Talking about sex isn’t necessarily the most comfortable thing to do while you’re still getting to know someone. Yet talking about not having sex isn’t any easier, particularly in the early stages of dating. If you’re waiting until marriage to have sex, that’s a stance that any prospective partners should be made aware of, given that physical intimacy and personal values play such a massive role in compatibility. But how should you tell your dates about your decision? Take a deep breath — because experts say it’s totally possible to minimize the potential awkwardness of this convo.
First, however, let’s get one thing straight. There’s nothing wrong with delaying sex until you say “I do,” just as there’s nothing wrong with engaging in (safe) casual sex well before walking down the aisle. Only you get to define what sex means to you, and when the right time is to enjoy it.
Pinpointing the reason you’re waiting is helpful because it will allow you to clearly and confidently communicate your choice. This can give your date some more context and insight about you as a person. It can also help to reinforce your decision in your own mind, reminding you of your values and allowing you to stay strong in a vulnerable situation. While articulating your choice, be careful not to express any judgment if your date has a different opinion on sex before marriage.
Dr. Joshua Klapow, a clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, suggests having that conversation before you get physical. If things are already starting to get heated and you stop to tell your date that you’re waiting for marriage to have sex, that may feel like a rejection in the moment — and getting this news after becoming aroused may trigger negative responses out of insecurity or frustration. That’s not to say that bringing up your stance at any point in time warrants a hurtful reaction. No one should ever make you feel badly about your choice, no matter when you choose to express it. Still, when you share your choice in a non-sexual environment, it may be easier for your date to think clearly and react rationally, authentically, and respectfully.
There's no need to bring it up on a first date if it feels forced or uncomfortable, either. Jill Vandor, executive matchmaker at LunchDates recommends having this convo on the second or third date — or whenever you feel that things are starting to ramp up physically. For example, if they invite you back to their place, you can let them know you’d love to keep hanging, while still setting the expectation from the get-go that you won’t be sleeping together. Whenever you choose to have it, both experts agree it should happen face to face rather than over text or a phone call. That way, you can avoid any potential miscommunications or misunderstandings that could make the discussion more difficult than it needs to be.
Keep in mind that you can’t control your date’s reaction to this news. They may not be on the same page about delaying sex until marriage, and that’s OK. Just as you have the right to wait, they have the right to walk away if they know they can’t join you in that endeavor. Just because you've had a couple of phenomenal dates with them doesn't mean they're a perfect match for you — because having dramatically different views on sex suggests you may simply not be compatible.
Given that there are so many different interpretations of intimacy, Dr. Klapow also suggests clearly defining what you’re waiting for marriage to engage in.
“Do not be vague,” he tells Elite Daily. “People use the term sex to refer to anything from heavy petting to oral intimacy or intercourse. So, it’s critical that you and your partner clearly understand via a spoken conversation what you consider to be sex.”
It may feel awk to get into the nitty-gritty of what you are and aren’t willing to do, but it’s worth being specific as possible. In doing so, you set clear boundaries and give your date the opportunity to assess how they feel about moving forward. Also, while you’re letting your date know what you won’t do, it can be helpful to emphasize what you would like to do. Reminding them that physical intimacy is not confined to intercourse sets parameters for what’s OK, but it also facilitates a larger discussion about what makes you feel good. There are so many other ways to get closer to someone beyond having sex, and focusing on those is a great way to turn a potentially uncomfortable conversation into a positive one.
If you feel super uncomfortable approaching this topic, here’s a bit of reassurance: Talking about any facet of intimacy can feel weird for almost anyone, regardless of their philosophy on sex before marriage. Fortunately, experts agree that practice makes perfect. So, don’t be afraid to do a trial run of this convo before actually having it. Dr. Klapow recommends writing out and rehearsing what you plan to say, while Vandor suggests role-playing the convo with your bestie.
“The more comfortable you are with the verbiage, the easier it will be to have the conversation with a date,” explains Dr. Klapow.
Vandor adds, “Regardless of the many reasons why you might choose to sustain from sex until marriage, feel empowered to discuss those and stand strong in your conviction."
Dr. Klapow says it’s worth giving your date some time to process what you told them before letting you know how they feel about it.
“Let them know that this is about you and your beliefs and not about a lack of attraction or feelings for them,” he adds.
However, if your date seems to be ignoring or disrespecting your boundaries through physical advances, hurtful jokes, forcing you to defend your decision, or attempting to make you feel guilty or ashamed for your choices, it’s time to cut ties. Dr. Klapow notes someone who cares about you and your well-being may not agree with your choices but will be able to respect them — and ultimately, that’s the kind of person you want to be with.
Ultimately, the purpose of having this discussion is to determine whether or not you and your date can see eye to eye. And while it may be disappointing if you don't, knowing that information early on frees you up to find someone who is on the same page. Remember: waiting until marriage to have sex is a choice that you made for a commendable and significant reason, and the most fulfilling relationship will be one that not only supports that choice but brings new meaning to it.
Dr. Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist
Jill Vandor, matchmaker