I have a friend who recently (very recently) started seeing a new guy she really likes. Yesterday, she asked me: “Do you have a post about when you should and shouldn’t do it? I just never know how soon is too soon to not be respected.”

For my friend, and for anyone else who looks to friends or the internet or pop-culture for an answer to this very personal question, here’s what I have to say:

You should have sex when you want to have sex.

It’s really that simple. Or maybe it’s not that simple, because truly knowing “when you want to” takes maturity and self-awareness. But only you know yourself well enough to gauge your probable emotional reaction to sleeping with someone. Is sex a physical pleasure that you happily and easily share with people? Or for you, is it inextricably tied to heavier emotions and feelings? The answer to these questions will affect at what point you want to sleep with someone. Part of being a healthy, sexually active adult is being OK with wanting sex at your own pace. Of course, you should never feel pressured to have sex before you’re ready. But you also shouldn’t feel pressured to “hold off” for fear of losing a partner’s respect, or ruining your chances of a long-term relationship.

It’s frustrating to me that my friend worries about losing her boyfriend’s respect, but doesn’t even think of respecting him any more or less: after all, while she’s having sex with him (too early or too late), he’ll also be having sex with her.

If you come to the decision that you’re ready to have sex with someone, and it’s both physically and emotionally safe to do so, it’s ridiculous to attribute any meaning to how long you’ve waited — it can take hours or it could take months.

A different girl friend of mine started dating a guy a few weeks ago. He’d slept over at her house many times, but he’d never tried to actually have sex with her. “Is he gay? Does he have some horrible disfigurement? Is he not that into me?” she asked me, worriedly, over brunch.

Of course, the truth was nothing so dramatic: he simply wasn’t ready to have sex yet. They finally did (once he was ready), and everything was fine. But just as we’re constantly conditioned to believe women should wait, we’re taught that men should be always raring to go. The truth is that in sex, as in life, there are no hard and fast rules.

Maybe you only want to have sex when you’re in a monogamous, committed relationship.

Maybe you want to have sex the first night, because it just feels right.

Maybe you want to wait a few weeks.

Maybe you want to wait until marriage.

As long as you wait until you want to do it, your partner should trust you enough to believe you are mature, in control and aware of your emotional reaction to it. It is, after all, your mind and body, not theirs.

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