Formspring: When is Sex Appropriate?

by Jason Stotts

I’ve received another question from Formspring, this one about when it’s appropriate to have sex.

When is it an appropriate time in a relationship to have sex? How do you know when one should? I have very little experience in this arena (I’m a 20 year old male in college), and don’t know how to apply Objectivist sexual ethics in this arena. Thanks!

The most important thing to remember is that for Objectivism the over-arching principle guiding all of ethics is for an individual agent to act to maximize his happiness, taken in the rich sense of eudaimonia as originally elaborated by Aristotle, over the long term.  Obviously sex and love play a very important role in what it is to live a good human life and thus we must treat love and sex as important values.  In fact, I think love and sex are necessary conditions for happiness.

Some questions to consider are:

1. How long have you been dating?

By spending lots of time with a person and being close to them, you learn who they truly are.  The longer you have been dating, the better you should know someone.  If it’s very early in a relationship and you don’t know each other well, especially at your age and probable experience level, it’s best to wait until you get to know each other better.  Having sex too early may cause the relationship to fall apart if it doesn’t go well or you might find that you’re not able to be your true sexual self in front of your partner and you don’t know your partner well enough.

2. Is the relationship based on shared values or just pleasant association?

Your relationship will be in a position to have sex sooner if it’s based on real values than if it’s based on simple pleasant association, assuming in the latter case that you actually want a relationship.  The more your relationship is based on shared values, the stronger it will be.

3. Do you actually care about each other?

This sounds like a strange question at first, but if you don’t care about your partner for herself, then you should wait to have sex.  Sex is selfish.  In a good and healthy relationship you care about your partner for their sake because they are a value in your life and make your life better, but you still care about them for their own sake as well.  This is important as some people take the stance that “of course I care about X, she is my girlfriend (or whatever),” but you should wish your partner well even if they were not your partner.  To put it another way, you shouldn’t care for your partner only because they’re your partner, but because they’re a good person and deserve good things.

4.  Are you virgins or do you have some experience with sex?

If you’re both virgins, you need to wait until you each feel comfortable with the idea of having sex and of having sex with each other.  If you’ve both had sex with multiple people, you will not need to wait long at all.  Knowledge of sex and what you like and need sexually makes it much easier to have sex with new partners.

I’d also like to add that virginity is no value for a rational person as it simply means a state of ignorance and inexperience with sex, which we Objectivists think is an important value.

5. Are you going to jump right to coitus or are you going to work your way up to it?

Going from only having kissed directly to penis-in-vagina (or butt) sex is a bad idea.  Actually, it’s a terrible idea at your age and experience level, if you care about your relationship.  You need to work your way up to vaginal intercourse together, learning about each stage and enjoying it for the pleasure it brings you both.  That is, you need to master oral, not because you simply need to postpone vaginal sex, but because you’ll learn about yourselves, each other, your likes and dislikes related to sex, and important skills.  Once you master each stage, then you move to the next one and keep going until you’re good at vaginal sex too.  Of course, there’re lots of side roads and detours and the like, but I think a good basic trajectory is manual – oral – sex.  I’m not saying that it’s obligatory to follow this trajectory, but it can really help you to gain knowledge and experience, and comfort with your partner, so that when you do decide to have intercourse, you’ll be ready.

A couple of final thoughts: I’m of the opinion that we shouldn’t be too rationalistic about sex and that it is better to learn from experience than to try to guess what you may like or not.  I think it is better to err on the side of trying new (safe) things and then judging whether you like them than to attempt to a priori deduce this.  This shouldn’t be taken as permission for promiscuity, but it does mean that I think you shouldn’t reserve sex for the one person you hope to marry.  In fact, I think that pre-marital sex is morally obligatory, as going into a relationship as serious as marriage without knowing if you’re compatible in one of the most important aspects of marriage is beyond foolhardy.

Since you’ve taken the trouble to write me, I’m going to offer you a free copy of my recent speech “Sexual Ethics and Objectivism.”  Just e-mail me at Jason(at)JasonStotts.com and I’ll send you a copy.  (Please include the date you submitted your question for verification.)

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Do you have questions for me?  Feel free to submit them via Formspring or by e-mailing me directly at Jason(at)JasonStotts.com.

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