How Long Should Sex Last?

One of the most commonly asked questions about sex is, "How long should it last?" And like most questions relating to sex and life, the answer isn't always black and white.

No magic amount of time or a golden number of minutes dictates how long you should be having sex. People's preferences and definitions of sex can vary widely.

How long it'll last for you depends on a few factors like how you're feeling, how much time you have to devote to sex, how long foreplay lasts, and so on. Getting hung up on an arbitrary number of minutes misses the point of sex in the first place — it should be fun.

Let's Talk About IELT‌

how long sex should last

There's a term for the amount of time it takes someone to ejaculate during penetrative sex: intravaginal ejaculatory latency time (IELT). IELT is the measurement most men use — often incorrectly — to determine whether they're adequate sexual partners.

This metric only focuses on men and penetrative heterosexual sex, so it doesn't give us the whole picture. But it can help study premature ejaculation. Specifically, it can help us understand what qualifies as impulsive.

According to Finnish psychologist and sexual therapist Patrick Jern, vaginal intercourse between one and 15 minutes is considered normal. In two separate studies conducted in 2005 and 2008, subjects agreed that intercourse between one and two minutes was too short. Only about two percent of men reported intercourse lasting a minute or less.

That means far fewer men suffer from premature ejaculation than they think, and many their concerns about not lasting long enough in the bedroom are unfounded.

The Average Amount of Time Spent Having Sex‌

When we talk about how long sex "should" be, the conclusions people come to are pretty subjective. Sex is not discussed enough, so many of us base our beliefs about how we should perform in the bedroom on less than reliable sources.

For example, mainstream porn has many men believing that they should be hung like farm animals and humping for an hour or more when the reality of what their partner wants is often different. Much porn doesn't address the pleasure of women or non-binary people, though more studios are now stepping up to create that kind of content

how long sex should last for women

So how long do people want to be having sex? A 2008 study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine surveyed Canadian and American couples to find out what they thought the ideal length of time was for sex. Their average answer? Seven to 15 minutes.

However, nailing down an ideal time is tricky because of the metric used in the study and what people consider sex. Another study conducted in 2005, also from The Journal of Sexual Medicine, measured intercourse as the length of time people have penetrative sex.

That metric only focuses on penile-vaginal intercourse, which isn't inclusive of the type of sex everyone is having. The study above also didn't count foreplay in the overall time measurement, which makes it more likely for both people to reach an orgasm. Foreplay is generally needed for many women who can't orgasm with just penetrative sex.

Expectations Versus Reality‌

how long sex should last

In the studies cited above, most people reported that they didn't think they lasted long enough in the bedroom. Many of the men surveyed believed they suffered from premature ejaculation.

But the reality is that most of them fell in the window for the average length of a desirable sex session. It's our perception of how long sex "should" last that's off.

In an article on how long sex should last from a women's perspective, sex columnist Sophia Benoit writes:

"I asked a handful of women and nonbinary people how long they'd ideally like sex to last, and with a few exceptions, the answers settled around five to ten minutes of intercourse and longer for foreplay."

People tend to say they want sex to last longer than it does for them. They also consistently report that they have shorter than average sex sessions when in reality, they're usually somewhere in that seven to 15-minute window.

Multiple factors can impact someone in the bedroom. If you're anxious or stressed, that might inhibit your ability to relax and be comfortable at the moment, decreasing arousal. Performance anxiety is a real thing!

Age and hormone levels can also decrease libido or increase vaginal dryness. Conditions like premature or delayed ejaculation can affect someone's ability to orgasm, whether that's too quickly or not at all. Erectile dysfunction can make it difficult for people with a penis to get and maintain an erection.

So what can someone do if they live with one of the above conditions and want to have longer sex sessions?

Sex Positions to Last Longer

There are a few simple tricks you can start with to try and last longer during sex:

  • Edging: Also called the "start and stopped" technique, this one's pretty straightforward. You stop when you feel yourself getting close to orgasm, then start again when the feeling passes.

how sex should last

  • The squeeze technique: For men, when you're about to orgasm, squeeze the head of your penis for a few seconds until the urge goes away. You can do this multiple times during a session.

If those techniques still don't work, there are multiple toys and products to try. Cock rings, for example, help keep blood in the penis and maintain an erection longer. Condoms and creams with a numbing agent (e.g., lidocaine or benzocaine) in them can decrease sensitivity and delay ejaculation.

Speeding It Up‌

Looking for a quickie instead? Try these tips either solo or with a partner:

  • Masturbate: Nobody knows what you like the way that you do. Getting yourself off is often the quickest route to orgasm.

  • Try orgasm-inducing positions: This is where communication comes in handy. If you've got a favorite position that helps you orgasm quickly, tell your partner and try it out.

Talking with your partner, so they know what turns you on can go miles toward having great sex. Let them know and show them how to blow both your minds. This way, everybody wins.

Have Smarter Sex‌

sex position that last longer

We can draw from all of this data that we don't necessarily need to rack up more minutes of penetrative sex. Instead, it's more helpful to concentrate on foreplay and not be so in our heads about how long we're "supposed to" last.

It makes far more sense to concentrate on the quality of our sex than to keep a stopwatch on the nightstand and try to beat your best time. We also need to redefine what sex is and when it's finished. It isn't solely about the man and doesn't end when the man climaxes.

Sex ends when everyone involved is satisfied, which can be achieved through:

  • Penetration
  • Oral sex
  • Anal sex
  • Touching

Or any combination of the above.

Sex should be fun, not another source of anxiety and stress. Yet sadly, reluctance to talk about it and the dearth of good information have made it exactly that for many of us.

How do we start having better quality sex and stop focusing on skewed quantitative measures? Start by communicating with your partner. Find out what you both want out of the experience. Slow and sensual? Fast and aggressive?

Talk about their likes and dislikes, what they're comfortable with, and where they draw the line. Ask what their favorite positions are. None of us are mind readers, so asking these questions is the quickest route to great sex for everyone.

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This Is How Long Sex Should Last (From a Woman's Point of View). (April 2019). GQ.

How long does sex normally last before climaxing? (May 2020). Scienceonorway

A multinational population survey of intravaginal ejaculation latency time. (July 2005). The Journal of Sexual Medicine

Canadian and American Sex Therapists' Perceptions of Normal and Abnormal Ejaculatory Latencies: How Long Should Intercourse Last? (May 2008). The Journal of Sexual Medicine 

How Long Should Sex Really Last? (January 2019). Healthline