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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.
Few things are as simultaneously enjoyable and anxiety-inducing as sexual intercourse. As soon as we start having it, the insecurity sets in. Am I doing it right? Am I big enough? Lasting long enough? The answers: “Ask your partner,” “yes,” and “very likely.”
Many of us have bought into sexual mythology—particularly when it comes to penetrative sex and the popular idea of “lasting for hours” and “going all night.” But the average desirable sex session probably lasts a shorter amount of time than you think.
How long should sex last?
The short answer: However long you and your partner want it to. But a scientific inquiry on the subject suggests somewhere between three and 13 minutes. We’ll break it down below.
In a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers asked a group of sex therapists how long sex should last (specifically, penetrative vaginal sex). The results: 1–2 minutes was judged “too short,” while 10–30 minutes was deemed “too long.” On the other hand, 3–7 minutes was rated “adequate,” and 7–13 minutes “desirable” (Corty, 2008).
The average duration of sex
Wondering how long sex actually lasts in the wild? Another study investigated that. Researchers 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 (Waldinger, 2005).
A caveat: “How long sex should last” depends on how you define sex. Keep in mind that these studies didn’t include foreplay, and they focused on heterosexual penetrative sex. Your mileage may vary.
A good rule of thumb is not to let anyone else’s sex life—or what they say their sex life is—make you feel bad about your own. You do you (and/or your partner).
Factors that may affect the duration of sex
While sex will last different amounts of time for everyone, certain things can impact how long you last.
As men get older, some find they take longer to get an erection, and erections are longer to maintain. Conversely, younger men might ejaculate sooner than they’d like (although that can happen at any age).
In some cases, sexual dysfunction can impact how long you last. Specifically:
- Erectile dysfunction (ED): ED happens when a man has trouble getting or keeping an erection, which can affect how long sex lasts (Sooriyamoorthy, 2021).
- Premature ejaculation (PE): PE is a sexual dysfunction in which a man ejaculates sooner than he or his partner would like (Crowdis, 2021).
- Performance anxiety: This is when negative feelings about your sexuality cause you to worry that you won’t satisfy your sexual partner. It can lead to ED or PE, or avoidance of sex altogether (Pyke, 2020)
Tactics for shorter sex
Communicate with your partner if sex is lasting longer than you want. Talking things out is always a good place to start when something about your sex life is less than ideal. We realize that sometimes that’s easier said than done. But remember, your partner wants you to enjoy the experience too—that’s what it’s about.
Show (or tell) them 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. Sex toys can be a good visual aid here.
Try a favorite position that makes you orgasm. Is there a sexual position or technique that tends to help get you there? Trying that can be a good way to wrap things up to everyone’s satisfaction if the experience lasts longer than you’d like.
Tactics for longer sex
Quickies can be fun—when they’re intentional. If you’re ejaculating too quickly for your or your partner’s satisfaction, there are several strategies you can try to last longer (Raveendran, 2021).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
- Corty, E. W., & Guardiani, J. M. (2008). Canadian and American sex therapists’ perceptions of normal and abnormal ejaculatory latencies: how long should intercourse last?. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 5(5), 1251–1256. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2008.00797.x Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18331255
- Crowdis, M. & Nazir, S. (2021). Premature ejaculation. [Updated Jul 1, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Sept. 14, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546701/
- Jiang, M., Yan, G., Deng, H., Liang, H., Lin, Y., & Zhang, X. (2020). The efficacy of regular penis-root masturbation, versus Kegel exercise in the treatment of primary premature ejaculation: A quasi-randomised controlled trial. Andrologia, 52(1), e13473. doi: 10.1111/and.13473. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31746051/
- Pereira-Lourenço, M., Brito, D., & Pereira, B. J. (2019). Premature ejaculation: From physiology to treatment. Journal of Family & Reproductive Health, 13(3), 120–131. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32201486/
- Pyke, R. E. (2020). Sexual performance anxiety. Sexual Medicine Reviews, 8(2), 183–190. doi: 10.1016/j.sxmr.2019.07.001. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31447414/
- Raveendran, A. V. & Agarwal, A. (2021). Premature ejaculation – current concepts in the management: A narrative review. International Journal of Reproductive Biomedicine, 19(1), 5–22. doi: 10.18502/ijrm.v19i1.8176. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7851481/
- Sooriyamoorthy, T. & Leslie, S. W. (2021). Erectile dysfunction. [Updated 2021 Aug 12]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Sept. 14, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562253/
- Waldinger, M. D., Quinn, P., Dilleen, M., Mundayat, R., Schweitzer, D. H., & Boolell, M. (2005). A multinational population survey of intravaginal ejaculation latency time. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2(4), 492–497. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2005.00070.x. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16422843
Dr. Mike is a licensed physician and the Director, Medical Content & Education at Ro.