Is sex the new first base?

Words by Evangeline Polymeneas

Maybe it’s time we revised the classic baseball metaphor.

You’re having brunch with your best friend, makeup still on from the night before (sorry Hyram). You’re explaining the sexual experience you had. Your friend asks to see a picture. You go to search for them on Instagram. But wait… what was their name again?

You are Samantha Jones. Your Sex and the City fantasy is here and it’s real.

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Many of us have had a questionable night or two with a stranger, where we’ve caught an Uber back home at a reasonable and respectable 7am from a suburb we’ve never heard of. Stumbling back to our rooms holding the remnants of last night’s outfit and thinking, “Damn, I guess we’re never getting back that pair of lashes.” All of it in the name of a good hook-up.

In 2021, a good, safe and consensual night spent with a person you barely know is something worth celebrating. But it’s interesting to think back. Because, at least throughout my upbringing, that wasn’t always the case. What happened to those ‘rules’ we grew up hearing? Something about making it to first, second and third base in a relationship, with sex being the home run? Or was it abstaining from sex until the third date, lest you be labelled ‘promiscuous’?

When we were young, most of us were taught that sex is something between a ‘man and women who love each other very much’. Since then, societal attitudes to sex – and even love – have shifted drastically to better represent the true diversity of our sexual and romantic experiences.

So how do we see sex now? What happened to these tropes and rules we were spoon-fed as children? Are they even relevant anymore?

Sex as the home run

The baseball metaphor, which positions sexual milestones as ‘bases’ from first base to a home run, is a pop-culture phenomenon that, to this day, plagues the minds of most millennials thanks to its prevalence in ’00s American teen films.

The bases established a hierarchy of sex acts, with male-female penetrative sex reigning supreme as ‘home base’. The social convention at the time dictated that women, in particular, had to approach each act in ascending order (first, second, third and then home base) at a socially acceptable speed. If you ran the field too fast you were a slut, too slow and you were a prude.

This concept we all know so well has seemingly been tipped on its head in recent years. Skipping bases is common, nay, encouraged in the Tinder era as we shift to a more sex-positive society. But I can’t help but wonder why. Armed with this curiosity, I ask sex therapist Laura Miano for her thoughts.

She mentions the metaphor is inherently masculine and doesn’t take into consideration a realistic variety of sexual preferences. When the bases were first introduced, popular culture was dominated by the male gaze. I mean, using a sports metaphor to measure sexual progress just oozes male influence.

Laura is adamant there is no such thing as bases. “It is a really problematic way of looking at sex. Sex doesn’t occur on a linear scale or in a hierarchy,” she explains. “You can derive pleasure from any sexual act. Some people – in fact, many people – derive more pleasure from sexual acts that are, according to these bases, occurring in first or second base, compared to final base.”

A ‘home run’ (AKA penis-in-vagina, penetrative sex), not only discounts the sex that exists between the lines, but it is framed around the heterosexual male experience of pleasure. Seventy-five per cent of women don’t even orgasm from penetrative sex alone.

“It is a very heteronormative way of understanding sex and is very goal-orientated,” Laura explains. “Rather than going in for the experience, looking for sexual satisfaction or pleasure, going into it to tick off these levels or graduate to the next level takes you away from being mindful in the experience.”

The ‘bases’ that American teenagers followed religiously in early 2000s rom-coms have kind of evaporated. Sex in 2021 doesn’t follow the rules of baseball like we once thought it did. Coming of age while we swiped left or right for sexual partners influenced a new hook-up culture that has shed light on sex-positivity.

The concept of sex has changed from these heteronormative ideas to a more fluid perspective in recent years and as a result, the bases just aren’t as relatable.

Sex on the third date

No sex until the third date was a ‘rule’ religiously followed by Sex and the City’s Charlotte York. And despite the show concluding in 2004, the expectation of sex on the third date continued for quite a while.

But the last time I heard anyone actually talk about sex on the third date was Michael Scott from The Office. Society and pop culture have thrown this idea right out the window along, with the baseball metaphor. It’s more widely accepted that we don’t need to wait to have sex, if we don’t want to. We don’t necessarily need to ‘get to know someone’ before we decide to be physically intimate.

“I do feel like there has been this shift,” Laura agrees. “Before, it was all about forming a relationship and getting to know this person, and waiting quite a while before you have sex. But now… it is the opposite. People are jumping to have sex and then letting the emotions follow, or have no intention of [having an emotional relationship] at all.”

Laura puts it wonderfully when she says, “For a lot of people, sex is far more enjoyable when there is an emotional connection, because it does add a whole other layer to the sexual experience. But sometimes you can also have sex with someone that is really great and there isn’t an emotional connection. That doesn’t mean it is a shallow sort of sex. It can just be sex with someone that makes you feel safe, who is understanding and caring, and wants to pleasure you as much as you want to pleasure them.”

So to return to the metaphor, has sex become the new ‘first base’? 

“It all comes down to knowing our boundaries,” says Laura.

With society navigating gender norms differently and discovering sex-positivity, these tropes we grew up internalising are starting to dissolve. Sexual progress isn’t like running a baseball field anymore. The third date isn’t necessarily the ‘right’ time to be physically intimate with someone. Sex looks and feels different for everyone, so just find your own groove and be safe.

To find out more about sexologist Laura Miano, head here.

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