There is no set time for how long sex should last. It can vary greatly, depending on preference and a range of other factors, such as what a person considers sex to be.
People define sex differently. One person might only consider it to entail penetrative intercourse, while another might consider sex to start with the beginning of foreplay and last beyond each partner’s orgasm.
Evidence of how long sex tends to last is difficult to obtain, even anecdotally. A person might feel pressure to lie if the duration of sex for them differs from perceived cultural norms.
There is also a distinction between how long sex actually lasts and how long some people feel that it should. Some studies show that penile-vaginal intercourse lasts, on average, less time than women in monogamous, “stable” heterosexual relationships need to have an orgasm, for example.
There is very little published research into how long sex usually lasts. The studies that exist have significant limitations — most, for example, considered sex only to be penile-vaginal intercourse or only included heterosexual couples.
A 2005 multinational study of heterosexual couples that defined sex as penile-vaginal intercourse asked participants to time sex from penetration through male ejaculation.
Within their very limited parameters, the team found that reports ranged from 33 seconds to 44 minutes, with the average session lasting 5.4 minutes.
Other researchers have attempted to ascertain what is a “normal” duration by asking people who diagnose and treat sexual disorders.
A 2008 study asked sex therapists in the United States and Canada to estimate the average duration of sex within different categories.
The therapists responded that sex:
- lasting under 3 minutes warrants clinical concern
- lasting 3–7 minutes is “adequate”
- lasting 7–13 minutes is “desirable”
- lasting 10–30 minutes is “too long”
However, a 2020 study assessing the time to orgasm in heterosexual women found that the average was 13.41 minutes. This suggests that the therapists polled in 2008 would consider sex that satisfies many heterosexual females to last “too long.”
Cultural norms, including guidelines from medical professionals, can influence sexual expectations and play a role in sexual dissatisfaction.
The findings of a 2010 study also suggest that having a vaginal orgasm correlates with having penile-vaginal penetrative sex for a longer period.
A range of factors can contribute to the duration of sex, including:
- What counts as sex: Some people define any sexually stimulating contact as sex. Overall, people with a broader definition may consider their sex to last longer.
- Sexual practices, goals, and norms: The goal of sex, such as one orgasm for each partner, can influence the duration.
- External constraints: For example, new parents might sneak a quick sex session while their baby takes a nap, or they might arrange for a night away, when they can spend hours on foreplay.
- Sexual orientation: A 2014 study found that females in same-sex couples have sex that lasts longer, compared with the sex of other types of couples.
- Sexual function and overall health: Pain during or after sex and premature ejaculation are just a few examples of issues that can limit the duration of sex.
- Age: The duration may decrease with age, due to factors affecting health and stamina.
- Location: The multinational 2005 study found that heterosexual couples in Turkey have the shortest sex, lasting, on average, 3.7 minutes. This may speak to cultural norms, conditioning, and the study’s very limited definition of sex.
If this is an aim, the following strategies may help:
- When one partner is approaching orgasm, they might take a break and focus on pleasuring another partner.
- Continually communicate about sexual needs and desires. This can help each partner enjoy sex more.
- If a female is involved, prioritize the female orgasm, by offering manual clitoral stimulation or oral sex, for example.
- Focus on foreplay before penetration. This may extend the length of the interaction and boost pleasure for everyone involved.
- Use visualization exercises and deep breathing to delay orgasm.
There is no right or wrong duration of sex — no standard definition of what is normal.
People should communicate what makes sex feel good and satisfying for them and structure the encounter around that. Having continual open communication and focusing on each individual’s pleasure can generally make sex better.