Here's Why Setting 'Sexpectations' Is Absolutely Crucial

Let's talk about sex.
two men lying in bed and talking
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Zach McKenzie
zach mckenzie headshot
Zach McKenzie
The Knot Contributor
  • Zach contributes first-person essays about love, dating and wellness for The Knot.
  • He also writes for other publications, covering celebrities, local changemakers, politics and current events.
  • Zach works full-time as a Marketing and Communications Manager for a Texas-based non-profit.
Updated Apr 28, 2022

I won second place in a mandatory abstinence-only sexual education poetry contest at the age of 12. As someone who also grew up Catholic, I fully understand intimacy isn't the easiest conversation subject for everyone. I was at dinner with a friend recently and she admitted that the mere thought of talking about sex with a prospective partner made her want to throw up.

Although I can empathize with the discomfort in talking about sex, I've learned through trial and error that setting "sexpectations" is a bridge worth crossing sooner rather than later in a relationship. Whether it's communicating the conviction to wait for marriage, passing along personal desires, or sharing specific comfort-levels, here's why it's important to set ground rules early on.

Setting Expectations Early Saves You Time

If we learned nothing else during the pandemic, it's that life is incredibly uncertain, time is precious, and it shouldn't be wasted. That's not to say that you should plan to ask the question, "At what point in the dating process do you typically have sex?" before the drinks arrive on a first date. The point is to prioritize all areas of compatibility with your partner, including intimacy.

Once you feel comfortable bringing up the topic, it is worth asking questions about their sexpectations. Samples include: "What are you ultimately looking for in terms of dating?" or "Are you more of a hookup person or relationship oriented?"

Perhaps turn to easy and unassuming ways for opening the line of communication. Statements like, "I struggle with dating, because it seems like everyone just wants to have sex" or, leaning into nonverbal communication, like sending playful texts and using playful communication to let your partner know you consent to getting more intimate, according to the team at Verywell Mind, are just a few ways to communicate with your partner about your sexual comfort levels.

We can often feel like we are on the same page with someone, but when we get to the point where we decide to take the next step, it turns out that sex was their end goal all along. Setting expectations with someone before you fall hard and fast for them can hopefully eliminate that gray area between taking a big step toward being in a relationship and just looking for a one night stand. That's not to say that a conversation where you set expectations for physical intimacy is always full proof, but at least you can say you tried.

Dating is basically a part-time job. It takes time, effort, energy, money and the sacrifice of emotional bandwidth at a baseline level. Finding out that you don't see eye-to-eye with someone about something that should be regarded with as much importance as any other form of compatibility can save you time early on in the courting process,It's not always easy, but being able to set ground rules, express desires, and establish hopes for the future of the relationship can save you time that could be gifted to someone else or set you up for success with that person.

These Conversations Expose Dealbreakers Early On

Setting expectations with your partner early on in the courtship might seem risky, but by doing so, you are able to have autonomy over how you engage intimately with them. Discussing your intimacy comfort levels can help determine whether or not you and the other person are seeing eye-to-eye or if you're boarding a train headed toward disappointment.

For some, a dealbreaker may be that they want to wait to have sex until marriage while their partner does not. As a gay man, a major determinant tends to be, for better or worse, the inevitable identification of being a "top" or a "bottom". And, if you're in search of something on the more serious side, these discussions can help you avoid unwanted situationships. Having these conversations can hopefully prevent any surprises moving forward, or act as a reference point for why things likely won't work out in the long run.

Not everything has to be a dealbreaker, however. Compromise is the name of the game and certain people are worth exploring new territory with. The conversation is ongoing and not a one-and-done. Sex lives evolve over time, so keeping the line of communication open, checking in with your partner, and navigating the waters together make for a strong bond. With a solid foundation set, these conversations become much easier.

Start the Conversation

A wise woman once said, "Let's talk about sex, baby / Let's talk about you and me / Let's talk about all the good things and the bad things, that may be." R&B group Salt-N-Pepa had it right in their 1990 hit song. Talking about sex can be intimidating—the good, the bad and the uncomfortable, but it's a part of life, so we might as well open that line of communication together sooner rather than later.

The formula isn't universal, either. Some people like to come right out of the gate and put that question on the ethereal dating app table right from the start. Others like to be a little more old school and wait until an emotional connection is established. There is no right or wrong way to go about having the conversation, as long as it's being had.

Sexual health and wellness is meant to be enjoyed, and trust inspired by open communication can make that joy much more attainable from an early point in a romantic partnership. So, just as the aforementioned song tells us, "It keeps coming up anyhow / Don't be coy, avoid or make void the topic."

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