There's no right way to do love, sex, or marriage. I'm sure there are plenty of wrong ways, of course, but wrong ways and not-wrong ways depend on individual people, at specific times in their lives. It's so individual and time-sensitive and complicated that I constantly look back and, even if I think I made the right decision then, I can't imagine making that same decision now. And so on.
I've been thinking about this issue lately because my brother's getting married, one of my friends slept with one of her friends and is now in a relationship with him, another of my friends has had casual sex but prefers to be in love before having sex with a boyfriend, and another friend of mine is two years my junior, and waited until he got married to have sex. And I'm about to have sex for the first time with my new boyfriend (not "about to" like "in five minutes;" I mean this weekend).
I don't fall in love easily anymore, although it's not as if I do it enough to have a good sample size. I've been infatuated with guys plenty of times, but I've been in legitimate love twice: once with a high school friend with whom I have a ridiculous history fraught with fights, and once with my college boyfriend. Falling in love with my high school friend probably happened over the course of several years. He may disagree, but I feel like we had a very Ross and Rachel approach: when I had a crush on someone, that was fine, but when I didn't, I didn't like hearing that he was interested in someone else. Very much the, "I don't want to date him, but I don't want anyone else to either" mindset. But by the time I realized how I really felt about him, it was too late, and now, I think it was very much for the best.
With my college boyfriend, we had sex before I was in love with him, which wasn't "intentional," but certainly we were aware of it and didn't care. It was 6 weeks after we'd first hooked up, and we both wanted to have sex and were ready for it (emotionally, and in terms of having privacy and birth control, etc.). Why should either of us wait until we were in love? That could take ages. As it happened, I fell in love with him a couple of months later, and he never fell in love with me.
I've had friends tell significant others, "I love you," (or vice versa) within a week of dating. That's not me, but it works for them, and many of them have had lasting, healthy relationships even if that's how a relationship starts. And hell, my high school boyfriend and I said the L-word within about 2 weeks of starting a relationship (I mean, we weren't in love, but what did we know? We were 16!). But I don't want to say something when it's not true. And when it is true, I'll say it.
But I don't wait for love to have sex. While I'm not going to make the claim that sex is just as meaningful as making out (or meaningless), I don't think it's that big a deal. It's just sex. Besides, there are different ways to have sex. So sex is just ... a guy putting his penis into someone's hole. Or a woman wearing a strap-on and doing the same thing. Or a person using their mouth and/or hands to stimulate a partner. It can be meaningful or meaningless, but the meaning is subjective. There's no objective meaning attached to sexual activity.
So I don't have to be in love with someone to have sex with them if that's not a meaning I attribute to sex. I don't have to marry someone to have sex with them if I don't see a connection. And I don't even have to be in a relationship with someone in order to have sex with them if I don't see the connection there either.
For me, sex is something I do with a boyfriend I trust, and who I expect to be in a long-term relationship with. It doesn't have to wait till I'm in love. It doesn't have to wait until a certain amount of time has passed. I have to feel ready for it, my partner has to feel ready for it, and we both have to discuss what it means for each of us so that neither of us gets into something we're not prepared for. We need privacy and we need to use contraception properly. We have to know we're STD-free, and we have to know what we'll do if I get pregnant. So, if these requirements have been taken care of, why wait?
I'm feeling a bit testy about this issue right now because one of my friends, the one who waited until he was married to have sex with his now-wife, wasn't very supportive when I mentioned to him that I was planning on having sex with my boyfriend this coming weekend. He thought that it was way too soon (my boyfriend and I started seeing each other at the end of January), although he couldn't really expand on that. He acknowledged that he considers sex to be up there with marriage vows, and I respect that. But at the same time, he couldn't really expand on why it was too soon for me to have sex with my boyfriend. After all, I've had sex before. And if I'm okay with having sex with someone I'm not in love with, why does it matter? I don't know, he just wasn't supportive.
My only other sexual relationship ended badly. I was heartbroken for months, and I still bear a lot of emotional scarring. I'm slightly terrified of how things are going to go with my current boyfriend because of all the shit I went through with my last one, mostly in terms of sex. But so many of the problems in that last relationship were because of my boyfriend, and my own inability to stand up for myself and what I wanted. I'm sure my current boyfriend and I will have plenty of our own problems. But that's not a good reason to wait indefinitely to have sex. And sex isn't why my last relationship was such a disaster.
I know what's right for me. And I trust my boyfriend to know what's right for him. That's what matters.