There's nothing like sex that makes us lose track of time. In the midst of passion and ecstasy, a minute can feel like an hour.
It’s for this reason that many of us feel like sex goes on for longer than it actually does.
So how long do your sexual encounters really last? Many of us don’t know for sure because we’ve never really timed them.
Of course, you could pull out a stopwatch then next time you and your partner get frisky...but that's not very sexy or romantic. And, odds are, knowing that you’re being timed might very well make the sex different, and perhaps less enjoyable.
To borrow a principle from quantum physics, theobserver effect states that the act of observing a phenomenon changes it.
Let's bust through the mystery: how long does sex usually last? How longdoes good sex last? How does it compare how men and womenthinktheir sexual encounters normally last, and how long they think sex is supposed to last?
And if you suddenly feel time pressure, that might not make for the best sex.
The truth is that you don’t necessarily need to know precisely how long you spend on sex because what matters most is whether you and your partner are enjoying the time you spend on it.
But if you’re finding that one of you is regularly dissatisfied because sex always seem to end too soon, the issue of timing becomes an important one to address.
So how long does sex usually last for most people? How longdoes good sex last? And how can you make it last longer if duration becomes a problem area in a relationship?
There's an easy answer to this question—if all partners are satisfied with a sexual session, the objective length of the act is unimportant.
For example, if you were both in the mood for a fast, passion-fueled quickie, a two-minute romp might be just the ticket, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But under typical circumstances, what’s the right amount of time to spend on sex? A 2008 survey of sex therapists offers some insight.
The 50 therapists surveyed reported the following (highly subjective) conclusions:
In the view of these therapists, that sexual endurance athlete who bragged about an hour-long sex session may have done so at the expense of his partner's enjoyment.
Note that these numbers are just for penetrative vaginal intercourse—they don’t include time spent on foreplay or other forms of sexual stimulation, which are important in their own right.
Still, in a world where leaked celebrity sex tapes and porn scenes routinely last 20-40 minutes, it's comforting to know that the threshold for good sex is much, much lower.
But that’s just what therapists say. So what do women say they actually want when it comes to sex?
In a study of 152 heterosexual couples in Canada, researchers found that women said their ideal length of time to spend on sex is 14 minutes on average, which is actually not too far off from what the therapists said.
In addition, women said they’d like to spend an additional 19 minutes on foreplay, for a grand total of 33 minutes of sexual intimacy.
As for the men in this study, their ideal length of time for intercourse is 18 minutes, with an additional 18 minutes spent on foreplay, for a total of 36 minutes.
The good news is that men and women are almost perfectly in line with what they think makes for an ideal sex session—and they both think it’s important to spend equal (if not longer) amounts of time on foreplay as they spend on intercourse.
Unfortunately, however, these ideals don’t always match up with reality.
In the same Canadian study mentioned above, participants were also asked how long they actually spend on sex.
Women estimated that intercourse usually lasts around 7 minutes, with an additional 11 minutes of foreplay. Men provided similar estimates: 8 minutes on sex and 13 minutes on foreplay.
However, those are just estimates and might not be reliable.
So what about when people time how long sex objectively lasts?
A 2005 multinational study looked at 500 heterosexual couples who had been in relationships for at least six months. They were asked to measure the time of their sex sessions with a stopwatch over a period of four weeks.
The study looked specifically at "intravaginal ejaculation latency time" (IELT), a non-sexy term for the length of time between the moment of first penetration and ejaculation.
The IELT measurements varied wildly, ranging from 33 seconds to 44 minutes. However, the average sex time of the study participants clocked in at 5.4 minutes.
A 2009 Dutch study found similar results: 474 men from five different countries reported their IELT, with a range of 6 seconds to 52.1 minutes. The median was six minutes and the average was 5.7 minutes.
When you combine the results of all of these studies, it seems that people estimate that sex lasts a couple of minutes longer than it actually does (7-8 minutes versus 5-6 minutes, respectively.
The IELT only measures how long it takes men—not women—to reach orgasm. So how long does it usually take women?
A 2019 study put the number at 13.4 minutes, which is more than twice as long as the average guy lasts.
However, it’s important to note that this number wasn’t about length of time from penetration to orgasm; rather, it was based on how long it took to reach orgasm following the “intense desire for sex in the presence of erotic stimuli.”
If this male-female orgasm discrepancy sounds bleak, there is a silver lining, which is that69% of women in one study noted that vaginal intercourse alone was not sufficient to induce orgasm.
In other words, for most women, orgasms are about more than just penetration.
This is one of the big reasons why so many women place such an emphasis on foreplay: most of them don’t count on vaginal penetration alone for their orgasms during sex.
A 2015 study of women under 35 years of age discovered the following eye-opening facts about the female orgasm during sex:
Putting the latter three numbers together, we see that 68% of women say that they reach orgasm half of the time or less during intercourse.
However, it’s possible to change this state of affairs.
Research finds that women’s odds of orgasm are higher when clitoral stimulation is combined with vaginal penetration. Women’s odds of orgasm also go up when activities occur other than intercourse take place during sex, too, especially oral sex.
These findings speak further to the importance of foreplay and why it can’t be overlooked.
