How Long Does Sex Last?

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If you listen to your friends, or conversations overheard at the gym or a club, you may think that sex normally lasts for hours and hours.  Sometimes all night long.  If you watch porn it's never that long, but it is at least 20 minutes of intense cardio.  

Of course porn and overheard conversations are not the best source of sex information, which leaves many of us with a question that seems like a simple one to answer:  how long does sex usually last for?

Before answering, let's distinguish between the question how long does sex usually last for and how long should it last for.

The first question might be answerable by turning to research.  The second question, the "should" question, is an answer that is always tied to a time, place, community, and culture.  Ideas about what real sex or great sex should be aren't natural or universal or even scientific.  They are social.  And they change just as we do.


Getting back to the question of how long does sex last, first we'd have to agree on when sex begins and when it ends.  Is it:

  • from the first kiss to when you fall asleep, or put your clothes back on
  • from the moment you think "hey, I’d like to have sex right now” to when you don't want sex anymore
  • how long should you spend performing oral sex on your partner (or how long you can expect to receive it)
  • How long does intercourse last for? And is it vaginal intercourse or anal intercourse?

    Quickly a simple question turns into dozens of other questions, and no answer.

    Researchers have tried to look at the “average” amount of time people have sex. But this research either asks people to recall, or asks them to use a stopwatch (literally) while they are having sex.

    Often this research is done in the context of premature ejaculation, so the framing of the question is usually “how short” rather than “how long”.

    Much of this research is flawed. First of all, there’s no telling how having a stopwatch in bed with you changes the way you have sex (researchers will sometimes ask couples to literally time their intercourse on a stopwatch). Secondly, studying one relatively flat aspect of sexual activity (length of time) says so little about what’s actually going on in bed.

    Most sex therapists say that based on what they hear, the main act of sex, usually intercourse, takes around 6 minutes.  Early research by Alfred Kinsey found averages that were shorter than that.

    A Better Answer to the Question

    This isn't a question that is best answered in minutes and sections.  The best answer to how long should sex last is: good sex lasts for however long the people who are doing it want it to last for. If you only have time for a quickie, then three minute sex is perfect. If you’re on vacation and you’ve got nothing but time, spending all night having different kinds of sex may be what’s ideal.

    Also, how long sex lasts very likely changes not only from sexual encounter to sexual encounter, but over time. The sex someone has in their early twenties may be very different than the sex they have in their late thirties.

    To address the “all night long” part of the question, it’s worth mentioning that having sex “all night long” doesn’t mean having intercourse all night long. Couples may spend hours in bed together, but usually sex play happens and then there are breaks, and then it happens again.

    The idea that people are engaging in one behavior (oral sex, penetration, kissing, etc…) for hours on end without a break isn’t likely. For a more entertaining take on these issues, I recommend the hilarious-because-its-true music video “Ooh Girl! – An Honest R&B Song” playing now on YouTube.