When Paul found things getting steamy on a first date, he was excited -- and a little confused. He'd recently ended an eight-year relationship and, as he put it, "I worried I might not be up to date on the rules. It seemed a little fast, but I thought, 'Maybe this is just what sex is like between adults nowadays.'"
While plenty of advice-givers are quick to prescribe universal rules and timetables for sexual engagement, the decision about when or if to sleep together can vary widely from person to person. And because of the subjective nature of this decision, having a conversation with yourself can help you identify what you're looking for in a physical connection.
WebMD talked with Rob Fisher, a psychotherapist practicing in Mill Valley, Calif., about the benefits of having a sexual "self-conversation."
Get real. "It's important to get aligned with yourself," says Fisher, and ask yourself what you want out of a sexual relationship. "What are my values? What kind of sex am I thinking of having?" A one-night stand can be just as valid as a deeper, longer-term sexual relationship, Fisher says, but problems can arise when sexual partners' values are misaligned.
ID your limits. Getting on the same page, sexually, is easier if you know your own boundaries. Fisher says, "If you're with somebody and they're pressing you to have sex and it doesn't feel right to you, that's really important to pay attention to."
He adds that boundaries can be especially important for individuals who've experienced sexual trauma and may "have a tendency to allow their boundaries to be violated again -- they are often used to that pattern."
Track your MO. Examine your dating history and try to identify your own patterns, says Fisher. Are you always attracted to the same kind of person? The bad boy? The withdrawn girl? If you're able to talk with yourself about behaviors you repeat -- and may want to avoid -- you can enter a new relationship with greater clarity and purpose.
Imagine the act. Try visualizing sex with a prospective partner before it happens. "Imagine the act outside of hot fantasy," Fisher says. "Ask yourself, 'What would it feel like to my heart and head? Let me check in with my boundaries. How comfortable do I feel with this person?'"
This kind of thought experiment may help you slow down and think more deeply about the implications of sex with a potential partner. "Once you get involved with someone sexually, the relationship gains momentum," Fisher says. "People enter into relationships very unconsciously in general. Then they find themselves in a mess [later on]. Being a little more considerate about it would probably be helpful."