Sex Q&A

How Long Should Sex Last?

August 12, 2016 by Justin Lehmiller

A reader submitted the following question:

“How long is sex supposed to last?”

If you ask around, you’ll undoubtedly come across a lot of different answers to this question. For instance, let’s consider a study in which sex therapists were surveyed about their thoughts on this topic. According to them, an “adequate” intercourse session was thought to last between 3 and 7 minutes, whereas a “desirable” one was thought to last between 7 and 13 minutes [1].

By contrast, if you instead look at a survey of heterosexual couples who were asked how long they personally wanted sex to last, the women said that, ideally, they’d like it to go on for about 14 minutes; by contrast, the men said they’d like it to last closer to 18 minutes [2].

Please note that in all of the numbers considered above, we’re talking only about duration of penile-vaginal intercourse between men and women—not foreplay, same-sex activity, or any other sexual act.

That said, there’s obviously quite a bit of difference in these numbers. So which one is right?

Well, all of them and none of them.

The truth of matter is that there’s no ideal amount of time that everyone “should” be spending on sex. How long you’re “supposed” to spend on sex is the amount of time that you and your partner(s) mutually desire.

If it’s three minutes, great. But if you prefer thirty minutes, that’s great, too. One of these durations is not necessarily more valid, healthier, or “better” than another.

It’s also important to keep in mind that what we perceive as the “ideal” amount of time to spend on sex is not necessarily what we truly, honestly want. Research finds that our sexual ideals are strongly associated with what we perceive to be the “cultural script” for how long sex should last [2]. In other words, we want sex to last longer when we think it’s supposed to last longer.

What this means is that we shouldn’t get hung up on what we think other people are doing or how long people in porn are spending on sex. Again, the key consideration here is what you and your partner want when it comes to sex—that’s what matters most of all.

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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] Miller, S. A., & Byers, E. S. (2004). Actual and desired duration of foreplay and intercourse: Discordance and misperceptions within heterosexual couples. Journal of Sex Research, 41(3), 301-309.

Image Source: 123RF/Jacek Kita

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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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