Hours of Intercourse? Nope. (And also: Ow.)

Me and my boyfriend are both 17. Today we started sex but it only lasts 3 minutes. How can we make it last 1 or 2 hours?
Heather Corinna replies:

If by sex, you mean intercourse, you probably can't. Even if you could, you or your partner probably wouldn't enjoy it: the idea intercourse is something people do -- or even can do, or would enjoy if they could -- for an hour or two just doesn't square with reality.

A lot of people have unrealistic ideas about intercourse and its timeframe. A study published last year in the Journal of Sexual Medicine ("Female Partner's Perception of Premature Ejaculation and Its Impact on Relationship Breakups, Relationship Quality, and Sexual Satisfaction," Andrea Burri, PhD; François Giuliano, MD; Chris McMahon, MD; and Hartmut Porst, MD) found that women expressed a desire for intercourse with male partners to last 23 minutes: that's around 8 times longer than the usual reality. Men often have similarly unrealistic expectations, which leads plenty to feel mighty crappy about themselves, their bodies and what they can offer to their sexual partners when all that's going on is just that their bodies are responding the way that bodies do in this respect.

The fact is, three minutes of intercourse is totally average. Studies on vaginal intercourse have shown that intercourse typically only lasts a few minutes from start to finish for the person with the penis reaching orgasm, ejaculating, or both. The range these studies report is usually between one and seven minutes, with many finding that around two minutes is typical for around half of all people. In these studies, it's been uncommon to find people reporting that intercourse lasts any longer than ten minutes. Having an erection that lasts for an hour or two is generally uncomfortable or painful for the person who's having it, not fun. Even twenty minutes of nonstop, high-friction-with-delicate-parts activity like intercourse most often results in pain or discomfort rather than pleasure; in injury or a general yee-ouch instead of a yee-haw.

That three-minute average isn't about the people with those body parts being -- as is often assumed -- lazy, selfish, having something wrong with them, or something being wrong with their partners, like not being sexy enough. It's mostly just about the realities of bodies and their limitations and normal responses. What studies like this tend to show most of all is usually a lack of understanding and acceptance of the realities of human anatomy and sexual response.

When people say that they want intercourse to last 23 minutes, that want is probably a reflection of some common misunderstandings or problematic frameworks. For instance, some of the women in that study may have been voicing a desire to have sex, period -- not just intercourse -- continue for more than a few minutes. By all means, if the sexual experiences someone has are only ever lasting a few minutes, in total, no one involved is probably going to feel very happy. And when we're talking about cisgender women, few can reach orgasm with a partner in just a couple minutes. Some of the women in that study were probably feeling dissatisfied with their sexual responses or sexual lives and assuming longer intercourse would change that, but that's not necessarily true.

If we're feeling unsatisfied with any kind of sex for a few minutes, unless we and our partners change up what we're doing or how we're doing it, we'll probably keep feeling unsatisfied even if we can extend that time. A lack of sexual satisfaction with intercourse is usually less about it not going on for long enough, and more about not feeling satisfied in a bigger way, with all that your sexual life or a given sexual experience involves. If we're really enjoying ourselves, we're also usually not paying attention to how much or how little time has passed, rather than clockwatching to know exactly how many minutes have passed. Think about it like this: if you're watching a movie and aren't into it for a few minutes, and the movie stays the same as it was for those ho-hum minutes throughout the whole movie, you're not going to feel any more excited and satisfied just because it went on for another hour or two. Instead, you're probably only going to feel more bored and more frustrated with every exact-same-as-the-last minute that passes.

For many people, intercourse going on for much longer than it tends to probably just wouldn't create changes in their sexual lives or experiences they're looking for. For others, extending the time of intercourse -- within what people's bodies can actually do and what feels good for everyone -- may create some of the change they want. The good news is that people can still do that without trying to do make anyone's body do things it just can't.

If someone wants to continue sexual activity that involves the vagina after an erection has gone TTFN, they can, for example, ask a partner to use their hands and fingers for that same kind of feeling (fingers provide more targeted stimulation than a penis can in the first place). They can switch to a sex toy that goes inside the vagina: sex toys don't have to just be for using alone, after all. Manual sex that involves vaginal entry with fingers and hands or use of sex toys is how most lesbians who want to have vaginal intercourse, and the same goes for men who want to be receptive partners for anal intercourse and don't have a partner with a penis, so it's not like doing it this way, versus with an erect penis involved, is weird or unusual: these are common sexual activities all kinds of people do. Or, people can continue sex with a different sexual activity, then pick up intercourse again if they and their partners want and can do that. If someone wants to extend the emotional intimacy they experience with intercourse, they can learn to create that same kind of intimacy with either other kinds of sex, or other ways of being intimate altogether. Besides the ability to create a pregnancy, there's not much people can find or experience with intercourse that they can't with other things.

