What Is The 3 Date Rule, And Does It Always Apply?

By: Corrina Horne

Updated December 22, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Lisa Cooper

Dating is an interesting landscape. For some, dating is a vast savannah, replete with fairly simple terrain, but plenty of possible danger. For others, dating is far closer to a series of mountains, with uncertain paths lying on every side, but relatively benign possibilities. Regardless of how you feel about dating, most people believe that dating has plenty of unwritten (and written) rules that people of all ages and genders are supposed to follow. Is the three-date rule one of them?

What Is The 3 Date Rule?

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The 3-date rule is a dating rule which dictates that both parties withhold sex until at least the 3rd date, at which point a couple can have sex without worrying about being abandoned or considered too "loose" to be a good partner. The 3rd date rule is mostly used for women more than men, and has quite a bit of double standard status in the world of dating. Women who do not conform to this standard might be judged through offensive and sexist words, while men who do not conform to this standard will most probably only be labeled as womanizers.

Far from being a parent-enforced or parent-created rule, the 3-date rule exists more as a result of peer pressure and similar sources. The 3-date rule has been explored in popular magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Glamour, both of which once encouraged women to follow the rule. These magazines, and others like them, have often gone back and forth between encouraging readers to adhere to dating rules like the 3-date rule and encouraging readers to forge their paths.

Why Was The Rule Created?

The idea behind the rule is that sex on a first date could "give a man what he wants," thus removing the possibility of forming an actual relationship. The second date, too, is considered too early to get someone hooked, or interested in an actual relationship. Waiting until the 3rd date or later supposedly gives a woman a better chance of keeping a man's interest, while it gives a man sex soon enough to keep his interest, without giving him sex so soon that he sees a woman as little more than a one-night stand.

Like many dating rules, the 3-date rule is not founded on any legitimate psychological evidence, nor is it borne of morality. Though it is a steadfast rule to some, the 3-date rule is a rule created by a culture uncommonly concerned with the appearance of female virtue, and the presence of uncontrolled desire within men. The 3-date rule supports the notion of women as being constantly in search of a lifelong partner, while men are constantly on the prowl for freedom from commitment.

Where this rule originated is unknown, but the concepts behind this rule come from a time that considered women and men very differently in terms of sexual intercourse, sexuality, and the true purpose of both. Studies on gender and sexuality continually show that men and women are not quite as contrasting in these aspects as was once believed. Gender norms and other principles connected to these continue to develop and turn on their head as biologists, psychologists, and even anthropologists move forward into studying gender, biology, and people. Just as the discussion of gender and gender rules continually changes, the supposed "rules" of dating continue to grow, evolve, and mature. And for women and men, dating tips become more and more similar.

Should You Follow The 3-Date Rule?

While the 3-date rule is often considered an accepted form of dating, it is not a legitimate rule and has no scientific, emotional, or psychological backing to suggest that it should be followed. In fact, if psychology and statistics were to get involved, the preferred number for successful, long-term relationships is waiting for eight dates before having sex. This, too, though, is only an average of couples that are self-reported as happy and committed, and does not guarantee a happy, successful relationship.

For men, dating can be daunting. Women dating should know that they are just as capable, and encouraged to make a move. Despite any rule or double standards, this is a partnership and should be treated as such. The dating rules you should be following are the rules that you and your partner create. The amount of time you wait or don’t wait to further your relationship, should be completely up to you, and your partner. Different people have different rules and boundaries that they create for their lives and partnerships. While one person might feel that the first date is absolutely a viable time to have a sexual encounter with a potential partner, someone else might want to wait until they have been seriously dating someone for months at a time before even considering sex.

Knowing When To Have Sex

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Sex is best following at least a brief discussion. Questions of consent are far more important than questions of timing. Rather than placing undue emphasis on the number of dates you and your partner have gone on-an ambiguous question, at best, focus on what the two of you want. If there becomes an argument about when sex should be considered in your relationship, this signals the need to compromise-or could signal the need to re-evaluate the relationship. Not you or your partner should ever feel controlled or pressured concerning sex. And if you are a person who has chosen to wait until marriage to have sex, don’t feel pressured to relay that information right away. You’ll see the opportunity, and be able to share that with your partner before things get too serious.

You and your partner are ready to have sex when the two of you have talked about this and about being ready for it. This could be the first date or could be the 100th date that you go on. People make fruitful, strong emotional ties when their relationship starts with having sex, just as they can also make fruitful emotional bonds when they don’t have sex at all until they've made a long-term commitment. Sex is an important step, so make sure you’re on the same page.

Questions To Ask Before Having Sex

Because communication is an important part of a romantic relationship, and a sexual one, you and your prospective partner should discuss (even briefly) what you want and expect from one another to make sure you are both on the same page. The best sex is partnered with good communication, especially when it’s sex with a new partner. There are a few questions you and your partner can ask one another before you have sex to make sure you are both in a safe, healthy, considerate space. And remember, it is never too late to say no. If you see any red flags that you didn’t see before, it is okay to back out.

