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How long should sex last? Is longer better?

felix gussone

Reviewed by Felix Gussone, MD, written by Michael Martin

Last updated: Jul 26, 2023
5 min read

Few things are as simultaneously thrilling and anxiety-inducing as sex. For some, the insecurity sets in as soon as we start to get it on. Am I doing this right? For those of us with penises, am I big enough? Am I lasting long enough? The answers are less complicated than you might think: “Ask your partner,” “yes,” and “very likely.” 

How long should sex last? As long as you and your partner(s) want it to. 

Many of us have bought into sexual mythology—particularly when it comes to penetrative sex and the expectation to “last for hours” and “go all night.” But the average desirable sex session probably lasts a shorter amount of time than you think. Continue reading to learn more about how long sex should last.

How do we define sex?

Before we discuss how long sex should last, it’s important to understand what is meant by “sex” in scientific studies that measure how long sex typically lasts. For much of modern history, sex has been defined by penile-vaginal intercourse. Penile-vaginal intercourse is often measured by intravaginal ejaculatory latency time (IELT). However, there are unlimited ways to have sex, and many don’t involve a penis and a vulva. By categorizing acts of oral sex, digital sex, and any sex that doesn’t involve penetration by a penis as “foreplay,” we dismiss the sex had by couples and partners who don’t possess exactly one penis and one vagina. 

Research is already limited on the “ideal” duration of sex for couples/partners who engage in penile-vaginal penetrative sex, but research on the ideal duration of sex for queer couples/partners whose primary sexual experiences are oral, digital, or anal is even more scarce. This article will focus on sex characterized by penile-vaginal penetration.

How long should sex last?

The short answer is sex should last however long you and your partner(s) want it to. But a scientific inquiry into the subject suggests somewhere between three and 13 minutes. Let’s break that down.

In a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers asked a group of sex therapists how long sex should last (specifically, heterosexual penetrative vaginal sex). The results? One to two minutes was determined to be “too short,” while 10–30 minutes was “too long.” On the other hand, three to seven minutes was rated “adequate,” and seven to thirteen minutes “desirable”.

The average duration of sex

Wondering how long sex actually lasts in the wild? One study asked 500 couples to press a stopwatch at penetration and then at ejaculation for one month. Reported durations ranged from 33 seconds to 44 minutes. But the average for vaginal sex was 3–7 minutes.

What should you do with this information? A good rule of thumb is not to let anyone else’s sex life—or what they claim about their sex life—make you feel bad about your own. You do you (and/or your partner).

Factors that may affect how long sex lasts

While the duration of sex varies for everyone, certain things can impact how long you last in bed. 


As people with penises age, some find they take longer to get an erection, and erections are harder to maintain. Conversely, younger people might ejaculate sooner than they’d like (although that can happen at any age).  

Sexual dysfunction

In some cases, sexual dysfunction can impact how long you last. Specifically: 

Tips for longer-lasting sex

Quickies can be fun—when they’re intentional. If you’re ejaculating too quickly for your or your partner’s satisfaction, try these strategies to last longer.

1. The squeeze technique 

Begin sexual activity and continue until you feel almost ready to ejaculate. Then, have your partner squeeze the end of your penis at the point where the head (glans) joins the shaft. Hold the squeeze for several seconds. The urge to ejaculate will retreat. You can do this several times in one session. 

2. The stop-start method

Also known as “edging,” the stop-start method is something you can practice with a partner or as you masturbate. When you’re masturbating and feel like you’re about to come, pause until the urge to ejaculate passes. Then resume stimulating yourself. Over time, you’ll learn to recognize when you’re approaching “the point of no return” and be able to extend intercourse.

3. Pelvic floor exercises/Kegels

Pelvic floor exercises (also known as Kegels) help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that control ejaculation. To identify your pelvic floor muscles, stop urination in midstream. To practice Kegels, tighten the pelvic floor muscles, hold the contraction for three seconds, then relax for three seconds and repeat.

4. Numbing condoms or creams

Some types of condoms contain a bit of numbing medication, such as lidocaine or benzocaine, on the inside. This can reduce sensation which might make you last longer. Anesthetic creams are sold that have the same effect.

5. Premature ejaculation wipes

Some companies sell over-the-counter, disposable, moist towelettes (or wipes) you apply to your penis before sexual activity. They have numbing medication that can reduce sensation and help you last longer.

Tips for shorter sex

Not everyone wants sex to last longer. If sex with your partner (s) is lasting longer than you want, follow these tips to reach a duration that’s comfortable for you.

1. Open communication

When it comes to problems in the bedroom, communicate, communicate, communicate. We realize that’s easier said than done. But remember, your partner wants you to enjoy the experience too—that’s what it’s all about.

2. Share what turns you on

Tell (or show) your partner(s) what turns you on. You can touch yourself in ways that help you climax, or you can tell your partner how to stimulate you in ways you especially like. 

3. Incorporate sex toys

If you’re ready to climax but just not quite getting there from intercourse alone, try incorporating sex toys into your partnered routine. Not only will they help you climax, but they will be visually stimulating for others involved.

4. Try a new position

Learn what positions are most likely to help you orgasm. Is there a sexual position or technique that tends to help get you there? Knowing the best positions for you and keeping those in your back pocket when you’re ready to climax can be a good way to wrap things up to everyone’s satisfaction.

No one’s sex life is perfect. But remember–all that matters is that you and your partner(s) are satisfied, no matter how long or short the intercourse might be. If you have concerns that aren’t able to be resolved through open communication within your relationships, make an appointment with your healthcare provider about sexual dysfunction. They will help create a treatment plan that’s safe and effective for you.


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.


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Felix Gussone is a physician, health journalist and a Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.