How long does Viagra last?

Raagini Yedidi, MD - Contributor Avatar

Reviewed by Raagini Yedidi, MD, 

Written by Linnea Zielinski 

Raagini Yedidi, MD - Contributor Avatar

Reviewed by Raagini Yedidi, MD, 

Written by Linnea Zielinski 

last updated: May 15, 2024

6 min read

Erectile dysfunction (ED) occurs when a person struggles to get or maintain an erection strong enough for satisfying sex. If you experience ED, you’re not alone—erectile dysfunction affects 30-50 million people in the US. And if you experience ED, you’re also probably aware that stressing about the problem doesn’t help. If you’ve been prescribed Viagra (active ingredient: sildenafil), you can rest assured that the effects of your medication will usually last around 4–5 hours. However, Viagra isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to erectile dysfunction. Several factors, like your weight, lifestyle, and health, determine how long Viagra will last for you.

Continue reading to learn more about the timing of this effective drug. 

Viagra Important Safety Information: Read more about serious warnings and safety info.

Ro Sparks

Harder erections, faster than Viagra/Cialis

(sildenafil/tadalafil)

How long does Viagra last?

It's important to remember that you won’t have an erection the entire time your medication is effective (an erection that lasts 4 hours or longer is a dangerous side effect called priapism that requires medical attention). Viagra’s active ingredient, sildenafil citrate, is a PDE5 inhibitor that relaxes muscles in the penis and improves blood flow resulting in stronger, longer-lasting erections when you become aroused. It is not required or healthy to have an erection the entire time Viagra is in your system. Remember, Viagra requires arousal to take effect and won’t cause an erection out of nowhere. 

Viagra can stay active in your system for up to 4–5 hours, depending on several factors. The effects of Viagra typically peak between 30 and 120 minutes after taking the pill (usually around 60 minutes). For this reason, healthcare providers suggest that you take Viagra 30–60 minutes before having sex for best results. However, you can take Viagra up to 4 hours before intercourse. The medication may be in your body longer than 4 hours, but the concentration will likely be too low to cause an effect. You shouldn’t take Viagra more than once daily, so it’s important to time it well.

Many different factors impact how long Viagra will last for you, including your dose of the medication, other medications or supplements you take, your age, diet, overall health, and psychological state.

Factors that determine how long Viagra will last for you 

Viagra doesn’t work exactly the same for everyone. So you may wonder, how long will Viagra last for me? The duration of Viagra’s effects in your system depends on several factors, including the following.

1. Mental health

Feeling depressed, anxious, or stressed about your sexual performance can lead to a vicious cycle–stress about your ability to get an erection will impact the way your body responds to arousal, making it harder for you to get an erection. Practice stress-management techniques like deep breathing and consider making an appointment with a mental health provider to learn how to control anxiety–the more comfortable and confident you feel, the better your sex life will be. While taking Viagra could help your sexual experience, don’t forget to take care of any underlying mental health issues you have.

2. Diet

The food you eat (and when you eat it) contributes to the efficacy of your Viagra, and the overall quality of your erections. To get the most out of your medication, avoid taking Viagra after eating high-fat meals, processed foods, fatty meats, meals heavy in butter or cream, and cheeses. A stomach full of fatty foods can delay how long it takes to feel the effects of Viagra. Instead, opt for heart-healthy foods that improve circulation like lean meat, nuts, leafy greens, and foods high in omega-3s, like oysters. Remember, it’s important your blood vessels are healthy in order for you to have erections strong enough for sex. Food that is beneficial for your overall cardiovascular health will help with better erections overall. 

3. Exercise

Research shows that introducing exercise into people’s lifestyles can help contribute to a decrease of ED for men with less-than-ideal cardiovascular health. In one study, participants who exercised 160 minutes weekly for 6 months experienced improved erectile function. Remember, having good cardiovascular health is one of the most important things you can do to preserve erectile function. Making sure your blood vessels are healthy is one great way to make sure Viagra keeps working for you. 

4. Other Factors Like Age or Medication Interactions

As you age, your metabolism slows, which means the effects of Viagra may last longer the older you are. Viagra is proven to be safe and effective for older adults, so age doesn’t have to stand between you and a satisfying sex life.

Certain medications may also interact dangerously with Viagra. These medications include nitrates and ritonavir, and some medications that can treat an enlarged prostate. Be sure to inform your healthcare provider of any medications or supplements you take before taking Viagra. 

