What Is The 3-Date Rule? Knowing When It’s The Right Time

Updated March 30, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

Dating etiquette can be helpful for those who aren’t sure about the best way of interacting with a potential partner. To help daters make their way through the dating landscape, a number of rules have been developed, one of which has to do with when intimacy should occur. According to the three-date rule, it is best to wait three dates before becoming physical with a potential partner. But is this advice sound? When is the best time to start a physical relationship with a date? Below, we’re covering the three-date rule, its usefulness today, and how it might apply to your dating life. 

What Is The Three-Date Rule?

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The three-date rule suggests that the best time for potential partners to first become physical is the third date. It is by no means an actual hard-and-fast rule but rather a guideline—a reference point that many have used to decide when to incorporate a sexual component into a courtship. Over the years, the three-date rule has been popularized through movies, tv shows, and magazines. It’s important to note that you should never feel like you have to be intimate with somebody at a specific time, or at all. If you’re ready to start a physical relationship with someone after the first date, that’s completely okay; and if you’d rather wait more than three dates to do so, that’s also okay. Your comfort level is most important.

Why Was The Three-Date Rule Created?

The reasoning behind the three-date rule relates to daters’ comfort level and compatibility. For many, three dates provide enough time to get to know a person better and become comfortable with them. In addition to having learned more about each other, potential partners may have crossed the touch barrier and even kissed by the third date. This can make it easier to transition into a physical relationship. 

Part of the rationale behind the rule is based on the fear that including a sexual component too early will change the dynamic of a relationship. Some people feel that becoming intimate after one or two dates can be damaging later in the relationship. This idea is backed by a small amount of research. But it is also thought to arise out of, and propagate, harmful and outdated societal beliefs about how women should behave in order to not be perceived as overtly sexual.

While the three-date rule can pertain to anyone, it has historically been applied to women who are in heterosexual relationships. The reasoning for why a woman should wait to engage in a sexual relationship is based on an unfair double standard regarding how sexuality is expressed between men and women. In today’s sex-positive society, women should not be made to feel that their value is in any way connected to how long they wait to become intimate with a date. 

Safety is often part of the reasoning for those who utilize the three-date rule. Many daters aren’t yet comfortable being alone with a relatively new person or going to an unfamiliar place without first getting to know them. So, the more they’re able to interact with their date, the better they might feel about being in a potentially vulnerable situation.   

Should You Follow The Three-Date Rule?

While the three-date rule is considered by some to be a useful guideline, you shouldn’t feel compelled to follow it. The best time for you and your date to become intimate is when you are both ready and consenting. If both of you are comfortable starting a physical relationship after the first date, that is the right time. If either of you want to wait until the eighth date, that is the right time. The most important thing is that you are comfortable and that your partner is consenting. 

To get on the same page with your date, it can help to be open about when you’d like to start a physical relationship. For example, if you’re on a third date, but you aren’t yet ready to be intimate, you can let the person know that you’d like to wait longer. Or you could talk through the decision on the first date and decide that you’re already comfortable sleeping together. Although this might be a slightly awkward conversation, it can help you and your date avoid feeling uncomfortable in the future.

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 in agreement. You might find that you create a strong, rewarding relationship after having intercourse on your first date; or you might find that you don't feel comfortable starting a sexual relationship at all until you've been with someone for at least a year. 

The specifics of your relationship with your date will often help influence your decision on when to become intimate with them. If, for example, you’ve known the person you’re dating for several years, you may already be comfortable enough to take things in a physical direction. Things like religion, prior dating history, and your own self-confidence can also factor into your decision to include a sexual component in your courtship. 

While you may find that the three-date rule is a useful reference point, strictly following such a rule could negatively impact your relationship and your emotional well-being. It could cause you to put pressure on yourself to be intimate earlier than you’re comfortable with or to feel self-conscious if you’re ready to be intimate before the third date. If you find yourself struggling to navigate dating, sex, and similar concerns, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. 

Questions To Ask Before Becoming Intimate

Because communication is an important part of a romantic and sexual relationship, consider discussing with your prospective partner what you want and expect from one another to make sure you are both on the same page. There are a few questions you can ask each other before you become intimate to make sure you are both in a safe, healthy, considerate space. And remember, it is never too late to say no. Even if you’ve started to become physical, if you want to stop, it is ok to back out.

  • Are you comfortable discussing your sexual history? Having an open and honest conversation about your and your partner's sexual health can be important prior to becoming intimate. You both can talk about any testing you’ve had done recently, whether there are potential sexual health concerns that need to be addressed (e.g., sexually transmitted diseases, physical health challenges), and how many sexual partners you’ve had. This might be a difficult conversation, but it is one that can help you develop a healthy sexual relationship. 

  • Are you ready? This question can help you both ensure you’re consenting and comfortable taking the next step in your relationship. While one of you might be prepared to become intimate, the other might not be. Asking your date if they’re ready can help you know for sure. This is also a good question to ask yourself. Regardless of how many dates you’ve been on, you should feel safe prior to becoming physical with your partner.

  • What does sex mean to you? For some, sex is an expression of love, care, and commitment. For others, sex may be a fun and mostly physical experience that may include an element of love. Knowing what sex means to you and your partner may help reduce some of the challenges connected to having sex during the first few months of a relationship.

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Navigating Intimacy With Online Therapy

A growing body of evidence suggests that online therapy can help couples get on the same page regarding important aspects of their relationship—an often-crucial step when it comes to intimacy. For example, the results of a study of 742 couples show that online therapy led to “significantly greater improvements” in communication and relationship satisfaction. The study also noted the ability of online therapy to bridge the treatment gap that often prevents couples from accessing counseling. 

If you’d like to talk through concerns related to intimacy, dating, or a new relationship, online therapy can help. With an online therapy platform like Regain, you and your partner can chat with a therapist remotely, which might be more comfortable if you’re covering topics like sex. Regain works with thousands of licensed therapists, who have a range of specialties, so you’ll have a good chance of being matched with someone who can address your specific concerns related to dating and sexual relations. 


The three-date rule is a widely promulgated—but largely arbitrary—guideline for when to start an intimate relationship. A healthy relationship is all about respect, trust, and mutual affection, and, as long as both partners are comfortable becoming physical, those things can be developed regardless of when intimacy occurs. If you’re looking for guidance when it comes to dating and relationships, consider getting matched with a therapist online. With the right support, you can learn more about what intimacy means to you and how you can navigate it in a healthy way.  

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