How Long Should Sex Last?

Published: OCTOBER 8, 2018
Take your time - or speed things up. As long as everyone's having a good time, it's all good.

Perhaps you've heard stories of epic, multi-hour love-making sessions. We're sure they exist in some corners but, when it comes to penetrative intercourse, average people eventually become sore, bored and dry after a certain amount of time of back and forth friction (no matter how hot you are for your date).

In 2005, a multinational study looked at 500 heterosexual couples and timed their penetration from start to finish over a four week period. Times varied - some couples got it on for as little as 33 seconds. Others went at it for a full 44 minutes. So how long should sex last? I decided to look into it.


How long should sex last?

I conducted my own survey and asked a few people what they thought about how long sex lasts and how long they want it to last. Sam told me that it’s usually 30 minutes tops for him. “No more than an hour on a drunk night,” he explained. When I researched this - lasting longer in bed when drunk - I noticed a lot of forums full of people with penises boasting about lasting longer when intoxicated. Alcohol numbs the body’s senses, lowers blood pressure and thins the blood. It also slows down brain activity and reaction time. So, while people may “last longer” when they've been drinking, it’s typically because they can’t achieve an orgasm. Moreover, the partner on the receiving end of drunk sex may not enjoy the hour or more long romp.

Iris told me that 15 to 20 minutes of sex is average for her needs. But she doesn't count sex as just intercourse. It’s general arousal, kissing, oral sex and everything in between. And to some degree, time matters. Working up to an orgasm slowly makes that orgasm much more achievable. In a 2004 study from the Journal of Sexual Medicine, foreplay (which is arguably the same thing as sex) took 11 to 13 minutes, on average, while intercourse was seven to eight minutes. Men-identifying persons were interested in a much shorter foreplay time than women-identifying participants.

Quiz: Test Your Knowledge About Foreplay

Yana told me that for her, sex lasts between an hour and an hour and 45 minutes. "And I’m including some foreplay,” she says about her ideal sexual situation. Most of the people I talked to were interested in having intercourse for 20 minutes and in total (including oral, kissing, and foreplay) having sex for roughly 45 minutes.

And, while people with penises claim that condoms tend to result in a loss of erection, a 2015 study found that in people who claim this, aged 18 to 24, the issue was actually a general erectile dysfunction - condom or not.


What about other sexual orientations?

Unfortunately, when it comes to research, science is still largely examining heterosexual sex between cis-gendered people. However, a study that considered orgasm frequency between heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian and gay people uncovered an interesting - although not entirely surprising - fact. When it comes to orgasm, heterosexual men claimed to have them the most often - 95 percent of the time - during partnered sex. Gay men came in next, with an 89 percent orgasm rate. Next up? Bisexual men (88 percent) followed by lesbian women (86 percent) and, last, heterosexual women, who claimed to orgasm about 65 percent of the time during partnered sex. The women-identifying people in the study had orgasms more frequently when they received oral sex, longer periods of intercourse, were satisfied in their relationship, felt able to communicate, acted out their fantasies, and expressed love during sex. Deep kissing and genital stimulation were other factors for a successful climax. In other words, time isn't the only factor here - what happens during the time matters too.

Not All Sexual Situations Are the Same

Of course, there are different kinds of sex, some of which are more likely to lead to orgasm. Quickies, long love making and situational sex are all options that can vary widely in terms of duration. It is important for partners to check in with one another and to ensure that both people are fully satisfied.

It's also important to remember that foreplay is sex. Getting fingered is sex. Getting eaten out is sex. So the numbers are a bit difficult to differentiate because many people may not be including foreplay in their assessments.

Based on what I've learned, sex tends to last between 20 and 30 minutes for most people. In my Twitter poll, 44 percent of people agreed with this time frame, while 11 percent were looking for 30 to 45 minutes. Surprisingly, 12 percent of people want 45 minutes to an hour. The answer to how long sex should last, however, is really up to you and your partner.

So take your time - or speed things up. As long as everyone's having a good time, it's all good.

S. Nicole Lane

S. Nicole Lane is a sex journalist and visual artist living on the South Side of Chicago. She writes actively about health, wellness, and the arts. There is a high probability that she will corner you at a party to lecture you about HPV.

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