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So just how long should our sex sessions last for?

Words by Evangeline Polymeneas

The limit does not exist.

We’ve all heard or exchanged sexual horror stories – whether you’ve called someone by your ex’s name, awkwardly met the whole family at the breakfast counter on your way out, or had someone walk in mid-root. But nothing seems to dominate our sex talks more than the conversations about how long it lasted.

We’re all guilty of conflating the duration of sex with its success. People equate longer sex with better sex and shorter sex with feelings of inadequacy. So just what is the ideal length of time for sex to last?


For more sex advice, head to our Life section.


Keen to find out if sex had a time requirement, I enlisted the help of First Nations sexologist Lauren French, who immediately shut down the idea. “Definitely no. Males have decided that lasting long is good, so we’ve adopted that as a good thing to do in the bedroom. 

“If you have 30 minutes of penetrative sex, a lot of people might think that’s amazing, but it could be 30 minutes of really terrible penetrative sex or you could have 10 minutes of really amazing penetrative sex, so having it for longer doesn’t magically make it better necessarily,” she says.

But does this metaphorical timer people seem so preoccupied with start at penetration? “When are you starting this ‘sex clock’? Are you starting when a penis goes inside a vagina? Or anus? Or mouth? Or are you starting when you’re kissing, or engaging in foreplay? Or are you starting when you’re mentally turning each other on?” Lauren asks.

When she puts it like that, the whole idea seems kind of ridiculous. We all know that sex isn’t just about penetration and why are we so fixated on quantity over quality anyway? 

“For female bodies, it takes 20 to 40 minutes to get fully physically aroused, as in to have all the blood rush to the genitals and to have arousal responses,” Lauren explains. “For a lot of women, they might only give themselves five to 10 minutes of oral sex and get frustrated or confused why they’re not magically having orgasms.” (Sidenote: send this article to old mate who only stayed down there for three minutes and wondered why you didn’t cum.)

Whenever my friends and I chat, it always seems as though the consensus is the same – the sex is over once the other party finishes, and if we didn’t manage to achieve orgasm by the time they did, then that’s too bad for us. On a mission to close the orgasm gap, I asked Lauren why guys seem to roll over and go to sleep when they finish and leave us with a blue vulva (if we even managed to get to that point).

“This is definitely socially accepted. It’s in the media, it’s everywhere, that when guys have an orgasm they can’t possibly do anything else – like it’s physically impossible for them – which is obviously not true. But we’ve kind of accepted that and if we didn’t get it done before they’ve had an orgasm then that’s just it.”

But Lauren maintains that “sex doesn’t last as long as someone having an erection, sex can last much longer after someone finishes or loses an erection”. Which, to be honest, was news to me. “We can still have really amazing sexual experiences with or without erections and after orgasms,” she says.

“When we broaden our understanding of what sex can be to include all forms of enjoyment and pleasure, it kind of means that we don’t need to rely on an erection to fulfil them. Sex is really goal-focused. [People think that] sex is about having orgasms, and when you have an orgasm, you tick the box of sex and then sex is done. [But] we should be going into sexual encounters focused on pleasure.

“Some people might be wanting more than one orgasm, or some might not want an orgasm at all but still be after a really pleasurable experience,” she explains. Lauren tells me that we are all searching for something to act as an alarm, so everyone knows that sex is over, instead of focusing on the fact that we have the freedom to decide how long we want sex to last

“It’s accepted that when men have an orgasm, they’ll need to chug a Powerade, eat a muesli bar and wait half an hour before they can get an erection again, which isn’t necessarily true for individuals. Men can have orgasms and pleasure without having erections, which obviously isn’t talked about often and isn’t explored by men generally,” she reveals.

Essentially, by eliminating goal-orientated sex, you can actually experience increased pleasure (plus, there won’t be a time limit on it). As Cady Heron says, “The limit does not exist”, so relax, enjoy the moment and take your time.

In saying this, Lauren does say that lasting too long, or not long enough can become a problem if the people involved start to feel distressed. “When [lasting or not lasting] feels really out of their control, and they’re feeling really distressed about it, it can be an issue because it can cause a lot of anxiety, [like] performance anxiety, [which] can cause stress in a relationship. It can mean that people can feel shame when it comes to sex and pull back in sexual relationships. 

“Society has decided that long sex is best and as soon as we decide that we aren’t meeting whatever we’ve decided is best, we believe there is a problem. People might come to me and say that [they] can’t last 45 minutes and that’s a problem, or others might say that [they] can’t last five minutes and that’s a problem for [them]. Both people might be experiencing the same sorts of feelings of distress, anxiety and relationship issues,” Lauren tells me.

If you’re experiencing distress when it comes to sex, it’s always best to talk to a professional. But if you’ve been caught up worrying about how long sex should or shouldn’t last, then take this as your sign to relax, let go and enjoy the experience, whether it lasts for 10 minutes or 100. 

For more on how to improve your sex life, try this.

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