Why Women Should Set The Pace With Physical Affection


Dating advice for catholic women

Sometimes I even learn from my own blog posts.

Last time, we tackled the controversial subject of kissing on the first date

Well, actually, we didn’t directly tackle it. But we used it as a springboard to discuss the differences in attraction between men and women.

To summarize, we concluded that for men, physical attraction tends to come first, followed by mental and emotional attraction. For women, on the other hand, real physical attraction (as opposed to the “appreciating good looks the way we appreciate a beautiful painting” type of attraction) tends to come later, after we’re gotten to know him a little better and find him mentally and emotionally attractive as well.

In other words, we’re less inclined to want to be physically intimate with someone until we’ve experienced some emotional attraction and intimacy. 

I closed by saying that difference can cause a lot of misunderstandings, hurt and missed opportunities – an understatement, if I’ve ever uttered one. 

I’ve been thinking ever since (well, in between thinking about work, family and the new car I need) about this particular little trick that God has apparently played on us. Dating-wise, the ramifications are staggering.


20 questions

There is so much to figure out in the early stages of dating. “Do I like him?”  “Does she like me?” “Do I like him more than he likes me?” “Is this something worth pursuing?” “Can I afford to get my hopes up?” 

Since there frequently isn’t a high level of conversational intimacy yet, most of that type of communication happens via non-verbal cues. How does he act? How does she respond? How interested does he seem? What kind of affection is happening?

Of course, it should go without saying (at least when you’re hearing from me) the primary consideration is that any physical affection be chaste, that it be a real expression of genuine affection and not a mere using of the other’s body for pleasure and that it not be at a level that makes it more difficult for either party to maintain that chastity. 

Still, chaste affection is fueled to a certain extent by the physical attraction that God gave us, and since he gave it to us in different ways, we need to understand and respect those ways.


New wisdom in old tradition

I got to thinking about the time-honored (i.e. “old”) tradition that says “the woman sets the pace” of physical affection in a relationship. It’s easy to dismiss old practices like this as just vestiges of the old double standard, where women’s and men’s purity (or lack thereof) was viewed through very different lenses.

But I’m starting to see a whole new level of wisdom here.

Women are less likely than men to experience physical attraction before emotional attraction. In other words, when they start to desire some level of physical intimacy with someone, it’s generally because they are also interested in them on an emotional and intellectual level.

That’s the way it is in our world. And so, we assume that’s the way it is in everyone’s world. In other words, we assume that if a guy is physically attracted enough to kiss us, it means he’s attracted to us, our wonderful traits and unique individual-ness.  And so, if we are also physically attracted enough to want to kiss him, we assume that both have gone through the intellectual and emotional levels to get to this point, and this relationship is on track to move forward.

Whereas for a guy, he may just be acting on that first level. He hasn’t made any decisions about the mental or emotional. He’s just physically attracted and enjoying the moment and has no clue that she’s reading anything deeper into it.


Women’s wounds

A lot of women get hurt this way, giving their hearts to “relationships” that never really were.

So yeah, women need to set the pace for several reasons.

First, we shouldn’t feel pressured to express any kind of affection before we sincerely mean it.

Second and more importantly, we protect ourselves and our hearts when we make sure everybody’s on the same page. If we want physical affection to mean something more than just an expression of physical attraction (and everything in our hearts and souls is wired to want just that), we need to make sure that his kisses mean something as well. To do that, we need to wait for signs that the relationship is based on more than a passing infatuation. We need to see intellectual and emotional attraction, not just physical. And, of course, we need to see evidence of respect.

And to reiterate the most important point once again, we’re talking about chaste affection. Nothing I’m saying here should be interpreted to mean anything else. It’s too big a topic to get into here, but if you want to know more, read – well, just about anything I’ve ever written. My book Real Love is a good place to start.



Further reading

Check out “53 & Chaste Again: Tending The Verdant Garden Of My Soul.”



  1. Michael-1159451 December 28, 2014 Reply

    Mary Beth Bonacci, where can I get a copy of your book Real Love?

  2. Mary-853373 June 24, 2013 Reply

    Dating following wodowhood is certainly tough. I was married over 40 years and miss the closeness of marriage but am leery during this dating time. Sharing time and space with another is just difficult to experience. Trust comes too easily for me and we just have to take it all one day at a time because that is how God sends it to us. Kindness works for me.

  3. Emily-156637 December 13, 2012 Reply

    I agree with John above. I’ve read somewhere that men typically have 20% more testosterone than women, fairly significant. Women also have a surge of testerone and other hormones when they ovulate which can last for more than just a few days so really, men and women are both responsible for setting the pace. Men and women need to understand that women in their reproductive years are “monthly creatures” (bar those who use the pill and give themselves a synthetic pregnancy for years on end) and adjust their behaviour accordingly. It is very difficult for a woman to say no to sex (or mucking around) when she is in the 24 hour period of ovulation so for that week stay out of the house.

    And while I’m at it..another challenge of dating today is that we don’t live with our parents until we wed. The protection of the family home is gone when you are dating. You live on your own or with flatmates for much of your adult life so you have alot more privacy in general. I think as a society we need to make marriage a more attractive institution and encourage people to not be afraid of marriage and being open to having more than the bog standard 2 children with the 3rd being a MAJOR consideration. It seems having more children (4 to 6 in fact) is good for your figure ladies as the average dress size for women has gone up by 2 sizes in one generation..very sad and also brings to light the fact women are also not spending time in the kitchen cooking fresh and healthy meals like they used to. I know myself I am guilty of this on busy weeks at work. Anyway I’ve gone off the chastity topic but to summise….living a life of virtue is not easy if you don’t take a good look at how you are living every area of your life.

  4. John L. June 23, 2012 Reply

    Hmmmm, so what happens when the woman is having a hard time with controlling her hormones or feelings and leads the man to lust or into a sinful postion/action? And dont jump on top of me, ladies, because I am holding the same thought with leaving thae man in charge of setting the pace of physical boundaries. Or are you telling me women are statues and fully, 100% in control? BOTH should set their own boundaries and facilitate them to compliment the other’s boundaries. Seriously, what’s so wrong with holding hands, hugging, kissing foreheads and cheeks? And physical affection that is taken advantage of and used can hurt men too, by the way….

  5. Cari-616389 November 15, 2011 Reply

    I think this is a wonderful topic of discussion however I feel that pace should be set by the individuals involved in the relationship, at any level. Open communication and respect of each others boundaries is the key from the start.

  6. Frances-26250 November 14, 2011 Reply

    So true, so helpful, Mary Beth. Thanks for your vast insights.

  7. Bob-779266 November 14, 2011 Reply

    I read this article today in a catholic magazine that stated that if in the gist of it that if we don’t
    help our date, friends, potential wife / husband, or real life wife/ husband attain the goal of heaven
    we failed in this life. I’m almost certain that this statement can be found in some format in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

  8. Stephen-725391 November 14, 2011 Reply

    It certainly would have made my life a whole lot easier, but such articles were not available 40 years ago!

  9. Paul-709408 November 14, 2011 Reply

    I also completely agree. Of course, seeing “women should set the pace” at first glance caused a little skepticism, as I am traditional and like the idea of the man leading things (for a couple reasons), I really like this article / blog and its reasoning.

  10. Michael-422117 November 13, 2011 Reply

    Wonderful piece. I agree 100% that women should set the pace, and that men should actively support them in this. It makes physical affection, when it does come along, that much more special and meaningful.

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