Can First-Date Sex Lead to a Satisfying Relationship?
Last week, Jezebel published an anonymous account of a first date sexual encounter that didn't go quite where the author was hoping. The story (which I encourage you to read in full) describes a first date that actually went really well. So well the author decided to take a chance and sleep with the guy despite the nagging voices in her head telling her doing so would doom any chance at a relationship (countered to an extent by the nagging voices that said that being a good feminist meant being comfortable with casual sex). And the result was that immediately afterwards she worried that she had made a mistake, ruining things by giving it up too easily. And indeed, the guy never called back. In the end the author comes to the conclusion that the problem is not so much that having sex on a first date causes the other person to lose respect for you but that she had built up an imaginary version of the man she was on a date with in her head and she assumed she was having sex with this illusion, rather than a stranger that she didn't really know much of anything about. In other words, it wasn't the sex: it was her expectations.
The piece reflects a hard gained bit of self-awareness, but the way it's presented makes it sound as if having sex with the idea of someone is what everyone does when they have casual sex and I wanted to point out that while this certainly isn't uncommon, it also isn't the case for everyone. For many people, like the author of the Jezebel piece, the idea of the other person in bed with them takes over, masking the reality. But for many others, sex with a stranger is just that: a (hopefully) mutually pleasurable experience with someone you're attracted to but don't know very well but trust enough not to deliberately harm you (a fairly low bar, really). Sex on the first date/encounter isn't right for everyone, but it isn't wrong for everyone either, it just depends on who you are and what you're after. And it doesn't necessarily prelude a relationship with the person you've slipped into bed with. In fact, many of the people I know who are currently paired up slept with their partners on the first date.
A couple of years ago a friend of an acquaintance -- someone I'd bummed a cigarette off of once and who I'd exchanged nods of recognition and the occasional greeting -- tracked me down on Facebook and after a couple of IM chats invited me to come over to his place for whiskey and a movie. And I went in part because I figured it might lead to a mutually satisfying physical encounter. He showed me the sculptures he was working on and we talked politics and drank whiskey and maybe indulged in some other intoxicants and after a couple of hours of hanging out put on a movie. Before the credits had finished rolling I was naked and shoving a condom into his hand. By the end of the night I really didn't know much of anything about him except that he liked David Bowie and "Kids in the Hall" and that he was artistically inclined and good in bed. Which was enough to make me interested in getting to know him better (especially that last one). The next day we had breakfast and later went to see Daybreakers and held hands just like a real date despite the fact that neither of us was looking for a relationship and somehow over the next couple of months we gradually slipped from fuck buddies to something more like boyfriend and girlfriend and somewhere along the line the L-word got dropped and now we are approaching our 2nd year anniversary, cohabitating in a not-too-tiny studio in New York with three cats, both of us overall pretty happy with how things turned out and where we're at despite a few bumps along the way. Sleeping together on the first sorta-date didn't mess any thing up for us, it just let us know that we were well matched on a sexual level. As it happened, we're well matched on just about every other level too and since neither of us had any strong preconceptions about the other before or after we saw each other naked, we ended up falling into a relationship with about the same level of ease with which we fell into bed. It's not how everyone does it, but it worked out just fine for us.
For those who romanticize people they've just met and are attracted to, who build up fantasies of how the future with this person will look, sex on the first date is indeed probably a mistake. Same goes for those who assume that anyone who has sex with them is seeking something other than sexual pleasure and are therefore fine to be take advantage of. (Actually, those people don't deserve to get laid, though I wouldn't expect them to recognize that. I will never understand the dudebro belief that getting it on with someone who is only having sex with you because there's something wrong with them as a person is not a sign of serious self esteem issues of your own). And despite what pop culture tells you, this isn't a male-female thing. Guys who have sex early on don't universally lose respect for the women they're fucking, and they aren't immune to building up false hopes. I've been mistaken for a guy's manic pixie dream girl myself and I know that he convinced himself that my eagerness to sleep with him was a sign of our deep connection and not a result of my just being...easy and horny. At the same time, there are women who think that men who don't hold out are dogs who don't deserve relationships, though they may be good for the occasional orgasm. Whether you're truly comfortable having sex with strangers is a product of your individual personality, not your gender.
I tend to sleep with men because I like sex and want some at that particular moment. I do not do it assuming that they will fall for me immediately after and we'll live happily ever after. Hell, half the time I'm not even looking for anything serious. I've been on the receiving end of misplaced romantic fantasies, and I've harbored them myself (ironically, not for a stranger but for a high school boyfriend who I grew up down the street from and reconnected with many years after high school), but I've never regretted a sexual encounter because for the most part I don't go in with strong expectations of anything but orgasms and don't feel like I've lost the potential for something because of my sexual availability if the guy never calls back. I look at sex this way not because I'm particularly sexually liberated or that I'm doing feminism "right," but because I'm a pragmatist who enjoys sex and can separate it easily from the emotional aspects of relationships. It's just the way I am, and it isn't any more right or wrong than any body else's way. Which is the key really. Not to follow some arbitrary set of rules for when and with whom to have sex, but understand yourself and do whatever you personally are comfortable with.
Dr. Pisaster has a doctorate in biophysics, not actually anything sexy. She does however enjoy having sex, reading about sex, and talking about sex. Especially when she's had a little whiskey.