Many people wonder when the best time is to start being sexually intimate in a relationship. The answer is complicated, spanning anywhere from a few dates to a few months after beginning to spend time together. Valentine's Day is coming soon, signaling a romantic milestone for many couples. But for some new pairs, the worry that your relationship is moving too fast or too slow can become a major concern.
Which got us wondering: When is the best time to start being sexually intimate in a relationship, according to science? The answer is complicated, spanning anywhere from a few dates to a few months after you start to spending time together. One of the reasons it's hard to determine the best time in a relationship to have sex is because there hasn't been a lot of research tackling that specific question. Few studies have looked at the health of a relationship as it relates to when couples first had sex, and the research that has been done mostly features specific samples of people — mainly college students or married heterosexual couples.
But here's what we know about commitment and sex In the early s, Illinois State University communications professor Sandra Metts performed a study to find out whether having an emotional connection — in particular saying "I love you" before having sex — could have a positive impact on a relationship. Her study of almost college-age men and women found that it did. In fact, Metts' results suggested that couples who had sex first then said "I love you" after had a negative experience: The introduction of that conversation was often awkward and apologetic.
The list includes getting to know the person, sharing a first kiss, then building up to an expression of commitment.
That emotional connection is one of the key elements of any relationship, psychotherapist Toni Coleman told Business Insider in Having a good level of communication and an understanding of where the relationship is headed also helps ensure the experience will be positive, she said. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist from California, agreed that being on the same page emotionally is helpful for finding the best time to start having sex.
But when it comes to how much time that takes, it depends. Here's what three different researchers have to say: Give it a few weeks According to Goldsmith, a total of 36 hours spent together is all it takes to be ready. Those hours doesn't have to be consecutive, he said — it could be a dinner date plus a weekend afternoon spent together, and so on, until the hours add up. For most people, that would probably take a few weeks.
If a couple waits much longer than that, he says, the strong desire to have sex may begin to subside. There's data to back him up — a study on sexual desire found that after the beginning phase of a relationship, sexual desire can drop. The honeymoon period is the first few months of a new relationship, when feelings of attraction are intense and it seems as if the person you're with can do no wrong.
Wait until marriage Some people's religious beliefs dictate that they wait to have sex until after they get married. There isn't much scientific research about how this practice impacts a long-term relationship, however. In , Dean Busby, the director of the school of family life at Brigham Young University, performed a study that suggested that the longer you delay sex — especially if you wait until marriage — the more stable and satisfying your relationship will be.
That said, Busby's study built on a bit of earlier research, including one observational study that looked at data from the National Survey of Family Growth. Those findings suggested that women who had one or more intimate relationships involving sex before marriage were at a higher risk of divorce later down the line.
But again, the evidence to support that claim is very limited.