Sexual health

When It Comes to Sex, How Long Is ‘Not Long Enough?’

Published: JULY 22, 2016
Science has ideas about how long sex should last, but it's really up to you. Stop timing yourself and focus on enjoyment.

We can probably all agree that the goal of sex is not to beat your last time. The amount of time sex takes isn’t necessarily a measure of its success. Sure, most of us grew up with the idea that men who could last a long time in bed were studly, experienced and better at sex than men who only needed a few scant minutes. Meanwhile, women who require more time between insertion and orgasm may be referred to as difficult, challenging, or even “too much work.” Kids, if you think bringing your partner to orgasm is work, you’re probably pretty bad at it and should move on to another activity.


In fact, there's a pretty wide range among people when it comes to the length of their sexual encounters. Here we'll take a look at some of the research in this area - and what it means for your sex life.

Sex Includes Many Variables

Most sexually active humans know that there are a multitude of variables that make up a great sexual experience. Quickies, although brief, can still be pretty great. Marathon lovemaking sessions are some people’s idea of a wonderful weekend, while other people get bored after an hour or two. Yet for reasons only scientists understand, science is never quite content to allow a wide variance of anything. Scientists want reasons - and averages - and to prove or disprove theories about the correct amount of time people should have sex. That’s why researchers decided to assess the “distribution of the intravaginal ejaculatory latency time among the general male population.”

The Study of Sex

Let’s skip over the fact that “intravaginal ejaculatory latency” has got to be one of the unsexiest ways to describe sex I’ve ever read. The study establishes that when measuring intercourse time, they’re not including any kissing or foreplay. Participants were asked to count only the time between insertion and ejaculation. Clearly, there are a lot of issues with this study. Not only does it define "sex" in a very narrow way, but the study focuses only on the male orgasm. If you think about it, these two omissions are closely related. Women benefit more from arousal via foreplay than men. So, a longer foreplay session tends to lead to women reaching climax sooner. If the study focuses only on men, foreplay would be optional.


Respondents of the study were asked to time themselves from the point where the penis enters the vagina until such time as orgasm occurs. No mention is made as to whether reaching for a stopwatch during intimacy might impact anyone’s time. The study did control for variables like circumcision and condom use, and included men from five different countries: the United Kingdom, Turkey, the United States, Spain, and the Netherlands. Participants monitored themselves for a four-week period, although it’s not clear how much intercourse happened for each participant during that time.

The 'Average' Time

What did science learn from this? First, that the median average of “intravaginal ejaculatory latency” is about six minutes (5.7 minutes to be exact). I have to laugh at that. When I got my first job as a phone sex operator, the minimum time for a call was six minutes. Back then, I thought that was a laughably short amount of time to get the job done. As it turns out, it’s literally average. The study also suggested that men had some idea of what the appropriate time should be, in that when they expressed dissatisfaction with their time, their time was lower than average. The study also determined that men from the UK had the longest average latency time - 10 minutes. Do with that information what you will.

The Myths About Sex and Time

Myths about sex and proper time frames are quite common, as pointed out in the book "The Sex Myth: The Gap Between Our Fantasies and Reality" by Rachel Hills. While everyone worries about sex at some point, young men rarely have conversations with other men on the finer points of sexuality. When such conversations do happen, they’re usually punctuated by exaggerations about stamina, frequency and number of partners. Puffery like this leads men to suspect that they’re inadequate compared to other men. Hills asserts that straight men are often confined to a single definition of cis male sexuality, which can lead to even more uncertainty regarding sexual roles and performances than women have.


Drop the Expectations

Expectations about sex and intimacy permeate boys and girls from early ages. Even fairy tales that end with “happily ever after” imply that once Cinderella and the Prince get married intimacy is a given and children are soon to follow. If both of them are virgins who think sex should last for hours, they might both end up feeling disappointed, inadequate, undesirable and unsatisfied. Worse still, they may have no idea what, if anything, they’re doing wrong. If not mitigated by exposure to healthy role models and proper sex education, people might live their lives without ever knowing how sexually normal they are. From my perspective, focusing on median times and stopwatches during sex is not the way to go. In the end, the best thing to do is probably be to forget about what everyone else is doing and focus on what’s right for you and your partner.

Wednesday Lee Friday

Wednesday Lee Friday is an eclectic writer of fact and fiction. She has worked as a reptile wrangler, phone sex operator, radio personality, concierge, editor, fast food manager, horror novelist, and she owns a soap shop. She prefers jobs that let her sleep during the day. Everybody knows all the best art and literature happen at night! Wednesday's work has appeared in Women's Health Interactive, Alternet, Screen Rant, The Roots of Loneliness Project and Authority...

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