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How long should sex last? Is longer better?

Researchers asked 500 couples to press a stopwatch at penetration, then ejaculation for one month. Reported durations ranged from 33 seconds to 44 minutes. But the average for vaginal sex was three to seven minutes—5.4 minutes, precisely.

Self Written by Michael Martin
Reviewed by Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

Few things are simultaneously amazing 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 “it’s very, very likely.”

But we’ve bought into sexual mythology like it’s Bitcoin in 2017—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.

Vitals

  • How long should sex last? As long as you and your partner want.
  • Studies have found that the “average” “desirable” duration of penetration is 7 to 13 minutes.
  • Several factors can make sex last too short or too long, including age or sexual dysfunction such as ED or PE.
  • There are several things you can try to make sex last as long as you and your partner want.

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 3 to 13 minutes. We’ll break it down below.

In a 2005 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 to 2 minutes was judged “too short,” and 10 to 30 minutes “too long.” On the other hand, 3 to 7 minutes was rated “adequate,” and 7 to 13 minutes desirable (Corty, 2008).

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Backing that up: a 2019 Twitter poll of 2,380 people conducted by GQ. Among people regularly on the receiving end of penetrative sex, 61 wanted penetration to last 5 to 10 minutes (not including foreplay such as oral sex). Only 26% said longer than 11 minutes was ideal (Benoit, 2019).

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, then ejaculation for one month. Reported durations ranged from 33 seconds to 44 minutes. But the average for vaginal sex was three to seven minutes—5.4 minutes, precisely (Waldinger, 2005).

Trivia: The time between penetration and ejaculation is referred to by medical experts as intravaginal ejaculation latency time (IELT).

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

Age

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).

Sexual dysfunciton

  • Erectile dysfunction (ED). ED happens when a man has trouble getting or keeping an erection, which can affect how long sex lasts.  
  • Premature ejaculation (PE). PE is a sexual dysfunction in which a man ejaculates sooner than he or his partner would like.
  • 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.

Worrying about how long sex lasts, or how long it’s taking you to get an erection, can result in any one of three.

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.

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.

The squeeze method

This one’s a classic. 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 (a.k.a 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.

PE wipes

Some companies sell over-the-counter, disposable, moist towelettes you apply to your penis before sexual activity; they can reduce sensation and help you last longer.

Read everything you ever wanted to know about premature ejaculation here.