It’s time to unravel the myth that good sex means lasting all night long. Good sex isn’t about how long your erections last; it’s about mutual pleasure between partners. The pressure to stay hard for an hour (or more) can actually be a hindrance to pleasurable sex because we wind up getting into our heads instead of enjoying what we’re actually doing. So how long should sex last, actually?
A study of 500 heterosexual couples found that the median duration of a penetrative sex session was 5.4 minutes, but the answer to how long sex should last isn’t so straightforward. That’s because the only thing that really matters is that everyone is satisfied after a sexual encounter. The ideal length of a sex session depends on a variety of interlocking factors, such as “both of your energy levels, the time you have, what you want, and overall sexual satisfaction in your relationship,” says Lucy Rowett, a certified sex coach and clinical sexologist.
Let’s talk about why we think “good sex” means “longer sex,” the factors that determine how long a person will last in bed, and some tips for both shorter and longer sex sessions. Pleasure is the measure, and there is always a way to have it, no matter what your erection situation is.
READ MORE: 7 Sex Positions You Need To Try Now
Why Do We Think “Good Sex” Means “Lasting a Super-Long Time”?
Basically, it boils down to our patriarchal social system and a lack of fundamental sex education. Within our culture, we’re trained to:
1. Equate all sex with penetrative, penis-in-vagina sex.
2. Consider masculinity to be directly related to one’s ability to maintain a prolonged, strong erection. (And believe penetration with the aforementioned prolonged, strong erection is the only way to give people with vaginas orgasms.)
3. Completely ignore that people with a clitoris rarely orgasm through penetrative sex alone.
4. Use porn as a replacement for sex education, which leaves us feeling that if we don’t perform like porn actors in IRL sex, we’re failures. (Using to porn to learn about sex is like “watch[ing] movies like The Fast and the Furious to learn about driving,” says Sarah Melancon, Ph.D, a sociologist, clinical sexologist, and resident expert at the Sex Toy Collective.)
Our obsession with lasting longer during sex may be further propagated by the fact that cisgender men typically take only a few minutes to become fully aroused, whereas cisgender women take an average of 20 minutes to become fully aroused. Another study found that cis women took about 14-17 minutes to reach orgasm through partnered sex. Studies on this vary, but most experts agree it takes cis women a bit longer to become aroused than cisgender men. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have a longer erection for your partner to become fully aroused and have an orgasm; it might just mean you need more foreplay and clitoral stimulation.
What’s more, lasting a long time does not equal more pleasure. That study on 500 couples may have found that the average length of vaginal sex was 5.4 minutes—but, as Melancon points out, “This number doesn’t tell us anything about satisfaction. Longer sex isn’t always more satisfying and can even become painful.”
So… How Long Should Sex Last?
We hope it’s clear by now that there isn’t a “perfect amount of time” that someone should last in bed. But, Melancon says that what we’re looking for in sex—all sex, not just P-in-V—is enough time to actually enjoy it. “On average, most people would prefer sex to last long enough that they can really get into it,” she says.
In 2008, a study asked sex therapists to share their opinions on how long vaginal intercourse should last. The breakdown of where there might be a clinical concern was the following:
1-2 minutes was considered “too short”
3-7 minutes was estimated as “adequate”
7-13 minutes was seen as “desirable”
10-30 minutes was viewed as “too long”
Take these numbers with a grain of salt, since they’re subjective and only focus on P-in-V sex, anyway. Dr Lee Phillips, Ed.D, a psychotherapist and certified sex and couples therapist, says the ideal duration of a sex session really depends on the people involved and the situation at hand.
If it’s a quick hook-up, “it could literally take 15 minutes,” Phillips says. “If it is a night in with your partner, you may want to take your time by popping open a bottle of wine, then taking it to outercourse/foreplay, then penetrative sex.”
When everyone has a good time and feels satisfied, you’ve lasted long enough. “Sex is about flexibility and pleasure, not how long someone can go,” Philips says.
Certain Factors May Affect the Length of Time You’re Able To Have Sex
There are many reasons why longevity in the sack can be impacted. Here are a few to consider.
