Sex Ed

How Long People Want Sex To Last Versus How Long Sex Actually Lasts

January 28, 2019 by Justin Lehmiller

How long do you want to spend on sex? And how long do you actually spend on sex when you have it? Research suggests that there’s often a discrepancy in how people respond to these questions.

In one study, 152 heterosexual couples in Canada were asked for their input [1]. Women said that, on average, intercourse usually lasts about 7 minutes, while foreplay lasts about 11 minutes. Men reported pretty similar numbers: they estimated intercourse at 8 minutes and foreplay at 13. In other words, heterosexual adults think that sex typically lasts somewhere around 18-21 minutes.

When it came to their ideal, women said they’d like intercourse to last for 14 minutes and foreplay to last 19 minutes, while men said they’d like to spend 18 minutes on each activity. So the ideal sex session clocks in at 33-36 minutes.

As you can see, people say they’d like sex to last about 50% longer than it usually does. Remember that this is true for both heterosexual men and women, each of whom say they want to spend more time on intercourse and foreplay.

Unfortunately, this study only looked at heterosexually-identified persons, so we don’t know whether the same results apply to persons of other sexualities. We also don’t know whether this discrepancy between actual and ideal changes as people age, or if it varies cross-culturally.

Limitations aside, these findings raise an important question about whether increasing length of time spent on sex would actually make people happier. Are people just saying they think sex should last longer because they’ve been led to believe (from porn and media) that sex is supposed to take a long time? If so, upping the length of your sex sessions might not have the desired impact.

Research has found that when people force themselves to have sex more often (by doubling their sexual frequency), it backfires and makes sex feel more like a chore than anything [2]. It stands to reason that forcing yourself to spend more time on sex could potentially have a similar impact if it makes sex feel less natural.

When it comes to sex, quality usually always beats out quantity, so don’t get so hung up on how often you’re having sex or how long you’re spending on it. Focus instead on making sure that everyone is having a good time when you do have sex. That said, if increasing duration is a mutually desired goal (not something you just feel like you’re “supposed” to do), then by all means—go for it!

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[1] 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.

[2]Loewenstein, G., Krishnamurti, T., Kopsic, J., & McDonald, D. (2015). Does increased sexual frequency enhance happiness?. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 116, 206-218.

Image Credit: 123RF/Aleksandr Davydov

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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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