Sex & Relationships

Have We Reached the Point Where Sex on the First Date Is Equally Fine for Both Sexes?

“Men are from Earth. So are women.”

Photo Credit: Uber Images/Shutterstock

If you go to a restaurant, you expect to eat a meal. If you go shopping, you’re prepared to come home with a new outfit. Any time we put ourselves in the proximity of desire, we expect to indulge. That’s an idea that tends to hold up in all areas, except one. In the world of sex and relationships, we’re taught to enjoy ourselves. But not too much, and not too fast.

In 2016, the idea of having sex on the first date remains a sticky subject. Traditionalists out there encourage us to abstain. And many people attribute their relationship success to “taking it slow” in the early phases. Now that our dating lives have largely moved online, many see a point in initially refraining from an activity that could just as easily be achieved in another swipe. Relationship expert April Masini told us, “When you don’t have sex right away, you send the message to the other person, as well as yourself, that you’re not into just sex. You want a commitment. You may not get a second date, but you’ll know that that person either wasn’t into you or was only looking for quick sex.” 

That said, we live in a society that has served up terms like “fuckboy,” “hookup culture” and “tinder for dinner.” It’s not hard to figure out that a lot of people have abandoned the first-comes-love mandate when it comes to sex and dating. Many modern daters have happily adjusted to the idea that people are capable of enjoying themselves sexually while pursuing a relationship. Though that development tends to clash with prevalent bits of past advice.  

In 1993, John Gray came out with his now-classic relationship guide, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. The introduction reads, “[This book] is a manual for loving relationships. It reveals how men and women differ in all areas of their lives.” Some critics later dubbed the book reductive and Gray a sexist. Still, the book spent 121 weeks on the bestseller list and remains the bestselling relationship book of all time. With 30 million copies sold, it’s safe to say that Gray’s theory of gender difference managed to reach a wide enough audience. And that has probably an impact on our discourse surrounding sex and relationships.

When The Cut decided to interview a series of women for the article, Fucking on the First Date, one woman said, “Looking back, I'm convinced I made it too easy for him. No challenge. I wish I played it differently — at least then we could have actually datedand not just fucked meaninglessly a few times.”

An article published by the online dating platform Match.com quotes an unmarried 35-year-old man named Stan, who said, “If a girl slept with me that quickly, I would consider it a dealbreaker. Men are wired to want to sleep with others more quickly because of instant gratification. But if a woman had that little self-control, it would not bode well for the future.”

Now if Stan-the-single-sexist didn’t make it clear enough, this idea of “difference” is often dragged into some pretty ugly corners. It breathes life into sexist double standards and helps reinforce the idea that sex is something women “give” and men “get.” While it’s easy to romanticize the chase, it’s even easier to use it to pigeonhole women into a role most would like to avoid. When serving as the gatekeepers of sex, women are encouraged to stifle their own sexual desires and made to feel uneasy when they choose not to. The idea is both outdated and damaging, and yet it’s one that a lot of “experts” can’t seem to let go of.

Among the many “rules” promoted by dating coaches Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider is, “Be smart, stay out of his bed.” Like Gray, Fein and Schneider have become bestselling authors for their work on dating do's and don'ts.

Still, there are some good reasons to abstain from sex on the first date. Maybe you have religious convictions. Maybe you weren't sure the chemistry was there. Maybe he smells bad (though that might turn you off permanently). But the idea of withholding sex strictly for the sake of strategy raises some important questions.

Relationship expert Andrea Syrtash, who co-wrote the bookIt's Okay to Sleep with Him on the First Date: And Every Other Rule of Dating, Debunked, told AlterNet, “The reality is that much of the dating advice industry is fear-based.” 

“We often hear that a man will lose respect or interest in a woman if she puts out too fast but few people tell men the same message. Think about that. The guy who will lose respect was in the same bed as the woman! If he loses respect for an act he was part of, that's pretty hypocritical."

Syrtash and her co-author, Jeff Wilser, teamed up with Cosmo to investigate millennial attitudes toward sex. In a poll of almost 1,000 18- to 35-year-olds, they found that 83 percent of women believe men think less of a woman if she has sex on the first date, while 67 percent of guys polled said they “absolutely don’t.”

“A guy doesn't think, ‘She has everything I want, but I saw her naked so I can't call her.’ If he's interested, he's interested. This poll proved that for the majority of American men, when a woman has sex with him is not a determining factor in his decision to pursue a relationship or not," says Syrtash.

As journalist Kate Harding reminds us, “Men are from Earth. So are women.” And on Earth, almost everyone enjoys sex.

Syrtash says, “Here's the thing about sex with someone you don't know too well: If you're doing it to make someone more interested in you or to get some kind of strange approval, it's not a good reason to get down and there's a good chance you'll get hurt. If, however, you're a consenting adult and are looking for fun and/or feel a connection and want to explore it sexually without too many expectations that it will lead to anything serious, enjoy it. The bottom line is that you know yourself best.”

She concludes, "One size does not fit all when it comes to life or love."

Carrie Weisman is an AlterNet staff writer who focuses on sex, relationships and culture. Got tips, ideas or a first-person story? Email her