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How long should I last in bed?

Most guys want to last longer in bed, but do we expect too much of ourselves?

If sexual stamina is your destination, how do you know when you’ve arrived?

Is it when you become the proverbial sex machine, able to go at it for hours on end? Or would a few more valuable minutes suffice?

This is a matter of personal preference, of course. But us guys tend to fixate on timings. For some, the bedside alarm clock becomes a barometer of our masculinity and sexual prowess. I must get to quarter past…

We get these expectations of our sexual capability from somewhere. Let’s look to the main sources of sex education, starting with the go-to resource for the vast majority of the male population.

Porn: 10 to 15 minutes?

How long does the average guy in porn last?

Studies of porn over the years have thrown up some interesting insights. The average height of a male porn performer is 5’10 and he weighs 167lbs. His porn surname is most likely to be ‘Lee’, which curiously is the same for female performers.

We don’t have a stat for how long he typically lasts, but suffice to say he sets the bar high. Relentlessly, grindingly high. He bangs away like a barn door in a hurricane, in all kinds of gravity-defying positions.

According to one seasoned porn editor, a sex scene will typically last for 45 minutes. Then it’s edited down to about 20 – 30 minutes.

So should we be aiming for something like 30 – 40 minutes? Is this a realistic duration for a quality sexual experience?

Probably not. Some of these stats are 10 years old, when porn feature films were the norm and editors were keen to provide viewers with sufficient wank time. Guys tend to last longer when they are masturbating, after all.

Traditionally, producers had a DVD to fill too. Value for money required a whole bunch of longer scenes. For the punters, all that awkward shopping around in the basement sex store had to feel worth it.

The end result was that far too many porn scenes were long, boring and unrepresentative of how long sex should last.

In the era of gonzo porn and tube sites with a million clips, things have speeded up somewhat. Clips are designed and edited purely to get you off, with full awareness that you’ll fast-forward or skip to another clip with a single, lazy click.

So porn scenes are shorter, typically 10-15 minutes. On the free sites, many are more like frenzied, ultra-edited trailers that end before the money shot to entice you to pay for the whole thing. In these times of digital convenience and short attention spans, the porn industry has to keep up.

So is 15 minutes closer to the sweet spot? It’s probably the most popular duration for watching performers have sex, but is it any nearer to reality?

If we really want to emulate porn sex, we’ll need to pound away through multiple different positions and still have the self-control to deliver a facial. And we’ll need to be rock hard and confident all the way through. That’s quite a big ask, isn’t it?

For the majority of couples, this isn’t realistic or even desirable. Trying to replicate the jackhammering of porn in our bedrooms can actually bring forward our ejaculation. Add in the fact that women tend to feel less sensation from a frenetic pounding and you have a recipe for dissatisfaction.

Porn is entertainment, not a guide to how we should interact with our partners or how long we should do it for. Guys, especially guys who struggle with their sexual confidence, will do well to remember this and stop with the comparisons already.

PE self-help gurus: 20 minutes?

So we’ve watched all the porn and we wish we could last like that. In a quiet moment, we take to Google and ask “how to last longer in bed?”.

A billion men ask the same question and a billion results come up. There will be medical content about learning how to lower performance anxiety and talking to your doctor. There will be ads for bizarre pills and supplements.

But much more compelling will be the self-help guides with titles like Ultra Ejaculation Mastery: Make Her Scream Tonight. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?

I’m going to pick a real example here. An established sexual performance guru who sells online courses for men. He’s got a YouTube channel with 96k subscribers. He’s all over Facebook. He’s got lots of websites, lots of marketing and he’s been doing this for some time. So he is a voice, an authority, an expert in the industry.

You can sign up to his email list and every week he will send you, for free, information and advice about premature ejaculation. Here are some of the things that I’ve seen in his emails, just to give you a taste.

  • A women will never tell you you’re bad in bed, so 99% of guys don’t realise. When she’s feeling “unfulfilled”, she may be forced to seek “fulfilment” elsewhere. Don’t let it happen to you.
  • Bad news – PE and ED can develop/get worse as time goes on. Imagine how awful and don’t let that happen to you.
  • You need to be able to last for 20 mins to please her – it’s in her DNA.
  • Your woman needs to have an orgasm through intercourse to feel satisfied, otherwise she will cheat.
  • If she says it’s not a problem, she’s lying.
  • PE is reaching epidemic proportions. In fact in my book if you can’t last for at least 20 minutes consistently during intercourse… you have a serious PE problem!