1) Are you ready? If you feel ready to take that step with your partner, communicate that, and leave the pathway open for your partner to communicate with you. While you may be ready, your partner might not be, and the two of you need to discuss your options.

2) What does this mean to you? For some, sex is an expression of love, care, and commitment. For some, sex may be a fun and mostly physical experience that may not need both people to be in love or devoted to one another. Knowing how sex really means to you and your partner will help reduce some of the challenges connected to having sex during the first few months of a relationship.

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3) Do you feel safe? Arguably the most important question to ask before having sex is whether you (and your partner) feel safe. If you feel in any way pressured to put upon, that is not a safe space. If you are worried your partner will treat you differently or will view you differently after having sex that is also not a safe space. Although sex can be fun and commitment-free, it can also have emotional repercussions, and if you engage in a sexual relationship with someone you do not trust, you are physically, emotionally, and mentally vulnerable. Safety and communication are key.

Rules To Follow When Dating

Your dating life is your own. Although there are numerous spoken and unspoken rules about dating, none of these rules must be followed, provided that you and your partner are both in agreement. Dating is not something that should be used to shame or control other people; instead, dating should be seen and used as a means of getting to know someone and getting to know yourself and your own needs better.

Subsequently, implementing the 3-date rule-or the 8-date rule, or 5-date rule-are very difficult and may put you at risk of developing an unhealthy relationship with yourself, your partner, and the concept of dating as a whole. Every relationship you get into will have its own life and its own principles. You might find that you create a strong, wonderful relationship after having intercourse on your first date, and might even find that you don't feel comfortable going there until you've been with someone for a few months or at least a year. Putting pressure on yourself or your date is dangerous and unhealthy.

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If you struggle to identify your limitations or struggle to maintain your self-esteem without other people’s support and approval, you may need to enlist the help of a therapist, such as those from ReGain.us. Therapists can assist you in getting to know yourself better and understand what instructions or rules will best develop your relationships with others. The therapist can also guide you in developing your self-esteem and empathy for other people, as a relationship of any kind requires some amount of compromise, sacrifice, and thinking of others, much like a dating coach.

Rather than adhering to the rules of an unfamiliar and confusing Dating Overlord, keep your pathways of communication open with your partner. Urban dictionary does not have to be your dating coach. At ReGain.Us, we will allow the two of you to talk about intimacy, sex, and whether or not you are ready to get into it voluntarily without being afraid of reprisal, mockery, or shame. Having a healthy relationship is all about respect, trust, and mutual affection-not in terms of whether you had sex within a specific timeframe.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does a third date mean to a guy?

Across the board, a third date means that you are both interested enough in each other to put aside time to spend together. With men, dating can have rules like the third date rule, but don’t necessarily expect that to be the case. Not all men dating prescribe to these pop cultural standards. The idea of waiting until the third date so that a guy likes you is a bit sexist in the sense that it assumes the guy is only in it for sex, so you have to almost trick him into getting to know you. Although, it can be useful to say no to someone once or twice and see how he reacts. If he really is just in it for the sex, and you say no to sex, then he will disappear, and you will feel like you dodged a bullet. But if you want to have sex, and you are both consenting adults, then, please, go for it, and see where things go! Don’t wait just because of outdated social rules.

In most cases, someone who is truly interested in you and someone who respects you as a person will not judge you for having sex on the first date, or even the tenth date. You should be open about what you’re comfortable with, and never feel pressured into a situation you don’t want to be in. Never feel guilty about saying no or yes if that’s what you want.

How many dates do you go on before a relationship?

Different kinds of people date for different reasons. Some people are trying to get over a previous partner, some just want to casually date around and some people are trying for relationship dating. Have an idea of how you want to date before you put yourself out there. If you’re looking for a long term partner, that can inform even the venue you choose for the date, or if you just want to meet some new people, that’s important to relay to your partner. People have different phrases to define the phase of the relationship you might be in: i.e. Talking, dating, dating-dating, exclusive, boyfriend/girlfriend… it’s important to be on the same page and enter into a more serious relationship when you both see fit.

What is the five-date rule?

The five-date rule is the same as the three-date rule, with an added two more days. The five-date rule just means that you are waiting five days before engaging in sexual relations with this partner. Though the waiting period is not as short term, it is still in essence the same concept. For more information, please refer to “What does a third date mean to a guy?”

What date should you kiss?

The first kiss with a new partner can be very exciting, and even nerve wracking at times. It will more likely be enjoyable when it doesn’t feel rushed. Whenever you are comfortable taking the next step in your physical relationship, go ahead. You should never feel guilty about doing something romantic “too soon” or “too late.” It’s always up to you to be open about what you want.

How many dates before a man falls in love?

Falling in love can be so unexpected, it creeps up on you and before you know it, you’re hooked. Therefore, there’s no specific number of dates you might go on before a man falls in love. But, if you’re cultivating a good, emotional connection, that can certainly lead to a deeper appreciation for one another.

