No matter where you come from, there is an age-old societal pressure to consummate your marriage on your wedding night. Here’s the reality: weddings can be emotionally and physically exhausting, stressful, and often involve alcohol — and these are not necessarily the most aphrodisiacal of elements. In fact, according to a 2016 survey of 1,000 couples, 52% of couples didn’t have sex on their wedding night.

“Many couples have sex because they feel there’s an ‘expectation’ on their wedding night,” says Kristen Lilla, an Omaha-based sex therapist. “We get these messages from church and movies — there is pressure to have sex on your wedding night even if you are tired, intoxicated, or just don’t want to.”  
Relationship and well-being coach Shula Melamed agrees and encourages her clients to take that pressure off of themselves. “Planning for sex on the wedding night can be tricky depending on how elaborate the reception is,” Melamed says. “Some couples are in full-on production mode for the entire day of (and sometimes the days before) their wedding. In this case I tell couples not to put too much pressure on having a long romantic evening if they are exhausted. They can have sex the next day and it isn’t a bad sign or bad luck!”

For many couples who have had sex with one another before marriage, there is a slight reduction in stress surrounding the evening’s activities. “Couples who have had sex prior to their wedding may not feel as much pressure to have sex on their wedding night and may tend to go with the flow and see how they feel when the big day is over,” adds Lilla.

Though she also says that it is those who have not had sex with one another before who usually consummate the marriage on the wedding night itself. “When I work with couples who have not had intercourse prior to getting married, they do tend to follow through on their wedding night,” Lilla says. “They often have expectations that are unrealistic though, because they are basing it off church, fantasy, and here-say, and I’ve heard many people say they were disappointed on their wedding night. Sex was either too fast, it hurt, or it was awkward. It’s a lot of pressure building up to this one night!”

We spoke to a few married women about their wedding night experiences — here’s what they had to say.

“Even though we got home at 3 AM and had to be up at 6 for a flight, we felt like we were supposed to and had a quickie. We had actually been trying to not have sex for the month leading up to the wedding so it would be ‘special.’ However we failed and broke down twice, once the night before the wedding (oops).” — Jen, married in 2013

“We did [it]. We knew it was likely not going to be ‘amazing’ sex, but we wanted to do it for the purpose of tradition! It turned out to be a pretty funny experience: I had about 50 bobby pins in my hair that we tried to take out, getting out of my dress was hilarious…not your normal foreplay!” — Morgan, married in 2014

“It wasn’t a big event. We were a little drunk and totally exhausted because we didn’t want to stop hanging out with all of our friends who had come into town for our wedding. Plus we knew we’d be hanging out, just us, no work, for the next week, so there was no big rush.” — Beth, married in 2005

“We (and I assume most couples) were exhausted, up late and elated from the day, not to mention we had family in the next room. We got started around 2am but realized we were just too tired and completely content from the day! We ate some of our guest goodie bag snacks and took some polaroid photos of me in my dress before I sadly took it off. It was a perfect end to a perfect day!” — Melissa, married in 2017

“We ate pizza and then fell asleep. We had a little too much fun at the reception.” — Tori, married in 2012

“We got back very late to our hotel suite and played with our cats (who we brought with us for the weekend so we could all celebrate together) and spent a while talking about what an amazing party it was. Plus, I didn’t want to take my wedding party dress off! After our wedding brunch the next morning, we went back to our hotel to relax and have sex a few times to make up for the night before.” — Stephanie, married in 2015

Whether you choose to have sex on your wedding night or not, one thing to keep in mind is communication and making sure you and your partner are on the same page. The last thing you want is for you to be expecting different things once the wedding party is over. “[Couples] can talk beforehand so everyone knows what to expect (and what/if expectations are) or agree to just go with the flow and see what happens,” says Lilla. “It’s important to talk about expectations and be on the same page. This way everyone is clear about the plan, feels less pressure, and won’t end up disappointed. Communication is key.”

Elena Sheppard is a writer and editor in Brooklyn, NY. Currently getting her MFA in non-fiction writing at Columbia University, her work has appeared in the New York Times, Vogue, and Elle, among others. Follow her work on Instagram or Twitter @eleshepp.