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Feb 22, 2021
3 min read

The male refractory period: can Viagra shorten it?

Some might feel that their refractory period is too long and are interested in prolonging it. Research is mixed on whether this might be possible with Viagra or other medications.

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.

When it comes to sex, many people can get self-conscious about length: Am I long enough? Can I have sex long enough? Do I take too long before I can go again?

With respect to the latter, that’s determined by a natural process known as the refractory period (originally named “the resolution phase” by sex researchers Masters and Johnson back in the day). It’s one of the few things about sex that some of us would like to shorten.

If you’re curious about how Viagra might shorten the refractory period, read on.

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What is the male refractory period?

The refractory period is the time right after orgasm and before it’s physiologically possible for you to get aroused again.

The length of the refractory period varies widely from person to person, and it naturally gets longer with age (Puppo, 2016). Younger people may need just a few minutes before they can get an erection again, while in older individuals it could take several hours. 

Some might feel that their refractory period is too long and are interested in prolonging it. Research is mixed on whether this might be possible with medication. 

Can Viagra shorten the male refractory period?

Some research suggests that, yes, the refractory period can be shortened by ED medications like sildenafil (brand name Viagra; see Important Safety Information). 

One small study published in the International Journal of Impotence Research found that 40% of a group of men (average age: 32) reported that taking sildenafil reduced the refractory period. It was shortened from a median time of 14.9 minutes to 5.5 minutes—a reduction of 9.4 minutes (Mondaini, 2003). 

But another study found sildenafil made no difference in the length of the refractory period (Ekmekçioğlu, 2005).

How might Viagra shorten the male refractory period?

Sildenafil and other oral ED medications are known as PDE5 inhibitors. They work by suppressing an enzyme called PDE5, which functions as an erection’s off switch. During an erection, a natural chemical called cGMP tells blood vessels in the penis to dilate and fill with blood. PDE5 breaks down cGMP, contracting blood vessels and making blood flow out of the penis. When PDE5 is inhibited, blood vessels stay dilated, prolonging an erection or making it easier to get one when you’re turned on.

It’s theorized that because sildenafil stays in the bloodstream for three to four hours—enabling blood flow to the penis all the while—it could potentially shorten the refractory period by enabling you to get another erection faster. 

Seth Cohen, MD, a urologist with NYU Langone Health in New York City, prescribes sildenafil and similar ED medications when a patient wants to shorten their refractory period. He explains that as long as Viagra is in your system, the penile arteries are still dilated, so sexual stimulation—whether it’s manual, visual, or tactile—will increase blood flow to the penis and shorten the time before you’re ready for another round.

If you’re concerned about the length of your refractory period, talk with your healthcare provider about whether sildenafil or another ED medication might be right for you.

Effective ED treatments

A too-long refractory period isn’t quite the same as erectile dysfunction, but they both can be bothersome and prevent you from enjoying your sex life to the fullest. 

Erectile dysfunction is when you can’t get or keep an erection that’s sufficient for satisfying sex. That could mean less frequent erections, erections that don’t last as long as you’d like, or erections that aren’t as firm as you’d like.

If you’re experiencing erectile dysfunction along with a refractory period that’s longer than you’d prefer, ED medication might be able to help you out with both conditions. 

Oral medications for ED are highly effective. Besides sildenafil, they include tadalafil (brand name Cialis; see Important Safety Information) and vardenafil (brand name Levitra).

Non-oral medications for ED include alprostadil, BiMix, and TriMix, which are injected into the penis, causing an erection.

Sometimes simple lifestyle changes to improve overall health can improve erections. These include eating better, getting more exercise, quitting smoking, drinking less alcohol, and losing weight.

Talk with a healthcare provider about whether you might benefit from an ED medication. 

References

  1. Ekmekçioğlu, O., Inci, M., Demirci, D., & Tatlışen, A. (2005). Effects of sildenafil citrate on ejaculation latency, detumescence time, and refractory period: Placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover laboratory setting study. Urology, 65(2), 347-352. doi: 10.1016/j.urology.2004.09.012. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15708051/
  2. Mondaini, N., Ponchietti, R., Muir, G. H., Montorsi, F., Di Loro, F., Lombardi, G., & Rizzo, M. (2003). Sildenafil does not improve sexual function in men without erectile dysfunction but does reduce the postorgasmic refractory time. International journal of impotence research, 15(3), 225–228. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/3901005
  3. Puppo, V., & Puppo, G. (2016). Comprehensive review of the anatomy and physiology of male ejaculation: Premature ejaculation is not a disease. Clinical anatomy (New York, N.Y.), 29(1), 111–119. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ca.22655