Have you ever had a quickie that lasted less than five minutes but was maybe some of *the* best sex you’d ever had? Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, an hours-long sex sesh that was kinda…meh? That’s because, PSA, there is no rulebook for how long sex should last, and the amount of time you spend in bed doesn’t determine how “good” the sex will be—long sex doesn’t necessarily mean “better” sex.
“The amount of time people spend on sex is highly variable,” says Justin Lehmiller, PhD, a sex researcher and host of the Sex and Psychology Podcast. It’s inaccurate to say sex is “supposed” to last a certain amount of time because people prefer different lengths of time for a variety of reasons, and people define sex differently, he adds. Additionally, what is considered the beginning and end of a sexual encounter varies between partners, adds New York-based gynecologist Alyssa Dweck, MD, making it difficult to measure an average length of time.
So, how come people so often associate longer sex with better sex? Is there really an influence? How long should sex really last? And if you only have a few minutes, how can you make it really freaking great? We tapped experts to answer these questions and more—here’s what they had to say.
How Long Should Sex Last?
Short answer: There is no set time. But if you’re wanting to get technical, let’s look at the science.
Usually, sex lasts between 55 seconds and 44 minutes, with the average session lasting about 5.4 minutes, according to a 2005 study that surveyed heterosexual couples and defined sex as penile-vaginal intercourse. That’s shorter than the average length of time it takes a heterosexual woman to orgasm, which a 2020 study found to be 13.41 minutes, give or take.
As for what’s considered an “adequate” duration of sex, sex therapists say the sweet spot is three to seven minutes, with anything lasting longer than 13 minutes being “too long” and any sexual activity lasting under three minutes warranting a cause for concern, per a 2008 study.
All of this research explains how long sex lasts on average (and is, ahem, extremely limited to heterosexual sex). How long sex should last, however, is a completely different conversation that is highly determined by personal preference and the type of sex you’re having. For example, people report spending more time on foreplay than intercourse, says Lehmiller. Plus, it’s highly documented that vagina-owners take longer to orgasm (often considered the “end” of sexual play) through penetrative sex compared to other forms of stimulation, per Dweck.
All in all: “[Sex] should last long enough for all people involved to feel a sense of sexual gratification and satisfaction,” says certified sex therapist Donna Oriowo, PhD.
What Can Influence How Long Sex Lasts?
“Blood flow diminishes to the genital area for both men and women with age, and that may increase the amount of time a sexual encounter takes,” explains Dweck. An older adult who has difficulties with arousal might seek extended foreplay in order to build arousal, adds Lehmiller, or they might disengage with sex quickly if their body isn’t responding.
“Hormonal cycles greatly fluctuate, especially for those who were assigned female at birth,” says Oriowo. That can affect arousal and, in turn, how long play lasts. “Natural menopause, especially, usually results in a longer time for a sexual encounter [for a variety of reasons],” adds Dweck. Menopause can cause vaginal dryness, which may make penetration painful, per Dweck. As a result, “workarounds have to be done with alternative activities, which may cause sex to be shorter or longer.”
Your sex drive (aka your libido) can also impact the length of sex time. ICYDK, there are two main types of sexual desire styles: spontaneous desire (which describes people who don’t require much buildup or intimacy leading up to sexual activity) and responsive desire (which describes those who need more foreplay before getting to the necessary state of arousal for sex—they get aroused in response to sexual activity).
“People with low libido [or responsive desire] first have to think about wanting to have sex,” says Dweck, so foreplay often needs to be much longer to get to their desired endpoint.
Various types of sexual dysfunction, namely erectile dysfunction, can greatly influence the duration of play. For some penis-owners, erectile dysfunction stems from a physical ailment, such as damage to the penile tissues, but more commonly, erectile dysfunction is a psychological issue, notes Oriowo. “Heavy anxiety—not only sex-based anxiety, but general anxiety—is one of the main reasons for not being able to get or maintain an erection.”
“Lesbian couples spend significantly longer having sex compared to both gay men and heterosexuals,” says Lehmiller. That might be the reason lesbians reportedly have more orgasms than any other sexual orientation!
But Does Longer Sex Always Mean “Better” Sex?
Nope! Again: “The only thing time indicates when it comes to sex is that it lasted a long time,” says Oriowo. Plain and simple. “It doesn’t tell you about the quality of the sexual engagement you’ve just been in,” she adds. “So, short sex can be very satisfying, and long sex can be very dissatisfying.”
