The refractory period is the period after having an orgasm during which a person is not sexually responsive. It can last from a few minutes to more than a day. Strategies to improve cardiovascular health may help reduce this time.

During the refractory period, a person might lose interest in sex, or they might not be able to have sex. It may not be possible for a person to get an erection, ejaculate, or orgasm.

Scientists have thoroughly documented the refractory period in males. In females, the refractory period is more controversial.

This article will explore the refractory period and explain what might help reduce it.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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two men lying in bed and being affectionate, but not having sex because they are currently in the refractory periodShare on Pinterest
During the refractory period, a person may temporarily lose interest in sex.

The International Society for Sexual Medicine (ISSM) defines the “resolution stage” of sex as the stage in which a person feels satisfied, usually following orgasm and, in the case of males, ejaculation.

The refractory period occurs after the resolution stage.

Physiological refractory period

During the refractory period, a male cannot get an erection. This type of response is a physiological refractory period, meaning a person is physically unable to have sex again.

According to the ISSM, most females can have multiple orgasms, though only about 15% actually do. The capability to have multiple orgasms suggests females do not usually experience a physiological refractory period.

A female’s genitals may also remain lubricated after sexual activity even if she no longer feels aroused.

Psychological refractory period

People of all sexes can experience a psychological refractory period in which they do not want to have sex again. They may feel satisfied and prefer to avoid immediate sexual contact. A person may also feel tired during this time.

During the refractory period, a male is unable to get an erection or ejaculate again. This physiological response usually accompanies a psychological refractory period, during which the person feels uninterested in sex.

The length of the refractory period varies greatly from person to person, from a few minutes to 24 hours or longer.

Researchers do not fully understand what causes the refractory period or why it varies so much in duration from person to person. Additionally, not all males have a refractory period.

Physically, most females can have intercourse again shortly after orgasm and do not have the physically limiting changes many males do.

However, intercourse can cause hypersensitivity of the clitoris and vulva, which may make stimulation uncomfortable, and people may not be psychologically ready for sex immediately after orgasm.

Sexual function can decline with age.

People may need longer to get both physically and psychologically aroused as they grow older. They may also need longer to recover from sex, which may mean a more extended refractory period.

The refractory period a person has when they are young will also determine how it changes as they age. Someone with a long refractory period as a teenager may find it continues to get longer over time.

Many factors can influence the length of the refractory period, including:

  • a person’s overall health
  • relationship quality
  • quality and frequency of sex

Dopamine plays a key role during sex. A 2019 research review suggests dopamine levels may influence whether a male can get an erection. However, the review also notes that too much dopamine could cause sexual health problems.

Some activities that improve overall health, such as exercise, may help regulate dopamine levels.

Other pleasurable activities may also boost dopamine, such as doing something new, having an enjoyable conversation, or mastering a new challenge.

Scientists do not completely understand the connection between dopamine levels and the refractory period.

The internet offers plenty of advice about how to shorten the refractory period. While message board strategies may work for some people, there is usually little research to prove they work.

The same strategies that improve overall health may boost sexual health. Cardiovascular health, in particular, correlates with sexual health.

A person who wants to improve their overall well-being and sexual function can try:

  • doing cardiovascular exercise, such as walking, running, or aerobics
  • maintaining a healthy body weight
  • eating a nutrient-dense diet
  • treating or managing underlying health conditions, such as diabetes

Some people use pelvic floor exercises to try and shorten the refractory period. People refer to these exercises as Kegels or pelvic floor muscle training (PFMT).

So far, no research proves that PFMT will shorten the refractory period. However, it may improve sexual function more generally.

To try PFMT, a person can tense the muscles they use to urinate, hold for a few seconds, release, and repeat.

Viagra and the refractory period

Some older research suggests that erectile dysfunction medication might shorten the refractory period for males.

A small, placebo-controlled trial from 2003 found that 40% of participants reported a significant reduction in the refractory period when they used sildenafil (Viagra). Just 13.3% of placebo users experienced a similar reduction.

However, another study from 2005 found that Viagra did not shorten the refractory period.

Sexual health resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and in-depth resources on sexual health.

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The refractory period varies from person to person. While the refractory period tends to increase with age, other factors may influence the length of time after intercourse during which a person cannot have sex again, such as their cardiovascular health.

People can try easy techniques like pelvic floor muscle training to shorten the refractory period, but it is unclear if these can help. A doctor or therapist specializing in sexual health may suggest other strategies to improve overall sexual function.