Sex Q&A, Sex Tips

Sex Question Friday: How Long Should Sex Last And How Do You Treat Premature Ejaculation?

August 3, 2012 by Justin Lehmiller

Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week’s question is a two-parter that comes from a male college student who was concerned about not lasting long enough in bed.

What is the normal time span for intercourse? And how is premature ejaculation treated?

These are great questions, and you’re not the first one to ask them. In terms of how long sex “should” last, a recent survey of sex therapists suggested that an “adequate” intercourse session lasts anywhere from 3 to 7 minutes, while a “desirable” one lasts 7 to 13 minutes [1]. However, what really matters here is not how many minutes or hours you spend doing it, but whether the time you spend is enough to satisfy both you and your partner.

If your sexual sessions typically last two minutes, but both of you are content with that, there’s no problem. By contrast, if one of you finishes much sooner than the other and this is creating distress or anxiety for either or both of you, then we have an issue that needs to be addressed. Judgments of what constitutes an “adequate” or “desirable” amount of sex are therefore quite subjective and they depend upon how both partners feel about it.

If you find that you are consistently orgasming much sooner than you or your partner would like or if the time it takes you to reach orgasm is usually less than one minute, then you may meet the criteria premature ejaculation (also known as “rapid ejaculation”—a term that is increasingly preferred). This is pretty common and it affects more than one in five men [2]. The good news is that premature ejaculation can be treated relatively easily and the success rates are very high.

Perhaps the most commonly prescribed treatment is the “stop-start” technique (a therapy originally developed, appropriately enough, by a urologist named Dr. Semans). This technique involves continuing sexual activity to the point where orgasm is about to happen, then stopping everything until the feeling goes away. Once it does, stimulation resumes, but stops again the next time the feeling arises. Going through this cycle of starting and stopping stimulation typically produces better ejaculatory control.

Related to this is something known as the “squeeze technique,” which also involves continuing sex until the point of an impending orgasm, but then squeezing the head or base of the penis to prevent ejaculation. Again, once the sensations subside, stimulation resumes until another squeeze is necessary.

If those techniques don’t work or you want to try something else, there are other options. For example, you could purchase a condom lined with a numbing agent on the inside. This should help dull your sexual sensations, thereby allowing you to last longer. Just make sure not to put it on inside-out! Alternatively, you could try a desensitizing spray, which is applied directly to the penis a few minutes before sexual activity.

Another possibility would be to talk to a doctor about taking a small dose of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) like Prozac. SSRIs have been used to treat depression for years, but they often produce sexual side effects, including delayed orgasm. Believe it or not, some men with premature orgasm have successfully resolved it simply by taking these drugs, even though they were not clinically depressed [3].

As you can see, premature ejaculation is a common sexual issue for men for which numerous treatment options exist. All you need to do is find the right one for you.

Click here to read about premature orgasm and its treatment in women.

For previous editions of Sex Question Friday, click here. To send in a question for a future edition, click here.

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[1] Corty, E. W., & Guardiani, J. M. (2008). Canadian and American sex therapists’ perceptions of normal and abnormal ejaculatory latencies: How long should intercourse last? Journal of Sexual Medicine, 5, 1251-1256.

[2] Steggall, M., Fowler, C., & Pryce, A. (2008). Combination therapy for premature ejaculation: Results of a small-scale study. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 23, 365-376.

[3] Kaufman, J., Rosen, R., Mudumbi, R., & Tesfaye, F. (2009). Treatment benefit of dapoxetine for premature ejaculation: Results from a placebo-controlled phase III trial. British Journal of Urology International, 103, 651-658.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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