The older you get, the longer it might take you to become aroused. Studies have consistently shown that age is a factor in getting and maintaining erections. 40% of men will experience unreliable erections by age 40.
Hormonal changes can definitely impact erections. They can also impact the desire for sex. Hormone levels can also vary with age, as testosterone levels drop as we get older. If you’re concerned about your T levels, get in touch with your medical team to have some tests done.
Sexual Function Issues
Premature ejaculation is clinically defined as ejaculation in less than 1 minute after vaginal or anal penetration. If this is something you experience, speak with a medical professional to explore your treatment options. PE is definitely something you can overcome with the right assistance.
Erectile dysfunction is also common among people with a penis. When the ability to get and sustain an erection is compromised, so is how long you last during intercourse. ED is also highly treatable. Discuss options with your doctor.
What You Know (And Don’t Know) About Sex
If you don’t understand how long sex typically lasts, don’t understand your body, and are solely focused on P-in-V sex, your focus is going to be on the performative quality of sex. You can bet this will impact how long you last, especially if you consider the “end of sex” to be when you get off (it isn’t!). Even after you ejaculate, “you can still give oral or manual sex, use toys, kiss, cuddle, spoon, eye gaze, etc.,” Rowett says.
Tips for Shorter Sex Sessions (A.K.A. Quickies)
Choose Your Go-to Position
When we’re after a quick ‘lil sesh, it’s simplest to go to your favourite position. Having this in mind will help you get from 0-60 more quickly, and maximize potential satisfaction in a short timeframe.
Get a Little Freaky With It
A quickie doesn’t have to mean popping in your penis, pumping three times, and calling it a day. Philips suggests adding novelty to your sex life, which can help boost excitement—especially in long-term relationships.
Grab Some Toys
A guaranteed way to make a mini-sex session next-level is to grab some toys. They make everything more intense. Need some recommendations? Check out our list of the best sex toys to use as a couple. And if you want toys for men, here’s our list of the best sex toys for men.
Good sex, regardless of timing, requires communication skills. When you’re having a quick one, being able to tell your partner what you want and how you want it will maximize your ability to pop from arousal to orgasm licked-split.
Tips for Longer Sex Sessions
Take the Focus off P-In-v Penetration
Think of sex as a journey, not a destination. When we take away the idea that sex is all about intercourse, we open ourselves up to an expansive understanding of sex. Engage in oral sex, hand sex, erotic massage, and more. Get creative with it.
Make Sex an All-Day Affair
If you take the focus off penetration, you’ll also start to see how sex can be an all-day activity. Work on building arousal from morning to evening, Rowett says: “Flirt more, sext, cuddle in the kitchen, have longer lingering kisses. Make sex about more than what you do in bed together and make it about your connection with each other.”
Edging is when you continue sexual stimulation all the way up to that “point of no return” where you feel like you’re going to come—then stop stimulation and return to a state of non-arousal. Basically, you’re training yourself to have more ejaculatory control. This can be pleasurable for many reasons, but when it comes to longer sex sessions, Kenneth Play, an international educator and best-selling author of Beyond Satisfied: A Sex Hacker’s Guide to Endless Orgasms, Mind-Blowing Connection, and Lasting Confidence, explains that you’re “avoiding the refractory period and staying aroused and in the game.”
When a person with a penis ejaculates, they usually become unresponsive to more sexual stimuli, so if you practice engaging with stimulation and then stopping and then engaging again, you can have a longer, more exploratory sexual experience.
Learn to Self-Soothe
Learning how to manage feelings of anxiety so that you can stay calm and present during sex, Play says. Relaxation and edging go hand in hand. “Recognizing the point when your arousal is getting to the point of no return and staying below thereby managing sensations as well as staying calm when you’re in high arousal states will be key to controlling ejaculation,” he says. You can do this through mindfulness, yoga, breathing techniques, and more. Check out Play’s book for more information.
Remember: When it comes to how long sex should last, embrace pleasure as being the only thing that really matters. Good sex is about people and connection, not an invisible stopwatch.
*Words by: Gigi Engle
*This article was originally published by Men’s Health US