every woman and man should know their boundaries before they start dating, and most of us don't," says Cheryl McClary, PhD, JD, professor of women's health at University of North Carolina-Asheville.

When McClary refers to boundaries, she's not talking just about the physical boundaries that come with sexual territory. She's also referring to emotional boundaries.

"Emotional wholeness is crucial to the decision process of whether or not to have sex," McClary tells WebMD.

To that end, McClary often tells women, "If you value a committed relationship, ask yourself, 'What do I need to do to stay emotionally whole?'"

When directing her advice on dating rules to a male audience, McClary puts things a little differently. "Make sure your brain, heart, and penis are in conjunction -- they should all be in a straight line before you have sex," she says.

McClary believes all daters should invest the same amount of time conducting these 'self' conversations about personal dating rules as they do primping before a big date. She also says the conversation, like the primping, should happen at the same time -- before that big date.

"Think about your sexual boundaries before you've had that first drink," McClary advises.

Dating Rules: Practical Matters

Once you've decided what you want out of a date, say experts, you should make it part of your regular dating rules to tell your partner.

"If you just want a one-night stand, you owe it to your partner to tell them 'it's just sex I'm after,'" McClary tells WebMD. While a dating partner may not welcome this news, it at least can minimize later disappointments.

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