mating rituals

The Secret to a Good Date: Have Sex First

Photo: Weegee(Arthur Fellig)/Getty Images

Last summer, I found myself being led through Williamsburg by the hand, on the way to the apartment of Matthew, a guy I had been seeing, casually and happily, for a couple months. It was 90 degrees out at 9 p.m., and I was full of the Commodore’s fried-chicken thighs and mad as hell.

By itself, nothing about the scenario was bad: Summer is my favorite season, fried chicken is my favorite food, emotionally undemanding men with impressive penises are my favorite people to date casually. He had his own place, and his sex playlists always contained at least one song I liked enough to ask him about afterward. He ate pussy both enthusiastically and well. The whole scenario was an embarrassment of riches.

The problem, though, was that I was fairly drunk, full of deep-fried meat, and headed to an apartment in which an air conditioner had not been running all day. Once there, a 200-pound man planned to lie on top of my sweaty, food-swollen body for an indeterminate amount of time. Before he did that, he was going to peel off the jorts I had been wearing all day at work and all night in a poorly climate-controlled dive bar and put his face between my legs until I came twice. (Once for real, a second time to assure him he had done a good job the first time and we could move on.)

All that was going to happen in spite of the fact that it was objectively pretty gross to do it after the evening we just had — but, for fairly antiquated reasons, that’s how most people conceive of a respectable date. The modern order of romantic operations has its roots in traditional courtship rituals, where chaste outside activities were planned in order for a couple to build a meaningful relationship before marriage. Now it just means most people feel like they either have to eat a meal or have several drinks with a relatively new partner before they have sex, even if they’ve already seen each other naked a half-dozen times. On top of that, suggesting or planning Real, Traditional Dates can also sometimes feel like the best way to signal to a new partner that you’re looking for something romantically substantive rather than a casual hookup, which is particularly important when the person you’re seeing has emerged from the ambiguity of a dating app.

So you do the activity first and then you have the sex, and you do it like that even if everyone involved knows the activity is going to make the sex-having less enjoyable at best and physically difficult or impossible at worst. In that moment, on that sweaty sidewalk between fried chicken and fucking, I knew instinctively something I still believe to be true, and something that sex and relationship columnist Dan Savage has long been preaching for special occasions: Fuck first. I’d go further than Savage, though, and suggest that it’s a good idea for almost any date. If you’re going out with someone you’ve already had sex with and don’t need to evaluate in public for reasons of safety or suitability, then please, for the love of god, fuck first.

Although I consider this a deeply held personal belief, it was one I had sort of forgotten about until Refinery29’s Fuck Pasta story started making the rounds. The upshot of Fuck Pasta is that you should make a big bowl of carbs covered in heavy cream sauce for a man in order to compel him to sleep with you, which is the kind of advice you get from someone who doesn’t have a lot of practical wisdom to offer about sex or cooking. Fuck Pasta is a shot in the dark that just so happens to get a sexual partner inside your apartment, which is the actual big key to having sex: enticing a willing partner into a private space in which there is at least one large, cushioned surface.

Eating, drinking, and a combination of the two are by far the most common date activities, especially in the first few months of seeing someone, and the people I asked all expressed varying degrees of dissatisfaction with how they affect sex when done in the traditional order. My roommate Jenny, 27, got a thousand-yard stare for a moment before murmuring, “The salad. When I was single, I always ordered a salad. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to eat something big in front of a guy, which I think people assume. I just didn’t want to be so full and sleepy later. I never actually wanted a salad.”

Drinking’s negative sexual side effects are more well-documented. Alcohol dulls sensation, makes people physically sloppy, and further complicates the already-thorny issue of consent — none of those things are sexy in the way that the conventional narratives around a drunken romp always promised us they would be. That is, of course, if you even get to the sex part after drinking. Dicks are notoriously uncooperative after more than a couple adult beverages. As my friend Nick, 32, said, “If we have sex first, I feel pretty confident in both my sexual and conversational abilities. If we go out for drinks first, that’s not a double-whammy I can always re-create in the opposite order.”

Reversing the order of the date doesn’t necessarily just improve the sex, either — when you haven’t been dating someone long, knowing you’ll soon be naked in front of him or her can be distracting in ways that are both thrilling and anxiety-inducing. Anne, 24, told me, “[Dates] can end up just feeling like a buildup to fucking. Sex theoretically alleviates that tension. I’ve spent far too many dates distractedly thinking about fucking instead of being as engaged as I’d like to.” If you have sex at the top of the evening, not only do you get to stop wondering if you’ll fuck and how it will be, but you get to spend the rest of the evening — dinner, drinks, whatever — in the pleasant afterglow of hopefully at least one orgasm, your hair perfectly tousled by a good, healthy railing. You, too, can be part of one of those glowing couples at brunch who clearly just had sex, except you can also be them at dinner.

As with many sexual hangups and traditions, though, insisting that the date must generally come before the sex may be an area in which straight people are simply holding ourselves back without necessity when everyone else has already figured out that rearranging things just makes sense. While my straight friends all greeted the idea of date-reversal like a foreign — if welcome — concept, the gay men I asked reacted as though I was asking whether I thought it was a good idea to brush your teeth before bed. Gerard, 25, said, “In my experience, dates in the ‘honeymoon’ phase all start with a good fuck. For one, you really don’t want to be doing anal after a heavy meal.” When you put it like that, it feels like the issue is settled: Having sex before a date is the righteous, logical choice.

That still leaves us with the issue of first dates. Fucking on the first date is as normalized as it has ever been in the modern history of human sexuality, but having sex before the first date — which, thanks to dating apps, often means immediately upon meeting someone — is still relatively taboo. The men I spoke with, both gay and straight, were totally in favor of it (and the gay men, of course, are ahead on this too — they reported it being much more common already) for the same reasons they liked the idea of having sex first on any date. The women, on the other hand, were reticent. In heterosexual dating, women have reason to be concerned for their safety with new partners, and committing to being in a closed, private space with a man before you’ve had an opportunity to observe him on a neutral site often feels like a risk unworthy of the potential reward.

Some problems can’t be solved with a simple change in itinerary. So if you’re a woman who wants to have sex comfortably on a first date, maybe cut yourself off at three drinks or stick to splitting a few appetizers. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, it’s still impossible to fuck your way out of the awkwardness of human interaction in general.

The Secret to a Good Date: Have Sex First