Another common assumption and pattern that's probably behind a lot of the responses to that study is the assumption that when a guy is done with intercourse, all the sex is just over, because it's for a guy, or his penis, to determine. Ugh. That idea is mostly based in sexism, and sets up women as not having sexualities, desires or wants of their own that aren't just a response to what men want (usually false), and it sets up men as self-centered jerks who don't actually want sexual partnership and don't care as much about a partner's pleasure as their own, but only want to have sex with people to selfishly get themselves off (also usually false).

When intercourse is over, for any reason (including because you feel done yourself, or your own body isn't cooperating: after all, that isn't just something that happens with penises) that doesn't have to mean sex is over by default. That doesn't mean everyone wants all of sex to be over, and since sex isn't only intercourse, it doesn't have to be.

You and a partner -- or you, on your own -- can be actively sexual together for as long as you'd each like, doing any sexual activities you each enjoy and have an interest in at the time. How long people want sex to last is both individual (about different people and their different sexualities) and situational (like about who you're with and what things are like between you, how you feel that day, and how people's bodies are or aren't responding). How long people want sex to go on for, when they have sexual lives they really like, is usually about how long they're enjoying being sexual together: not about external standards or unrealistic expectations of human sexuality.

Sometimes people do talk about having engaged in sex "for hours," but when they're being honest about their experiences, they're usually talking about those hours being filled with more than one kind of sex or way of being sexual together, not just intercourse.

To give you an example, what "We had sex for hours!" can look like in reality is some talking, cuddling, and making out, then a sexual activity like mutual masturbation. Then perhaps oral sex, then intercourse, then maybe another activity during or after, like manual sex, or going back to the start of things with more making out. In the middle of all that is often some chatting, including people asking each other for consent and giving one another direction; a break for water, a snack (sex munchies can be intense!), putting on some new music or letting the dog out. "Sex for hours" usually just means people doing any number of things for that time that mostly involved exploring and expressing their sexualities and pleasure together. And in the event a partner ever does just feel done with all kinds of sex before you, you can either masturbate on your own (at the time or later on) or just be done yourself, whichever you prefer. Sometimes we're not going to feel totally satisfied with sex, for any number of reasons, and choose to just call it a day.

I've listed a couple of assumptions and frameworks that can lead to the idea that sex -- whether we're talking intercourse or any other kind of sex -- should last an hour or more, but I also want to check in about where you specifically feel that idea is coming from for you.

Why do you think you're wanting to try and make intercourse last for an hour or more? Is it because you just thought it should and feel like you two have to meet some kind of fantasy standard? Because all of sex is only lasting a few minutes, or sex is only something you're doing until your partner has an orgasm? Because -- as many people find, of any gender -- intercourse all by itself (and for how long it realistically lasts) just isn't so amazing for you? Because intercourse is one of the only kinds of sex you're exploring together? Because you like how intercourse feels, physically, and want to keep feeling that same kind of stimulation for longer? Because your boyfriend is unhappy about how long it isn't lasting? Because there's something you're getting from intercourse specifically, whether that's physical, emotional or both, you'd like to extend?

Asking yourself questions like these should help you figure out what you're really looking for here. Then you can square it with what is actually possible, and come up with some things to try and some possible solutions to what you're feeling is missing or isn't as good for you as you want it to be. Maybe you need to spend more time exploring your sexuality yourself through masturbation, to find out more about what feels good for you and show or tell your partner so he can know; to adjust your expectations about intercourse or sex in general to make sure they're realistic; to fill in any big missing pieces in your sexual relationship so far, like making sure you're not just limiting sex to intercourse, and that whatever you do sexually -- including intercourse -- it's always something you both feel excited about, turned on by and find pleasurable, or to bring the same kind of emotional intimacy to the table with other ways of being sexual together as you do with intercourse if that's your big why of wanting it to last for longer.

No matter what conclusions you come to, you're going to need to communicate clearly about all of this with your partner. That might involve asking them for other kinds of sex before, during or after intercourse when you want it, letting him know that intercourse just isn't feeling satisfying for you (and might not for him all by itself, either) all by itself no matter how long it lasts, or debunking and tossing out any busted ideas together -- like the notion intercourse could last for hours or the idea that when intercourse is over, so must be all the sex -- and coming up with better ideas and approaches. If either you or your boyfriend have the idea either of you are failing yourselves or the other in some way by having bodies that aren't superhuman, by not meeting some standard that isn't about you at all, or by not yet figuring out how to be sexual together in ways that feel satisfying for you both, I'd talk about that, too. Taking any pressure off of ourselves with sex is always to our benefit. So is reminding ourselves and each other that sex together is supposed to be an enjoyable and ongoing learning process, about intimacy, pleasure, experimentation and choose-your-own-adventure experiences. It's not supposed to feel anything like taking the SAT or trying to qualify for the Olympics.

The links below can give you more information and some tools to figure out what you really want that's also possible, and then to bring those things to your boyfriend to talk about together. Ideally, I hope both of you can dump any ideas or worries you might have about doing what's just not possible and instead focus on what you can do in reality, on what you both learn you want and like to do together sexually, and on creating a sexual life and relationship both together and for yourself that's both realistic and satisfying.

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