Insight

How long are men "supposed" to last in bed?

25th May, 06:35

Luke Benedictus

“We have sex like Kenyan marathon runners,” Olivia Wilde once boasted of fiancé Jason Sudeikis.

What she was referring to here presumably did not involve the wearing of compression socks and lycra singlets.

No, what the US actress was really getting at, we suspect, was the epic stamina behind the couple’s jingle-jangling.

Her willingness to divulge such info would suggest that she’s one satisfied customer. But how long does a man really need to last in order to avoid leaving his partner high and, well, dry?

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The cause for concern

This is a big concern for many guys with the angst exacerbated by the fact that men rarely discuss the intimate details of their bedroom encounters.

As Wilde’s candour shows, women are more likely to share frank sexual confessions, casually swapping graphic intel that’d make a gynaecologist wince.

Men, on the other hand, tend to be far more circumspect. We’re less willing to open up about any potential sexual challenges for fear that it’ll open us up to ridicule.

The upshot is that we have less relative context for our personal experiences in the sack. More specifically, when it comes to the issue of duration, we don’t know how we stack up.

That most men are not, shall we say, entirely unfamiliar with online porn, only adds to our performance anxiety. Watching sexual athletes hammer away for marathon sessions is unlikely to make you look great in comparison.

But porn is hardly a reliable source of info. If you want a better gauge of how long sex should really last, it’s more instructive to examine the evidence.

Ask the (s)experts

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University set out to tackle this exact question when they surveyed 50 members of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research.

This group of respondents were essentially chosen for their expertise. They included doctors, psychologists, and marriage therapists who’d treated thousands of sexual issues over the years.

The respondents were asked to consider a series of different timeframes for intercourse before having to rate them as “adequate”, “desirable”, “too short” or “too long”.

On average, the respondents defined an "adequate" length of intercourse as lasting from three to seven minutes.

The "desirable" ranking was clinched by stints of jiggery-pokery that lasted from seven to 13 minutes. One to two minutes was dismissed as being "too short", while 10 to 30 minutes was deemed "too long".

"Unfortunately, today's popular culture has reinforced stereotypes about sexual activity,” the researchers said.

“Many men and women seem to believe the fantasy model of large penises, rock-hard erections and all-night-long intercourse. "

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Sexual myth-busting

Significantly, the survey’s results challenged previous research that suggested many men and women wanted sex to last for 30 minutes or longer. People, in other words, often tend to associate longer sex with better sex

"This seems a situation ripe for disappointment and dissatisfaction," said Eric Corty, an associate professor of psychology and lead author of the study.

"With this survey, we hope to dispel such fantasies and encourage men and women with realistic data about acceptable sexual intercourse, thus preventing sexual disappointments and dysfunctions."

The, ahem, "hard" facts

So far, so reassuring. But that research was based on the opinions of sex experts, rather than what’s actually going on between the sheets.

For that carnal lowdown you’ve got to explore a 2005 study that recruited 500 couples from five countries (the Netherlands, Britain, Spain, Turkey and the United States).

Men aged 18 years or older in stable heterosexual relationships were handed stopwatches and, over a four-week period, asked to time their “intravaginal ejaculation latency time” (IELT)—a grimly unsexy term for the time between initial penetration to ejaculation.  

The recorded times of each couple were then averaged out over all the various occasions they got it on.

Looking at the different couples’ results, the most striking thing is the wild variation. There was a staggering 80-fold difference between the shortest time—a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it 55 seconds—to the longest bout that lasted for 44.1 minutes.

This gaping disparity suggests that, in fact, there’s no such thing as a “normal” time for sex. Nevertheless, the median IELT across the 500 couples clocked in at 5.4 minutes.

Is variety more important?

Yet maybe it’s time to put away the stopwatch.

Rather than dwelling on duration, it could prove more fruitful to broaden your idea of what “sex” actually consists of.  

In fact, if you limit your definition of sex purely to intercourse then you (and your partner) could be the ones who miss out.

That’s the consensus of a national survey from Indiana University that asked almost 2,000 people about their sex lives.

The biggest take-home was that length of sex wasn’t the strongest predictor of orgasm.

Instead, sexual variety was found to be the main factor that boosted the chances of hitting the Big O for both genders.

The researchers found that men and women who experienced five sexual acts during one session (use your imagination), reported orgasming more than 89 per cent of the time.

On that basis, it’s probably worth switching the focus of your sexual metrics. By concentrating less on the clock and more on multitasking in bed, you could reach a better pay-off for you and your partner. All of which should be welcome news for any man.

After all, wielding a stopwatch in the throes of passion can prove a real turn-off.

An ongoing concern?

The truth is that for some of us, making it to five rounds just isn't an option.

In fact, premature ejaculation affects about one in three men at some point, making it one of the commonest conditions going.

Luckily, it's not a life sentence.

Treatments can be varied depending on the situation and patient, but all paths to effectively treating premature ejaculation start by talking to a doctor.

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