One of the most realistic moments in the classic movie musical Grease is when Putzie innocently asks his fellow T-Birds, "Is that all it takes? 15 minutes?" Because, especially at that age, guys actually have no clue how long sex should last. But the truth is, how long sex should last is something a lot of adults may find themselves wondering as well. "People are interested in time because there is a perception of what is 'normal,'" says Shannon Chavez, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist and certified sex therapist based in Los Angeles, California.
Thankfully, researchers have actually looked into how long couples spend between the sheets. In a 2005 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers had 500 couples from all over the world start running a stopwatch at the start of penile penetration and then hit stop at ejaculation. As it turned out, surprise, there was a whole lot of variation. The average time for each couple was 33 seconds to 44 minutes. As far as the median time? 5.4 minutes.
A couple more interesting details: The countries couples were from didn't really seem to factor in, except in the case of the lovebirds from Turkey -- their sex sessions were on the shorter side (3.7 minutes) compared to couples from other countries (like the Netherlands, Spain, the UK, and the US).
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So, what does this knowledge actually afford us? Not necessarily all that much. There are drawbacks to overly fixating on how much time we should be spending on everything in our lives, including sex. "We have to-do lists for everything, and most people are juggling much more than they can handle," says Chavez. "Sex becomes a task, a chore, or something that we focus more on how long it takes than how it makes us feel."
How you feel and what you'll be in the mood for changes from day to day, of course. "Sometimes, you may feel like quick sex, because that is where your head is at or it's late and you feel tired," says Christina Stein, PhD, LMFT, a sex therapist in Santa Monica, California. "Other times, you may want a long sensual experience that includes a lot of foreplay before intercourse. The best thing to do is communicate to your partner what kind of sex you are up for so everyone's expectations are managed, and there is less pressure to be somewhere you are not."
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If you're thinking longer sex sessions would enhance the experience overall, it's possible for men to learn how to delay ejaculation, Stein notes. Sufficient foreplay is also key. In fact, it takes women at least 20 minutes to become fully aroused, so taking your time, whenever possible, is ideal, says Chavez. "Spend time playing with your partner and being creative in your sexual expression together," she advises. "When you are truly present, playful, and not worrying about the outcome, time doesn't exist."
Ultimately, whether you're spending 3.7 or 44 minutes getting it on, you'll do best to focus on quality. "A quickie can be just as exciting as a long, passionate lovemaking session," Chavez notes. And no matter how you do it and how much time you spend on it, a satisfying sexual experience is not only an opportunity to connect with your partner, but Chavez says it's "one of the most underutilized forms of natural medicine with so many health benefits." Talk about a win-win!