A lot of people conflate longer sex with better sex, but that’s not always the case.
You came here looking for an answer, and an answer I will give you: Sex should last one hour, 34 minutes, and 22 seconds—the exact runtime of Wayne’s World.
Shyeah, right! While I have a lot of respect (and follow-up questions) for anyone who’s regularly managing to bone for the duration of a feature film, of course I’m joking. There isn’t a specific length of time that sex should last, but people tend to conflate longer sex with better sex. Marathon sex sessions are used as a measurement of just how steamy an evening was. And while quickies can be fun, they should constitute a piece of a balanced sex life—not the whole thing. They’re like the candy and ice cream part of the food pyramid—very tasty, just not intended for everyday sustenance.
While there’s no magic number, one study back in 2005 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine asked a bunch of sex therapists for their opinions on how long sex should last. Their guidelines separated sex into four categories: adequate, too short, too long, and desirable. They rated penetrative vaginal sex that lasted from 1-2 minutes as “too short,” and sex that lasted 10-30 minutes as “too long.” Meanwhile, “adequate” sex lasted 3-7 minutes and desirable sex lasted 7-13 minutes.
It’s difficult to get good data on the amount of time the average person spends getting freaky—are you keeping track of how long you’re humping and pumping?—especially because sex can be defined in a myriad of ways. For example, some people (and most studies) are only counting penetrative sex, which isn’t a particularly effective way to measure sex, since it’s both extremely heteronormative and not the way most people with vaginas are orgasming.
So 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.
One woman said her ideal was 10-15 minutes of foreplay and 10 minutes of intercourse: “I find I get rather impatient in bed, or perhaps I just haven’t met someone worth taking more time.” Another said, “I feel like this sounds short, but honestly 5-10 mins plus like 15-ish minutes of foreplay.” Another woman said, “I generally like sex to last 15-20 minutes, with intercourse being like maybe a quarter of that.” Two women and one nonbinary woman answered that their ideal sex session including foreplay would last an hour or so—which seems like an endeavor! Good for them!
It turns out people consistently say that they want sex to last longer than it does. Almost everyone I informally interviewed felt that their answers were shorter than average, when in reality almost all of them were either in line with or above the average duration of sex, which is around 5.4 minutes.
So while we’re all self-conscious that we’re shortchanging our down-and-dirty time, sex really doesn’t take that long—even for people who are completely happy with their sex lives. I don’t mean to suggest that shorter sex is better, by any means. But according to a Twitter poll asking, “Do you ever get bored during penetrative sex or want it to just be over already?” Eighty-two percent of the 819 participants said yes. The reason I knew to ask that (possibly leading) question is that I, too, have been bored during penetrative sex, just up there thinking about the fact that I need to check on the status of my car registration or how Joan Cusack hasn’t had a single leading film role (which is a damn shame).
According to another Twitter poll I conducted of 2,380 people who are on the receiving end of penetrative sex, most (61 percent) wanted the actual penetration to last about 5-10 minutes (without counting foreplay). Twenty-six percent said they wanted it to last longer than 11 minutes. For the most part, those who are penetrated don’t think that longer penetration is better, so you can stop thinking about your grandma playing baseball, or whatever it is you’ve been doing to try to avoid coming too soon.
So according to the data, rather than attempting a marathon jackhammer sesh, you should switch things up! In that study, the more sex acts that a couple did, the more likely both of them were to orgasm, and the benefit of multiple sexual acts was even more significant for women than for men. The lesson here is you don’t need to be having sex longer; you need to be having sex better.
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