When’s the right time to have sex in a new relationship?

Kate Taylor 10 May 2019

So, you’ve met a new partner and think you’re ready to seal the deal between the sheets? Hold your fire! There’s a right time for the first romp and a simple way to work it out, as our dating expert Kate Taylor explains…

The secret of seduction is timing. But when you’re dating over the age of 50, you’d be forgiven for feeling that strategising the (literal) ins and outs of every relationship is a waste of that time.

You know you fancy each other, you’re not likely to get pregnant, so why not seize the day AND the headboard and get down to business straight away. Right? Wrong. (Sorry.)

Sex has a far bigger influence on our feelings and our mental state than we give it credit for in today’s heady, hook-up culture. It kickstarts an ancient bonding cycle, it affects our ability to clearly judge another’s character, and it can cause us to remain emotionally addicted to a partner for months after they’ve stopped returning our calls. Why? Oxytocin.


The Oxytocin Effect 

the oxytocin effect

Oxytocin is a hormone produced by our hypothalamus which creates a strong emotional bond between us and a partner; I call it the Fatal Attraction hormone. It raises our feelings of trust, lowers our inhibitions, and makes us feel happy when we’re together, and anxious when we’re not. 

Mothers release oxytocin during childbirth and breastfeeding, but both sexes release it during orgasm. 

"I call oxytocin the Fatal Attraction hormone"

I’ve painted such a clingy picture of the hormone’s effects that you might assume women produce a truckload more oxytocin when they orgasm, and you’d be right—we can produce up to eight times’ more. But that’s not the reason why men usually remain more laid-back after sex. That annoying fact is down to the dampening effect that testosterone has on oxytocin’s emotional control.

When a man’s testosterone levels are at their highest—in his youth, and after a break-up—it dampens the effects of oxytocin and causes him naturally to fall into Love ’Em and Leave ’Em mode. But when his testosterone levels are lower—after the age of 40, or when he’s in a committed relationship—his oxytocin can kick back in, leaving him far more likely to fancy a post-coital cuddle and a talk about his feelings.


How to calculate the right time 

when to have sex

If you’ve ever felt emotionally addicted to a partner, you’ll know how strong the Oxytocin Effect can be, and how long it can last. So don’t risk it on the first nice-looking person that comes your way. Instead, follow my simple guide to knowing when the time is right. 


The formula

Start by assuming you’ll wait 10 dates, then add or subtract time depending on your answers to the following questions:


Have you met each other’s friends? No = add 5 dates

When someone really likes you, they want to introduce you to their friends. They want to show you off, and get reassurance from the people they trust that yes, you are absolutely amazing. 

If someone is reluctant to share your presence with their closest circle, then I’d be curious as to why that is. Are they not proud to be with you? Are they very possessive? Do they not actually have any friends..? 

Before you risk becoming someone’s best-kept secret, I’d resist the call of the bedroom, and wait a bit longer. Giving someone more time to open up will probably reveal the answer to their secrecy. 


Are you both looking for the same type of relationship? Yes = subtract 2 dates

Mismatched expectations are the biggest cause of pain in dating. You meet someone adorable and assume, from their actions, that they’re looking for something serious with you. Then a few months down the line, they back off because everything is getting too heavy. It’s hurtful, and it’s a huge waste of your time. 

To find out, talk about it. Not online, and not on the first date (it’s too soon to tell), but when you’ve met a few times in person. I’d say the one-month stage is about right. It needn’t sound like a proposal. Just simply say, “Where do you think you’d like things to go between us, in a perfect world?” 

If you’re both looking for a meaningless animal fling—great! If you’re both wanting to settle down—fabulous! But make sure you’re on the same page before you’re on the same sheet.


when to have sex with new partner


Do you feel you can discuss contraception? No = add 3 dates

Casually debating coil versus vasectomy isn’t great first-date conversation, but that’s exactly why it’s on this list. If you’re not comfortable enough together even to chat about contraception, I’d say you’re not ready to start using it together. Wait until you feel safe discussing everything

Even if pregnancy is no longer a risk, you still need to practise safe sex. While you might not get pregnant, you could still catch a sexually transmitted disease. Ideally you’d wait until you’ve both had the all-clear from a full sexual health screening. But at the very least, wait till you know each other well enough to feel comfortable discussing the topic.


Is your partner happy to wait? Yes = subtract 1 date 

Sexual chemistry feels intoxicating and urgent, but you shouldn’t be under any pressure to have sex with your partner, or worry that they’ll lose interest in you if you don’t.

Early dating is a chance to discover if you’re compatible spending time together outside the bedroom, which is where you’ll spend most of your time together when you’re in a serious relationship (and all of it when you’re married, lol).

Taking things slowly is usually a reliable sign that your partner is genuinely interested in you as a person, and not just as a bunk up. 


the right time to sleep with a partner


Are you exclusive? No = wait until you are

Online dating has created many more opportunities for us to meet new partners, but it’s also caused a rise in non-exclusive dating, where people continue to play the field until they meet The One. Often this is just a case of someone lining up a few first dates in one week before choosing one to focus on. But in some cases, people continue to browse dating sites months into a relationship. 

I’d advise you not to have sex until you’ve both agreed not to see other people. And don’t assume that you’re exclusive; actually have a conversation about it. If you’re not ready to have that conversation, you’re not ready to hit the hay. And if someone dodges the conversation entirely, they’re not a safe place to put your emotions. 


For more information about oxytocin and why waiting can be a good idea, see my book Not Tonight Mr Right - Why Good Men Come to Girls Who Wait (Penguin, £4.99).