There's no scientific definition of the "ideal" amount of time for sexual activity but a 2020 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that, at least in heterosexual women, it took an average of 13.41 minutes to climax. The study was conducted from October 2017 to September 2018 and included 645 participants from 20 countries, with a median age of 30. So, while the collection of people, ranging from the U.K., to the U.S, to India, among other nations, was diverse, it was still a relatively small group. It also found that the majority of those in the study were unable to reach orgasm with only penovaginal intercourse and 17% had never had an orgasm at all. Granted, an orgasm shouldn’t be the only reason to have sex—the journey can be just as satisfying—but the results do give us a good idea of how to make sex last longer. Lasting longer doesn’t have to include numbing creams or desensitizers.
“Women are supposed to want hour-long sex," says relationship and sexuality educator Logan Levkoff. That's great if that's what you want—but if you don’t, that’s okay too, she says. Personally, every time I see a rom-com with a classic post-coital comment like, “Wow didn’t get any sleep last night,” my first thought is: How? Why? What about chafing? Making sex last longer doesn't need to mean turning it into a marathon. “What someone wants—whether it's shorter or longer—is very individualized and also very contextual based on the relationship and partnership,” Levkoff says. Having a conversation before going into sex about what each person wants to get out of it—including duration!—is step one, she says. Plus, once you take the pressure off to win gold in the all-night sex Olympics, it may naturally go longer—probably because you’re less preoccupied with goalposts and more focused on enjoying your experience.
If you’re looking to have sex for hours, there’s no better way to do that than to know what your body wants and doesn’t want before you even begin. The best way to do that is through regular masturbation. “Masturbation is so important to figure out where your pleasure spots are, what you like and prefer in sex, and in general to learn more and feel more connected with your body,” says ethical erotic film director Erika Lust of XConfessions. “Masturbating can increase your sexual satisfaction, enhance your arousal response, and improve partnered sex to the same extent as it improves self-confidence. When you know how to stimulate your body for sexual pleasure, you're more likely to know how to demand that from another person with less anxiety and more agency.”
“Women’s sexual response cycle varies from the average men’s sexual response cycle in that their arousal patterns tend to rise, fall, and plateau before a climax,” says Sari Cooper, a certified sex therapist and founder and director of the Center for Love and Sex in New York City. Take advantage of those fluctuations: “Two women can take full advantage by playing with their partner’s arousal levels through stimulating their more erogenous areas that heighten and increase arousal to a 7 or 8 (out of 10) then focusing on stimulating less erogenous areas to bring the arousal down to a 4 or 5.” Think of this kind of foreplay as its own thing, not just the opening act. This kind of play is more realistic for going all night long, Cooper says.