Everything You’ve Heard About How Long You Should Last in Bed Is a Lie

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How to last longer in bed. It’s one of the most searched questions about sex, Googled around 60,500 times per month (mostly by dudes, we’re guessing). And in the past year alone, a story on our very own website called “11 Ways to Last Longer in Bed” has had nearly 700,000 visitors. But we have a secret to tell you: You don’t actually need to stress about lasting through marathon sex sessions. In fact, no one expects your sex session to last as long as Avengers: Endgame—not even the woman you’re sleeping with.

Still, the signs that men are supposed to last well into the a.m. are everywhere. Some of them come from pop culture—thanks, Beyoncé, for lyrics like “We be all night” in “Drunk in Love”—and the rest are unsurprisingly from porn. (Gasp, right?) “In porn, people can last forever, so then men’s understanding is that as long as you last forever too, that’s good,” says Harry Fisch, M.D., a clinical professor of urology and reproductive medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College. “But then they don’t consider what is average, what’s normal.” Dr. Fisch also blames bad sex ed for the rumor that longer sex = better sex.

Scientists have researched sexual stamina, and found a big gap between how long sex actually lasts and how long people would like it to last. A 2005 study of 500 couples from around the world found that the average intercourse session lasted just 5.4 minutes—with or without a condom. Yet according to a 2008 study, most sex therapists agreed that “desirable” sex lasts anywhere between seven and 13 minutes. (That two- to sevenish-minute gap? That’s the sound of men everywhere scratching their head.)

If 13 minutes sounds like an eternity, don’t worry. You don’t need to have the endurance of a long-distance runner. An obsession with lasting foreeeever during sex could even make you imagine you’ve got penis problems.

“Many young men think they have premature ejaculation when they’re well within normal limits,” says sex therapist Laurie Mintz, Ph.D., author of Becoming Cliterate. So while five minutes may seem like a short amount of time in the grand scheme of things, it’s still two minutes past being considered premature ejaculation, which is generally an emission that happens in three minutes or less. And in those cases, there are some practical solutions for drawing out the process.

Most important, a super-lengthy sex session isn’t what most women say they want. “I feel like guys get a lot of anxiety about lasting a long time for their partner,” says Maddie, 21, a student in New York City. “But really, it’s not about quantity; it’s about quality. And sometimes too long just plain hurts.”

Seductive couple kissing in bed at home

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That’s because most women—like, almost all of us—don’t get off from vaginal intercourse alone. “A lot of men are under the false impression that thrusting hard and lasting long is the key to a woman’s orgasm,” Mintz says. “But it’s the number-one lie about getting laid.”

Sex research backs this up: A study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy in 2017 found that only 18 percent of women said intercourse alone can make them climax. The rest said clitoral stimulation was either necessary or that it made their orgasms feel even better. Plus, too much in-and-out action can make a woman dry and cause her pain, says Mintz.

Women often take longer than men to orgasm—around 20 minutes to a man’s five—but chances are she doesn’t want you pumping away for that long. Most women say they’d rather spend that extra time warming up with foreplay, which Mintz says is a much bigger predictor of female orgasm than a few minutes of thrusting.

Not every woman is cool with superquick intercourse, like Amanda, 28, who says she’s a 10- to 20-minute woman. In that case, using a benzocaine wipe such as Roman Swipes ($22/month) can numb your shaft to make you last longer, says Dr. Fisch.

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But Amanda adds that no matter how long penetration lasts, foreplay is the most essential part. “The moments leading up to sex are the most exciting to me,” she says. “The actual penetration, it’s just icing on the cake.”

Instead of dragging things out with endless thrusting, treat foreplay as her main event, Mintz suggests. Slowly count to ten as you sweep your fingertips or tongue along her hot zones. (Think the thin skin on her wrists, her neck, and her breasts.) Or run a vibrator around her labia and inner thighs. Focusing on foreplay doesn’t just soothe any “Am I lasting long enough?” anxiety; it also makes the eventual penetrative sex that much more sensual for you both. She’ll feel relaxed and lubricated, and you’ll be more than ready to go. Plus, 77 percent of women in that 2017 Sex & Marital Therapy study said that spending time building arousal enhanced their orgasms.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to rely on intercourse at all for her to climax—sometimes the best sex happens before you even get to home base.

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