Dear Hump Day,

You recently wrote about the etiquette for random hookups and one-night stands. But I was wondering, what’s the proper way to bring up sex with a new girlfriend while also making sure we don’t move too fast and ruin the relationship?

Taking It Slow

Dear TIS,

In the hookup-dominated culture of college life, defining a new relationship can seem pretty freaky. As we second guess every text message and overanalyze each date to the point of insanity, we often sidestep topics that matter more in the long run.

Sex, ladies and gentlemen, not only falls into this category: it’s why it exists.

Although it’s inevitably awkward, figuring out how and when to initiate sex marks an important step in any new relationship, and whether the two of you are old friends or recent acquaintances, there are a few key factors that comprise this hot-button issue.

It’s all about comfort

Some couples start having sex on the second date, while others wait years before taking the same step. Whatever speed you choose, make sure it’s for the right reasons.

This idea applies to both ends of the promiscuity spectrum: Don’t rush into sex for fear of your partner losing interest, and don’t hold out just because you’re playing hard to get. Relationships aren’t hookups, and playing the same games you’d use on some rando from the KK doesn’t even make sense. You’re trying to further an emotional connection with someone, not win him or her over with petty tricks.

Truth be told, there really isn’t a universal “right time” to bring sex into a new relationship. The most reliable barometer in situations like these is comfort. Your willingness toward sex should stem from how relaxed and uninhibited you feel with your new partner, as well as the depth of your relationship.

Although sex is an integral part of any healthy relationship, many experts believe partners should wait to become intimate until they know a great deal about each other (and no, knowing each other’s names probably isn’t enough).

Relationship expert Susanne Alexander says rushing into sex can cloud a couple’s judgment in disastrous ways.

“It becomes much more difficult to objectively see each other’s character traits,” Alexander said.

It’s human nature: Sex complicates things. So when you’re looking for something serious, your comfort level should be the deciding factor. When you feel prepared, talk it over openly with your partner. If he or she feels ready too, that’s awesome, but if not, then all you can do is respect his or her decision and focus on other aspects of the relationship for the time being.

Hooking up and dating: They’re just not the same

If you’re leaving the world of casual sex behind for a new relationship, chances are you may confuse the boundaries that go along with each scenario. Hooking up and dating are entirely different, and while game playing is a reality for many unattached college students, it’s important to get real when you’re ready for a relationship.

In the event of a random hookup, thinking about the future usually isn’t a top concern, which is essentially why one-night stands exist. When all you want is physical satisfaction, it can be difficult to care about taking things slow. Relationships are quite the opposite. Although they can theoretically work at any sexual speed, it’s probably not the best idea to have sex with a new boyfriend or girlfriend before developing a personal connection.

Hooking up usually doesn’t require an emotional investment, while dating can be quite the opposite. Learning all you can about your partner is one of the most exciting parts of a new relationship, so don’t rush through it for the sake of immediate gratification!

Wanna fuck?

OK, so that’s probably not the smoothest way to initiate sex, but at least it’s direct, right?

But seriously, bringing up sex with your partner isn’t as tricky as it sounds. If you’ve been dating for a reasonable amount of time (i.e. longer than 10 minutes), you shouldn’t be scared to come right out and say, “What do you think about taking things to the next level,” or a less-euphemistic version of the sort. All you have to lose is your partner saying “not yet,” which really isn’t the end of the world.

Note: Pressuring your partner to have sex shouldn’t even be an option, and if that’s what your instincts are telling you, you probably need a reality check. That’s all.

Just the two of us…

When you’re pursuing a casual hookup, logistics tend to fall by the wayside. But when you’re trying for some time alone with a new partner, privacy and timing will probably seem more important.

Just relax. When the time is right for both of you, you’ll know it. And as long as you respect and understand your partner, communication will be the deciding factor.

Rachel Dickens is a junior majoring in journalism. Want your burning sex question answered? E-mail our sexperts at [email protected]