How Long Should Sex Last?

There is no such thing as a normal sexual response. Everybody reacts differently, sexually speaking. There are as many different sexual responses as there are people on this big dumb planet. There is immeasurable variation in the way individual people enjoy and respond to sexual activity. Most sex that happens is, statistically, not very good.

You might be surprised to discover that the average duration of penetrative sex for a straight couple is rarely longer than five minutes. Vaginal sex that lasts more than ten minutes was deemed ‘too long’ by a recent survey, but two minutes was ‘too short.’ 

But that makes me wonder: deemed by who? I think it’s fair to say that few LELO customers would agree that penetrative sex lasting ten minutes was too long. Most of us like sex more than that, don’t we?

(Interestingly, non-straight and nonbinary sex seems to last longer by pretty much every standard.)

How long should sex last

How long sexual activity lasts depends on a lot of variables. The age of the participants is a key factor. The newness of the relationship seems to be a factor too, with newer relationships lasting longer in bed as the partners explore each other. The length of foreplay also has an impact on the length of sex – if you consider them separately, which we don’t generally. Whether or not breaks are taken during the action, and whether alcohol has been consumed also matters, among much else. Also, people aren’t necessarily telling the truth about the duration of their sex, and out of embarrassment, three minutes can easily inflate to fifteen. All of these things are normal.

If it’s a straight coupling, these numbers depend largely on the male participant. Sex tends to rely more on men to happen and be prolonged than it does on women in straight couples, because the man’s orgasm is traditionally, and unfairly, the end of the encounter. But that’s not always the case. As we age, the ability to perform sexually becomes a burden on both partners as it becomes harder for a man to maintain an erection, and harder for a woman to remain lubricated.

It’s also possible that at some stage of the proceedings, one or both partners might become disengaged, or even bored, and sex might transition from pleasurable to painful or uncomfortable. The issue then becomes not one of how long one partner can last before orgasm, but one of how long one partner can tolerate the discomfort. None of this makes for a pleasurable sexual encounter.

This issue is then compounded. He might climax too soon, or too slowly, to maintain his erection and her arousal. The point is that sex is difficult, and the duration of it is clearly a poor metre of its ability to satisfy. Orgasm too soon, and one partner will be left unsatisfied. Take too long, and the partner might stop enjoying it. All this implies that there is some kind of golden rule, a perfect amount to be having sex. But since everybody experiences their sexual responses differently, how can there be? 

The trick is not in sexual ability, but in a kind of non-verbal negotiation, over time. All these points interfere with the question, how long should sex last? Taking the idea that sex should be pleasurable for all participants as given, how long sex should last is determined best by those participants and them alone. Since everybody’s sexual response is entirely idiosyncratic, the question is not one of duration, but of compatibility.

There is no clear, definitive answer to the question of the appropriate duration of sexual activity, so it’s not possible to prescribe an amount. It’s more like an algebraic equation, where we know the variables but not the specific values. It’s up to the communication of the participants to come to some kind of accord, often unspoken, about how long is too long, and how short is too short. For most of us, this process is an evolution, the agreement is reached over time. But for others, it’s necessary to talk about and discuss these issues. It might be necessary to make the negotiation verbally. 

Communication is the opiate of sex. Talking with a partner will ensure that you are eventually fulfilled, whether you want longer or shorter sex.

Written by: Stuart Nugent

With 16 years in the adult industry, including many years at LELO, it's fair to say Stu has been around the sex toy block a few times. As LELO's resident sex geek, he's been featured in the Independent, the Guardian, HuffPost, Vice, Cosmopolitan, and anywhere people talk about sex. Here on Volonte, he turns his spotlight onto the important events affecting sex right now in a regular op-ed. Views are his own.

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