While studies show that people typically report that they’d prefer for sex to last longer than it usually does, longer doesn’t always mean better, says Lehmiller. In fact, “in my research on sexual fantasies, I find that people often wish to recreate or relive their favorite past experiences,” he explains. “Sometimes the hottest experiences are the ones that lasted all night long, and other times, they’re the ‘quickies’ that lasted no more than a few minutes.”
Tips for Making Sex Last Longer
All that said, it’s ok to want to try different things in the bedroom—including extending the amount of time you go at it. And although you *can* have great sex in five minutes or less, it can still be fun to try new ways to make it last longer. Here’s what experts recommend.
“A handy way for making sex last longer is to drop any sexual scripts and change your mindset away from orgasm as the goal of sex,” says Lehmiller. If you approach sex in a formulaic way, you’ll get formulaic results. Enter: Edging, or orgasm control—the practice of delaying an orgasm, usually through some form of teasing. Edging might sound like the very opposite of what you’d want (because why delay the good stuff, right?), but the upside to this tantalizing practice is a longer, stronger, more satisfying climax.
To make this happen, try the “start-stop” method: a form of edging that works for both penis-havers and vagina-owners. Once you start to feel that tingling sensation that signals that you’re about to cum, either through masturbation (during solo play) or partnered play, stop what you’re doing, suggests Oriowo. Maybe you pull your partner up towards you for a makeout sesh (think of it as an intermission) before going again or switching things up (oral, anyone?).
Do this over and over again until you just can’t take it anymore.
Build Anticipation Throughout the Day.
“Very often, we’re moving quickly into whatever the sex is that we’re wanting, instead of allowing there to be buildup,” says Oriowo. Start teasing each other first thing in the morning and build up anticipation over the day by sending each other flirty text messages, sexy pictures, or sexting emojis to give them something to look forward to once you’re back home together, Oriowo suggests.
Block Off Time for Sex.
Another way to extend your sex sesh is by blocking out a set time for play. Yep, like, on your Google Cal. “For some people, that may mean reserving two hours to engage in slow lovemaking—almost lazily indulging in each other’s bodies without a specific goal,” says Oriowo. Talk about it in advance, decide on a time, block it out, and put your phone on Do Not Disturb. Scheduling sex might not *seem* like a super romantic move, but having the time blocked off means you have nothing else to prioritize during those hours, so you get to really focus on each other. What’s more romantic than that?
Tips for a Satisfying “Quickie”
Only have a few minutes to connect? Here’s how experts suggest you make it good—like, real good.
Give Yourself a Head Start.
“If you’re planning a quickie, perhaps because you and your partner have limited time in your schedules to connect, one way to assist [in that] is to get yourself aroused beforehand,” says Lehmiller. You might engage in your fantasies and flirt with one another via sexting in advance, or you might try masturbating without orgasm.“These activities can create a feeling of urgency so that you’re ready to hit the ground running when the time comes,” says Lehmiller.
If you’re having a quickie with the goal of orgasm, ensure there’s a lot of stimulation to get there faster, says Oriowo. For example, if you’re engaging in penetrative sex, you might rub the clit at the same time to maximize those pleasurable feelings. Or, you might caress the breasts, kiss the neck, and engage other erogenous zones to get to O-town faster than you can say, “I’m com-”.
Bring in Sex Toys.
Another way to make a “quickie” quick (say that three times as fast) is to use a toy. “Sex toys are specifically designed to heighten sensations to bring about that happy ending you might be looking for faster,” says Oriowo. Any sexpert will tell you that toys make any sexual experience 10x better regardless of the scenario, so grab your favorite vibe and have at it.
Set an Alarm.
No, seriously. Think of it as a test, but a fun one, obvi. How much pleasure can you give each other (or yourself) in five minutes? Set an alarm for five minutes, and after those five minutes are up, stop completely, suggests Oriowo. It’s ok if you don’t cum, because remember: Orgasm doesn’t have to be the end goal.
Afterwards, enjoy one another for the rest of the day—perhaps through some cuddles and quality time. You might even consider debriefing. Talk about what you enjoyed about your quickie and maybe what you wish you could’ve done. “Sometimes you can even use [this session] as a prelude to longer sex later.” Who said the fun had to stop after those blissful five minutes? After all, when it comes to sex, we believe in having your cake and eating it, too.
*Words by Naydeline Mejia
*This story originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by Cosmo.ph editors.