No scientific studies to date have examined how long sex lasts when people do it for the very first time.
Anecdotal reports vary wildly and condom use definitely plays a big role.
Some men report being overwhelmed with sensation and emotion, ejaculating within seconds of penetration.
With more experience, many of them will find that sex lasts longer; however, some of these men must teach themselves to delay ejaculation if they want to last longer.
By contrast, other men report difficulty reaching orgasm for the first time.
For some, this may be due to nerves; for others, it may be because the sensations of intercourse are radically different from the sensations they’re used to from masturbation (after all, not all guys use the same masturbation techniques).
For these men, it may take a bit of practice to learn how to reach orgasm through intercourse.
Both of these circumstances can potentially be traumatic to sexually inexperienced men, given the high value that so many people place on a well-timed orgasm during sex. No one wants to be the guy who "can't satisfy his partner."
Both the guy who orgasms too quickly and the man who has trouble ejaculating may wonder if something is “wrong” with them.
In each of these cases, these fears are typically overblown.
It takes time to build up enough experience and sexual technique before a guy can settle into his "average" time to reach orgasm.
The short answer is no.
Every person and every sexual relationship is different.
And some women prefer shorter periods of penetration. For example, some women are more prone to experiencing pain during sex, and for them, a longer sexual session can be very physically uncomfortable.
Likewise, some women just prefer activities other than penetration when it comes to reaching orgasm, which means they might not have much interest in a longer session—they’d rather that time be spent on other activities.
But let’s say you have a partner whodoes want intercourse to last longer. What can you do to build up your stamina?
Men who find it difficult to last longer than a minute or two without ejaculating may have reason to worry that their partners are not satisfied, especially in light of how sex therapists define an “adequate” sexual session and what women say their ideal amount of time for intercourse is.
Of course, check-in with your partner before assuming you know what they want. Not all women want sex to be a marathon, after all.
Communication is key.
However, if you find that you aren’t lasting as long as you or your partner would like, you should take comfort in knowing that there are plenty of things that can help prolong sexual intercourse.
Many men find that using condoms decreases sensation and helps them delay ejaculation.
Condoms have the added benefit of preventing pregnancy and reducing the spread of sexually transmitted infections. However, for couples who prefer unprotected sex, condoms may be an unsatisfactory solution.
Also, if you have latex allergies, finding the right condom might be a little more challenging (in this case, consider polyurethane alternatives instead).
If condoms are not a viable option,orif you find that using them does not delay ejaculation, there are plenty of other options for you.
Exploring different sex just might help when it comes to lasting longer in bed. Some positions reduce muscle tension, which can help delay orgasm.
Some may also find that frequently changing positions during sex helps delay ejaculation, but check with your partner before mixing it up too much.
Your partner may have their own position preferences and comfort levels. Again communication is key.
A desensitizing delay spray can also be a good choice for men who want to last longer in bed.
Promescent, a topical anesthetic recommended by over 2,000 urologists, is as a safe way to reduce sensation in the penis in order to avoid overstimulation. For best results, simply apply the delay spray to the underside of the penis and/or the most sensitive areas ten minutes before penetration.
Promescent is FDA compliant and has minimal transference risk to your partner (just make sure to let it absorb fully before beginning sexual activity).
Certain home exercises can help you treat premature ejaculation at home and make sex last longer.
This doctor-recommended behavioral treatment for ejaculation involves stimulating the penis to the "point of no return" (the point at which more stimulation will induce ejaculation), but then squeezing the head (or base) of the penis in order to prevent orgasm and dial back arousal.
This method can help men learn what their "point of no return" feels like so they can calibrate their sexual stimulation to avoid it.
To practice, the start-stop method, engage in sexual activity with your partner but then stop for several seconds when orgasm is imminent. Wait until the urge subsides, then resume activity.
With time and patience, the stops could become fewer and farther in between, making sex sessions longer and more satisfying.
For more information read our guide: how to do the squeeze technique and start-stop method
Masturbating prior to sex (2-4 hours before) may increase the length of time you will be able to last in bed.
While there are no scientific sources to verify this, anecdotal reports from men suggest that it can work. Some guys say that it releases built-up sexual tension before the act, allowing a reduction in anxiety or nervousness.
Also, this can allow you to take advantage of the refractory period—the length of time following an orgasm during with additional orgasms isn’t possible (or are much harder to reach).
Both the squeeze technique and the start-and-stop method can be practiced during masturbation, too, so you can attempt these solo before jumping into bed with a partner.
Asking how long sex “should” last and giving a simple, direct answer is difficult, if not impossible to do. While we can take averages from studies and report those, the fact of the matter is that the answer varies wildly across persons and couples.
We know that, on average, men last about 5.5 minutes during penetration, while women say their ideal is almost three times that long. However, this time gap can be closed through the use of sexual enhancers like Promescent, as well as the addition of more foreplay and other sexual activities, like oral sex and clitoral stimulation.
As always, however, remember that there is a lot of individual variabilities. Some women may be quick to reach climax, while some men may be slow to orgasm.
It all depends on the needs, wants, and desires of the partners.
So don’t get so hung up on time. If everyone is satisfied with the outcome, that’s all you can really ask for.
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