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

By Corrina Horne |Updated August 2, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Lisa Cooper, MSW, LCSW

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 Third-Date Rule?

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The third-date rule is a dating rule which dictates that both parties wait to sleep together until at least the third date, at which point a couple can have sex without worrying about being abandoned or considered too "loose" to be a good partner. The three-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. If you are struggling with these stereotypes and how they affect your self-esteem, consider speaking with an online therapist. 

Far from being a parent-enforced or parent-created rule, the third-date rule exists more as a result of peer pressure and similar sources. The three-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 third-date rule and encouraging readers to forge their paths.

Why Was The Rule Created?

The idea behind the rule is that sex on the 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 third date or later to sleep with a guy supposedly gives a woman a better chance of keeping a guy’s interest, while it gives a guy sex soon enough to keep him interested, without giving him sex so soon that he sees a woman as little more than a one-night stand.

Like many dating rules, the third-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 third-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 third-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 Third-Date Rule?

While the third-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 who 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 and become intimate, 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 the right time to have sex 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

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 what 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 third-date rule—or the first-date rule, second-date rule, or eighth-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.

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.

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