We expect sex to last for about thirty minutes, surveys suggest. Which is a lifetime, when one considers Alfred Kinsey’s famous finding that the average man orgasms within two minutes of beginning intercourse. Unfair expectations aside, however, a fundamental question remains largely unanswered: how long do men and women actually want sex to last for?
“There’s no magic number,” Debra Herbenick, the director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University in Bloomington, told Fatherly. “Some people prefer quick sex — maybe they have kids that will wake up any second or are prone to vaginal pain. Also, people define sex in varied ways, it’s not just intercourse.”
Aside from Kinsey’s depressing predictions about male orgasm, other studies have addressed the question of how long sex should last. One study that looked at the opinions of sex therapists specifically regarding how long vaginal intercourse should last before ejaculation concluded that one to two minutes was “too short”, three to seven minutes was “adequate,” seven to 13 minutes was “desirable,” and anything from 10 to 30 minutes was considered too long. And most recently, some not-so-scientific data collected by sauceydates.com indicated that men and women think sex should last for 25 minutes.
Data notwithstanding, psychophysiologist and neuroscientist Nicole Prause is skeptical. “I have never seen good preference data from women on intercourse length,” Prause says. “If I had, I would still question what that meant.”
Prause and Herbenick both agree that the problem with looking for the perfect amount of time for sex to last is that it’s too broad of a question. Scientists would be better off asking what the ideal duration of penile friction in the vagina would be (lovely turn of phrase, isn’t it?), or how long oral sex should last for. When a woman says she prefers sex to last an hour, it’s possible she only means five minutes of actual penetration and 55 minutes of external stimulation. That ratio can vary from person to person, on a case-by-case basis, but odds are that most women prefer less penetration, because they are more likely to experience pain as a result of vaginal intercourse. “It seems safe to speculate that women would want penetration to be shorter than men, on average,” Prause says. “Men are just far less likely to experience pain from extended intercourse.”
But for men who still want a number to shoot for, the closest thing to a magic one is … whatever their partners tell them. It’s not that difficult for people to conduct their own case studies with their partners by asking every time. Hell, it can be fun.
“I’d focus less on time and more on a couple figuring out what works for them,” Herbenick says.