Is It Acceptable to Have Sex on the First Date? Here’s What Americans Say
May 17, 2021 by Justin Lehmiller
In recent years, Americans’ sexual attitudes have become more liberal. For example, public opinion polls have found that the number of American adults who think that things like sex outside of marriage and same-sex relationships are morally acceptable have reached record highs and have majority support.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Americans think that all forms of sexual activity are acceptable today—they do see some limits. And one of them is having sex on the first date, which is something that most Americans do not seem to approve of.
In a recent national survey of 4,860 U.S. adults conducted by the Pew Research Center, participants were asked about the acceptability of several intimate behaviors taking place on a first date, including hugging, kissing, and having sex.
Participants were asked whether they think each behavior is acceptable, regardless of whether they personally would do it themselves.
When it came to hugging, there was near universal agreement that this behavior was usually acceptable on a first date: 56% said it is always acceptable, 39% said it is sometimes acceptable, 3% said it is rarely acceptable, and 2% said it is never acceptable.
When it came to kissing, the responses were a bit more mixed, but most agreed that it is usually acceptable. Specifically, 15% said it is always acceptable, 58% said it is sometimes acceptable, 18% said it is rarely acceptable, and 9% said it is never acceptable.
Now when it came to sex, the pattern shifted substantially, with most saying it was usually not acceptable. Specifically, 5% said it is always acceptable, 25% said it is sometimes acceptable, 27% said it is rarely acceptable, and 42% said it is never acceptable.
Put another way, just 30% of Americans think that first-date sex is usually okay.
That said, one thing that isn’t clear from these data is who people were thinking about when answering these questions. It’s easy to imagine that people might answer these questions very differently depending on whether they’re thinking about what’s acceptable for themselves personally versus their own children, their friends, or random people.
So, ideally, I’d say you’d probably want to ask these questions a few different ways because I suspect there’s going to be a bit of nuance in the results depending on the reference group.
That said, these results suggest that there isn’t universal agreement among Americans in terms of what types of intimate behaviors are acceptable on a first date. Even with something like hugging, while most say that it’s usually acceptable, 1 in 20 say it’s rarely or never acceptable.
While a substantial minority believe that first-date sex is usually acceptable, it seems that most Americans think that people should typically wait a while. However, what this survey doesn’t tell us is precisely when the switch flips and a majority say it’s acceptable to have sex. Is it based on total number of dates (such as the “three-date rule”)? How well you know the other person? Something else?
These questions would also be important to explore in the future, as well as whether there are age/generational differences and differences based on gender, sexuality, and religiosity.
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Image Source: 123RF/Ekaterina Cankaya
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Dr. Justin LehmillerFounder & Owner of Sex and Psychology
Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.Read full bio >