For the record, there is no premature ejaculation epidemic. It might be that these days, more guys are jacking off to internet porn on their phones so they’re kind of distracted and disconnected from their bodies. They’re not thinking about giving pleasure to anyone else which doesn’t really set them up for sexual relationships. Commonplace yes, but not an epidemic.

This selling point intrigued me too:

Just imagine the look on her face when you cum with a hurricane force strong enough to hit the wall across the room.

Looking at the promises of other self-help industry gurus, 20 minutes seems to be the sweet spot. Or longer, because if you can’t last for 20 minutes… you have a serious PE problem?

I know, I know. This is all marketing hype and exaggeration. But as a therapist who works on the front line of sexual anxiety, this stuff irks me no end. It deliberately makes men feel worse and more afraid.

I had to go venting about it on YouTube to feel better.

If you typically last for 20+ minutes, you have a genetic advantage and that’s cool. If you ejaculate with a hurricane force that ricochets around your bedroom walls, you have a genetic superpower.

But if you don’t, you can certainly still enjoy fantastic, satisfying sex with your partner. Don’t allow online marketers and gurus to suck you down their rabbit hole of hard-sell nonsense.

Sex therapists: 7 to 13 minutes?

According to sex therapists surveyed in a Journal of Sexual Medicine study:

  • Between 1 and 2 minutes is “too short”
  • Between 3 to 7 minutes is “adequate”
  • Between 13 to 30 minutes is “too long”
  • Between 7 and 13 minutes is the IDEAL duration of vaginal intercourse

Therapists also agreed that anything between 3 and 13 minutes is considered typical. So does this mean that less than 3 minutes is considered premature ejaculation?

Cartoon of man speeding towards premature ejaculation

Well, we can look to the DSM-5, the diagnostic manual used by many medical professionals and therapists. Its definition of premature ejaculation includes: “when the symptoms … cause clinically significant distress in the individual”.

According to the International Society of Sexual Medicine, symptoms of premature ejaculation include “negative personal consequences, such as distress, bother, frustration, and/or the avoidance of sexual intimacy”.

So maybe PE is less about timings and more about how we feel during and after sex.

Three minutes of intercourse might be perfectly enough for some guys, especially if they have a repertoire of foreplay and giving pleasure. For other men, three minutes might feel dismally problematic. Of course, the feedback from our partners makes a huge difference here.

Our partners: how about we ask them?

Research studies have shown that the average duration of intercourse is 5.4 minutes. This varies greatly but it’s a healthy reality check against the porn portrayals and self-help PE cure hype.

As we saw in the sex therapist stats above, average might not necessarily equate to ideal. A 2020 study found the average time it takes women to reach orgasm during sex with men is 13.41 minutes. Notably, they typically required sexual activities other than just penis-in-vagina intercourse.

My key takeaway from all this number-crunching? Communication with our partners is more fundamental to good sex than goals and timings.

Some women want long, sustained intercourse and some want quickies. Many women enjoy a mix of both, suiting the mood and the occasion. Sex might be a spontaneous spark or a romantic all-nighter.

Guys put pressure on themselves to read their partners’ minds, fit into stereotypes of masculinity and give the orgasms. That’s a major source of performance anxiety and sexual difficulty, and PE is just one of many potential symptoms.

The bottom line: how long should I last in bed?

Long enough to:

  • Enjoy yourself.
  • Share pleasure with your partner, based on communication and connection.
  • Roll with the ebb and flow of erection (you don’t have to stay hard for the entire duration).
  • Ride the initial waves of stimulation.
  • Be able to mix it up (quickies, spontaneous sex, longer lovemaking).
  • Keep learning and adapting; it’s all about the journey.

If this feels remote or difficult right now, there’s plenty you can do about it. Good sex will always have elements of unpredictability, and you and your partner deserve to set your own expectations here.

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