On The Clock

How Long Should Sex Last? Here's What The Research Shows

It should last longer than masturbation, but probably not as long as you think.

Originally Published: 
Woman laying on her back as man leans in to kiss her

How long does sex last, on average? The answer, unsurprisingly, is it depends. Most surveys on the subject suggest that the average expectation for how long sex should last is about 30 minutes, which is a lifetime when one considers Alfred Kinsey’s famous finding that the average man orgasms within two minutes of beginning intercourse. Expectations can sometimes be lofty.

But, for those who want some more detail, how long should sex last?

“There’s no magic number,” says Debra Herbenick, the director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University in Bloomington. It’s a matter of preference, she adds, and also circumstances. Quick sex has its time and place, as does longer, more intimate approach. It varies from person to person and couple to couple. Much like the question of are you having enough sex, there is no “normal.” It’s all about what works for your situation.

That said, there has been some research on duration. Here is what the findings show.

So, How Long Does Sex Last On Average?

Beyond Kinsey’s depressing prediction about male orgasms, a range of studies have looked at the average length of sex. One study surveyed sex therapists — specifically regarding how long vaginal intercourse should last before ejaculation — and 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.

In another study, researchers asked 500 couples to time the length of their intercourse of the duration of four weeks. The shortest recorded time was 33 seconds; the longest was around 45 minutes. Self reported data isn’t the greatest, but it’s still fun to consider. Interestingly, the median duration of all the couples was 5.4 minutes.

Psychophysiologist and neuroscientist Nicole Prause is skeptical of most of this data, however. “I have never seen good preference data from women on intercourse length,” Prause says. “If I had, I would still question what that meant.”

Both Prause and Herbenick agree that the question on how long sex should last is too broad. 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.

When a woman says she prefers sex to last an hour, it’s possible that 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. This is mostly 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 partner tells 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.

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