How to get the most out of Viagra

Timing is essential when it comes to taking Viagra. As mentioned, you should ideally take Viagra about 30–60 minutes before sex for maximum effect. Once you start taking the medication, you will learn how it works for you. Everyone’s body processes medications differently.  You can take Viagra with or without food, but know that fatty foods decrease drug absorption and increase how long sildenafil takes to start working—meaning taking sildenafil alongside lower-fat meals may allow it to work faster.

If your medication doesn’t seem to work after 30–60 minutes, don’t take more medication–higher doses can lead to higher rates of side effects. Talk to your healthcare provider if you feel like your Viagra or sildenafil is not working for you to see what your options are.

What is sublingual or compounded Viagra?

You might have heard about compounded ED medications that are taken under the tongue (sublingual), rather than being swallowed. When it comes to compounded ED treatments, mixing different ingredients—such as sildenafil and tadalafil—and putting them in a sublingual formulation is a unique way to experience benefits like longer-lasting effects and quicker onset of medications. The medication is absorbed into the bloodstream via the blood vessels under the tongue, rather than getting absorbed in the stomach, and some studies have shown that sublingual formulations work faster than traditional ED pills

How much Viagra should you take?

Viagra tablets typically come in three doses: 25 mg, 50 mg, and 100 mg. Generic sildenafil can also be prescribed in 20 mg doses. 

It's most common for people to start with the 50 mg dosage. If you're on a higher dose, the effects of Viagra may last longer. It may take more time for older people to eliminate Viagra from their bodies, meaning the medicine may last longer in their bodies. This may also be the case for people with medical conditions like liver or kidney disease, and this is why your provider reviews your medical history before deciding the starting dose that’s most appropriate for you.

How long does Viagra take to work?

Viagra starts working for some people in as little as 30 minutes after taking it. But it can take up to two hours to be effective if you take the drug with a meal.

So, how does it work? A lot has to go right in your body for an erection to happen. Even if we ignore the mental and emotional aspects of arousal and how they can lower sex drive, it's a complicated physiological dance involving many systems of your body. 

Before an erection can happen, a messenger called cyclic guanosine monophosphate (or cGMP for short) tells the blood vessels in the penis to relax (also called vasodilation), which allows for more blood flow. The blood fills the erectile tissue and you get an erection. 

An erection ends due to the enzyme phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5), which breaks down cGMP, ending the signal to maintain the erection. This part is where these ED drugs do their thing. Inhibition of the PDE5 enzyme stops the breakdown of cGMP, thereby allowing your penile blood vessels to stay dilated and your erection to last longer.

The medication doesn't just cause spontaneous erections on its own, though—it just makes them easier to form. You'll still also need to be sexually aroused to get an erection.

What is sublingual or compounded Viagra?

If you’re interested in an ED medication that works faster than traditional ED pills, ask your healthcare provider about compounded ED medications that are taken under the tongue (sublingual), rather than being swallowed. Mixing different ingredients—such as sildenafil and tadalafil—and putting them in a sublingual formulation can help with quicker onset of the positive effects and help with longer-lasting effects, too. 

Alternatives to Viagra

Common alternatives to Viagra include Cialis (tadalafil) and Levitra (vardenafil). If having to take a pill at a certain time before sexual activity doesn't work for your lifestyle, daily Cialis may be an option. Taken daily, this medication provides a low dose of tadalafil that keeps you ready for sex anytime. Sublingual formulations of these medications may also allow for a quicker onset of action and may allow for a little more spontaneity. Levitra acts similarly to Viagra and, like the blue pill, needs to be taken within a certain time frame before sex. 

In some cases, erectile dysfunction is a sign of an underlying medical condition. Treating any underlying conditions may help resolve the problem without ED medication. In other cases, performance anxiety may be the cause of erectile dysfunction. Addressing the mental and emotional aspects of sexual stimulation with a professional, like a sex therapist, may help. Of course, it’s always beneficial to have an open conversation with your partner and make sure your environment is a comfortable, safe space for you to enjoy sexual activity together. Your healthcare provider can also help you identify the cause of your ED and discuss the risks and benefits of various treatment options.

Cialis Important Safety Information: Read more about serious warnings and safety info.

DISCLAIMER

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.


How we reviewed this article

Every article on Health Guide goes through rigorous fact-checking by our team of medical reviewers. Our reviewers are trained medical professionals who ensure each article contains the most up-to-date information, and that medical details have been correctly interpreted by the writer.

Current version

May 15, 2024

Written by

Linnea Zielinski

Fact checked by

Raagini Yedidi, MD


About the medical reviewer