How do you tell if a guy is falling for you?

For so many people, a love life is messy, confusing, exciting, and even sometimes stressful. Falling in love looks different on everyone. It can come as an abundance of affection, or even quiet, nervous energy. The way you show and best receive love can be different for everyone. The best way to tell if a guy is falling for you is to just see if he makes time in his life for you. Time spent connecting with each other is a good sign that you want to be in each other’s lives, and that’s an important first step on a potential journey to love.

How many dates before you sleep together?

There's no hard and fast rule to "how many dates before you sleep together." There are many dating books out there, and relationship experts say you need to wait to have sex. That may be a good plan for some people, but not others. It's about what both partners want. Some people are comfortable having sex on the first date. Others want to wait a while and get sexually intimate on date three. It's up to both people as to what works for them. It's crucial not to rush into a sexual relationship if you aren't ready. When you're dating a new person, it's exciting. You're attracted to each other, and the sexual chemistry is there. It's so exciting that you want to take them into the bedroom. It can be hard to wait to have sex. It's important to get to know each other before rushing into a sexual relationship. Some people have a reputation for engaging in casual sex. That means they don't associate sexual intimacy with romance. They're having sex early in the relationship because they enjoy it. An individual may be a sexual person. Casual sex can be a lot of fun for some people. But for others, it doesn't fulfill their need for emotional intimacy. When it comes to a long term relationship, being close to the person you're dating is crucial. Sexual intimacy matters, but it's not the only factor. When you have sex early on, it takes the mystery out of things. Yes, it can be thrilling to jump into bed with someone you're attracted to, and it does mean something.

Sex and dating are undoubtedly connected, but you don't have to get into bed with someone right away. If you want a serious relationship with a loyal partner, it can be a good thing to wait before having a sexual connection. Try to think of date ideas that don't involve sex. You can go to the movies and out to dinner. It's not time to have sex the minute you get together. There are many things you can do on a date that doesn't involve getting it on. Sex and dating have a reputation for going hand in hand. But that doesn't mean that you have to take your partner into bed the moment you meet. Couples have sex at different times in the relationship. Some people may become intimate on the first date, and feel fine about that. Their connection could last. Some people feel that dating and sex aren't integrally connected, while others feel that being sexual is a huge part of being close to someone. They want to have sex as soon as possible. When you're seeing someone, make sure not to have sex before you're ready. You have the right to wait. It's crucial to do what's comfortable for you and your partner. When you're dating someone, it's a partnership. You can openly discuss your needs and respect the other person's wants as well. 

What if My Friends Tell Me I Should (or Shouldn't) Have sex?

Don't let other people dictate your sex life. Only you and your partner know when you're ready to be together sexually. Your friends may mean well when trying to give you relationship advice, but it's none of their business when deciding to have sex. It could be on the first date, or maybe the fifth one. Nobody should pressure you into having sex, whether it's a friend or your partner. 

What if I'm Ready And The Other Person Isn't?

The most important aspect of a sexual relationship is that both people consent to be intimate with each other. Just because you're ready to take your connection to the next level doesn't mean your partner feels that way. Some people are survivors of sexual abuse. These individuals may have trauma surrounding sex and need to discuss that with their partners before becoming sexual. Many factors influence a person's readiness to become sexually active with their partner. It's crucial that you're both on the same page and want to have sex. You can have an open, candid dialogue about where you're at in terms of readiness to be sexual with one another. You can't force someone to be ready to share an intimate part of themselves. What you can do is spend a quality romantic time together. Feel each other out, and see if you're both ready to get sexually involved. Some people love making out. Kissing can be extremely romantic. Another thing that some individuals enjoy is cuddling. Snuggling in bed, or on the couch, with your significant other, can be deeply intimate. You can feel connected to them even though you're not having sex. Cuddling with your love is a beautiful way to bond. You don't have to have sex to feel close to your partner. Eventually, when you're both ready, you can have sex. But maybe it's not the right time for one of you, and that's okay. It doesn't mean you both won't get there. It's about respecting one another's needs. It could help to speak to your partner directly about having sex. It doesn't take the fun out of it. You can ask if they're ready to get intimate. Or discuss sexual fantasies. Sometimes talking about sex builds up the anticipation for having it. It can also give you a heads up on what the other person wants in the bedroom. It's sexy to discuss what turns the other person on. Now you know what to do once you do take them into the bedroom. You can get kinky and discuss what positions they like. Talking about sex doesn't have to be awkward. You can make it fun. Another thing you can consider is discussing your sexuality in therapy. A relationship therapist understands the concerns surrounding consent and having a sexual relationship with your partner. If you're having trouble figuring out when it's okay to have sex, it's something you can talk about in therapy. Your sexuality is something that you can honor and embrace. If you're a sexual person, you can explore what you want out of sex in therapy. It's a great place to explore these issues. Maybe you need emotional intimacy and get that through having sex. 

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