First off, in the interest of not giving the wrong impression, let me clarify something: I'm neither perpetually horny nor addicted to sex. It's been at least four months since I've gotten luckier than a hug hello/goodbye. But if I'm ever fortunate enough to enjoy another fantastic first date where lust is the drug we're both thinking of, I probably won't do what I did years ago with Paul.
After a string of dating duds in New York City, I was ready to try a new approach. The common denominator in most of my nonstarter romances was that we'd had sex first and asked questions later. I wondered if there was something to the idea that sleeping with a guy too soon was the surest route to a relationship that never really happened.
So I decided to make Paul wait. We held hands when we went to see the Sandra Bullock movie 28 Days, but we never got hotter than pecks on the cheek. I figured that if I wanted him to be boyfriend material, I should get to know him first. Then something happened on our third date that changed everything. As I stood there at 11 p.m. on the corner of 17th Street and Avenue of the Americas, wondering if I should finally kiss him while sharing a taxi to our respective apartments, Paul made an announcement.
"I'm not going home yet. I'm going to go to Splash for a little while."
"You're going where? You're going to a gay bar after a date? Are you kidding me?
"Well, I really like you, but I'm horny, and I want to have sex. I'd like to have it with you, but it doesn't look like that is going to happen, so..."
I wasn't sure which was worse: That he was already thinking of cheating on me, or that he had the audacity to announce it. What a huge red flag blowing in the warm summer wind! It wasn't like I hadn't told him about my new abstinence plan when we met. He said he was okay with it, but apparently he wasn't. I felt like Charlotte York, who'd had a similar N.Y.C. experience in the Sex and the City pilot. I wished Paul good luck and vowed never to see him again, which was one promise I managed to keep.
Now when I think back on Paul, I know I made the right decision, before and after our final date. I spent weeks back then cursing him -- and guys like him -- for being oversexed, for being obsessed with instant gratification, for not wanting to get to know the guys they slept with before sleeping with them. But if Paul and I were to happen today, things would probably play out differently.
This realization came to me during a conversation with my Facebook friend Gavin, who made an interesting comment regarding sex on the first date:
I've never understood some peoples' claim that having sex early on destroys any chance for something substantial. My experience has been if you hold off on sex for a few dates or even a few months, when you get to it the chemistry is still either on or off, and if it's off you have a relationship that doesn't work.
I concurred completely, not because I have anything against the three-date rule, which is generally implemented by women in straight relationships, nor for any doubt that it can work for gay men. It's just that I'm pretty sure it doesn't work for me. No, I'm not afraid of missing out on another Paul. But it's easier for me to get to know a potential paramour once we've pushed the big old elephant out of the room.
Does sex too soon ruin relationships before they begin? Well, consider this: With one exception (by far the most disastrous of all my relationships), I slept with every guy who became my boyfriend on or before our first date. None of those romances lasted forever, but then, relationships rarely do, regardless of when you put out. I know as many couples (gay and straight) in solid long-term relationships that began as hook-ups as I do couples who went the slow-courtship route.
It all depends on how you want to start your honeymoon phase. Whenever I'm tempted to wait until a few dates in, I think of Carrie and Berger on Sex and the City. There was so much build up to their first time that it became this big thing that naturally disappointed both of them to the point where the future of their relationship hinged on whether they could get it right in bed. Wouldn't it have been so much easier if they'd just gotten it out of the way on or before the first date (like Monica and Chandler on Friends, who wisely began as BFFs with benefits and then started dating), before expectations about the future complicated everything, including the mechanics of sex (like Joey and Rachel, who couldn't even get to first base after overthinking it)?
In my own experience, dates tend to go much more smoothly once we've confirmed our physical connection. Then we're free to make an emotional one without that big old pachyderm tracking mud all over our romantic settings. Once we've seen each other without any clothes on, we can cuddle and have the easy, natural banter that comes when you exit the awkward stage. If he was only after sex, I'll know soon enough.
If he calls and says he'd like to see me again, I can stop worrying about what he's after, what he's going to think about me in bed, or if I'm going to measure up to his expectations, which releases a lot of the pressure that can nearly crush my overactive mind during those early sexless dates. Although there's so much more to truly clicking, let's face it: Sex is a big deal for gay men, for most men. I have no illusions about that. Even if a guy likes my personality (as I'm pretty sure Paul did), if we don't fit together like puzzle pieces in bed, my character probably won't get him to stick around to see the full picture.
Yes, there are dangers: By introducing sex too early, you run the risk of the relationship, if it comes to one, being purely about the physical. But as Gavin said, by waiting, you run the risk of investing a lot of time into something that fails anyway for lack of chemistry. Personally, I prefer the risk behind door number one because it involves being disappointed before you've had a chance to get attached.
Of course, letting the physical lead the emotional isn't for everyone. If a couple decides that they'd rather wait and face the risks behind door No. 2, more power to them. (They'll need it.) But they should lose the illusion that happily ever after is more likely, or that those pesky little voices inside their heads (Are we going to score? What will the sex be like? Will I be good enough? Will he be good enough? Will I be big enough? Will he be big enough?) won't overwhelm any chemistry they might already have.
I'd rather just give in to temptation and then get to the important stuff, like really getting to know him.