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.
What is an erection?
An erection is the most obvious sign of male sexual arousal. It’s a physical response to chemical reactions in the body. During sexual arousal, tiny blood vessels in the penis dilate. Three tubes of spongy tissue (known as the corpus cavernosum and corpus spongiosum) fill with blood, and an erection occurs. After ejaculation or a loss of arousal, that blood drains away, and the penis reverts to its flaccid size and appearance.
Erections are surprisingly complicated things. Each one requires your heart, lungs, hormones, nerves, blood vessels, and even your mood to work together. When everything goes right, an erect penis can contain up to eight times the blood flow than when it’s flaccid (Van Driel, 2015). But one missed reaction in that chain can lead to erectile dysfunction.
- The duration of an erection depends on several factors, from age and health to sexual activity.
- There are three different kinds of erections.
- If your erections aren’t lasting as long as you’d like, you may have ED. Talk with a healthcare provider.
How long erections last
An erection can last from a few minutes to about half an hour. On average, men have five erections a night while they’re sleeping, each lasting about 25 to 35 minutes (NHS, 2018). Does that mean all of your erections should last that long? Not at all.
We give that somewhat vague range because it seems that no one has really sat thousands of men down with a stopwatch and tried to figure out how long the average naturally occurring erection lasts, down to the second. It would be a difficult study to undertake because there are many variables that can affect how long an erection lasts. Those include:
- Your age
- Your health
- Your level of arousal
- Sexual activity—whether you’re masturbating or having sex (and even that can vary, depending on whether you’re going for a quickie or marathon)
- Your mental state: Chances are your erection may last longer if you’re attempting to become aroused versus trying to will away a surprise pop fly during a work presentation.
We do know that there is a distinct upper end of the spectrum: Erections can last too long. That’s a condition called priapism. If you ever have an erection that lasts more than four hours, seek medical attention to avoid any permanent damage.
Perhaps the best way to answer the question “How long do normal erections last?” is with a question—why do you ask? If you’re concerned that your erections aren’t lasting as long as you like, read on.
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Different types of erections
There are three different types of erections.
- Reflexive erections happen spontaneously, without thinking about sex.
- Psychogenic erections occur in response to sexual stimuli, memory, or fantasy (Schmid, 2004).
- Nocturnal erections happen during sleep.
Trouble getting or maintaining an erection
If you find that you’re having difficulty getting an erection, your erections aren’t as firm as you’d like, or they don’t last long enough for satisfying sex, you might have erectile dysfunction or ED.
ED is extremely common: It’s estimated that more than 30 million American men experience some form of it.
How to have better erections
Oral medications for ED are safe and effective. Several are available, including sildenafil (brand name Viagra), tadalafil (brand name Cialis), and vardenafil (brand names Levitra or Staxyn).
You might be having erection issues because your head isn’t in the game, or you’re not sufficiently in the mood. Being stressed or distracted can affect the quality of your erections. Slowing things down and spending more time on foreplay might help.
Your erections will be best when you’re healthy. Making simple lifestyle changes, such as getting regular exercise and eating a healthy diet, might be enough to improve ED.
Avoid alcohol and smoking
Drinking too much, and using tobacco products can definitely affect the quality of your erections. Knocking back too many might lead to occasional incidents of “whiskey dick.” Smoking can also lead to blood vessel damage and ED. It’s best to drink in moderation and avoid tobacco altogether.
Open communication with your partner
Talking openly with your partner about your sexual likes, dislikes, and fantasies can keep sex in a long-term relationship more exciting. Don’t bring conflicts into the bedroom—relationship issues can definitely contribute to ED.
If you think you’re experiencing ED, talk with a healthcare provider. They’ll help you find solutions that are right for you, no judgments.