You might sometimes hear people making jokes about how long someone "lasts" in bed, usually in reference to men.
But how long sex "lasts" for women is a complicated question because it's mixing together a lot of assumptions about what acts are involved in a sexual encounter, how important orgasms are, and how women's orgasms actually work.
How long the average woman lasts in bed
A 2020 study1 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.
That said, there is no average amount of time a woman "lasts" in bed. While people with penises usually can only have one orgasm (coinciding with ejaculation) per sexual session, people with vulvas have a much shorter refractory period (aka recovery time between orgasms) and can thus have multiple orgasms in a single sexual session.
That means sex for women with vulvas can last as long as both people want to continue having sex.
Sex also doesn't always need to end in orgasm. It can be satisfying to reach orgasm during sex, but a complete sexual experience doesn't require any orgasms at all—despite how common it is for people to try to measure sexual experiences based on "finishing" with an orgasm.
The same study found 17% of women had never had an orgasm before.
How long women want sex to last
There's no set duration for how long sex should last to be satisfying to women. An informal survey of 3,836 people found that women on average want sexual intercourse to last 25 minutes and 51 seconds, though most of their encounters lasted between 16 to 17 minutes.
But according to sex therapists surveyed in a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, the ideal duration for vaginal intercourse is between seven and 13 minutes. Between one and two minutes is "too short," three to seven minutes is "adequate," and 10 to 30 minutes is "too long." Anything between three and 13 minutes is considered typical, though.
While surveys and studies are wonderful resources, they don't speak for everyone's experience. The best way to know how long a woman wants sex to last is to ask her yourself.
The problem with the research on women's sexual experiences
In the 1960s, William Masters and Virginia Johnson outlined the human sexual response cycle after studying couples having sex in a lab setting. This model describes four phases of a person's sexual response—excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution—and asserts that sex follows this general order every time.
In addition to the Masters and Johnson sexual response model, many clinical studies use the intravaginal ejaculation latency time (IELT)—the moment the penis enters the vagina until the time a person with a penis ejaculates—to define sex and measure duration. After studying the IELT of 500 couples, one study from 2005 found that the average time sex lasts is 5.4 minutes.
But the focus on orgasms and on a P-in-V sexual experience means these surveys and studies are limited as far as how useful they are for understanding the full scope of sexual experiences. Most women cannot reach orgasm from P-in-V intercourse alone. Measuring sex based on how long intercourse lasts thus doesn't adequately take into account women’s orgasms or pleasure.
"We do a lot of assumption and shame around an imaginary standard," sex therapist Kamil Lewis, AMFT, tells mbg. Mirroring the research, a lot of what popular media portrays is "hetero sex that ends when the person with a penis ejaculates, or it's this really hot, rip-your-clothes-off in-the-moment experience where you both orgasm at the same time."
Many people assume that when a person with a penis has an orgasm, the entire sexual experience is over. Not only is this rule antiquated, but it's also untrue. When we assume sex follows a predetermined pattern, we miss out on the possibilities sex holds. A study from 20122 found that couples who include sexual activities other than P-in-V sex (cuddling, kissing, stroking, and oral sex) find that the sexual experience lasts longer.
Our need to set an average time for sex to last shows how the "Masters and Johnson study continues to influence society consciously and subconsciously," physician and relationship expert Alexandra Stockwell, M.D., tells mbg.
When you expand the definition of sex, a whole realm of sexual experiences opens.
Why orgasms aren't a good way to measure sex
Contrary to belief, how long it takes a woman to orgasm isn't a formula you tuck into your wallet and carry around with you. The possible ways a woman can reach orgasm (vaginal, clitoral, and anal) and the number of times a woman can have an orgasm vary greatly based on the woman in question, what type of sexual acts she engages in, and how focused her partner is on her pleasure.
Because many people focus on P-in-V intercourse as the "main" sex act, it can put pressure on women to have an orgasm this way despite the fact that it's not a reliable way to make a woman achieve orgasm.
If a woman doesn't reach orgasm before their male partner and the sexual experience abruptly ends, she may feel ashamed or blame herself. Naturopathic doctor, Jordin Wiggins, N.D., tells mbg that a lot of her patients ask, "Is something wrong with me?" in response to the norms we try to fit into.
How long a woman takes to reach orgasm "relates to her capacity to relax and receive and her partner's capacity to bring attention and well-calibrated contact," says Stockwell. Nothing is wrong with women who have trouble experiencing an orgasm, and women who take a longer time to reach orgasm aren't taking too long.
"Whatever a woman's experience is—more is always possible," says Stockwell, "and wherever you are, it's normal."
What can affect how long sex lasts?
Our definition of sex as well as factors like preference, circumstance, and health all affect how long sex lasts. "Every vulva changes as we go through menstruation, having babies, and life in general," Wiggins says. You can't assume that what worked for you last time, with another partner, or 20 years ago will work every time.
That's not a bad thing. It means you have the freedom to change your mind, switch things up, and continually evolve as an individual and within your relationship.
"It's important and highly valuable to get to know the rhythm of both of their bodies," Stockwell says. Remaining present during the sexual experience and paying attention to your body as well as your partner's paves the way to more fulfilling sex.
If you're looking to make sex last longer or learn how to come faster, open a dialogue with your partner about your definitions of sex and when you orgasm "in a way that comes from solution finding," recommends Wiggins. Honest communication is important as you create a mindful sexual experience both of you can enjoy.
As you change the way you think about sex and go into a sexual experience "knowing there isn't one substandard for you or your partner, you get to define and redefine your sexual experience over and over again," says Lewis. This is when we get to figure out how long we want sex to last.
Sex for a woman can last for as long as she wants, is able to, and feels ready for. Lewis recommends "allowing yourself the compassion to be exploratory." Every person, every relationship, and every sexual encounter is different.
If you're curious about what makes your body feel good outside of partnered sex, consider experimenting with solo pleasure. The more in tune with your body and your sexuality you become, the less concerned you'll be with how long you're taking, and the more you'll be able to enjoy the journey.
There's no one length of time sex "should" last. In fact, the word should has no place in the bedroom. Sex is a time to enjoy with yourself or your partner, and however long it lasts—that's how long it lasts. Forget the time limits.
Alex Shea is a storyteller and generational healing life coach with words in Byrdie, Verywell Mind, HuffPost, Shape, and more. Outside of publications, Alex writes stories that touch on, and sometimes intertwine, themes of grief and magic.
With a unique view on life, she taps into her own experiences to guide folks to live life for themselves, empowering them to explore their inner wild and find their own way in adulthood. Her weekly newsletter is a tiny way she furthers her mission to hold space for the unfathomable, romantic, and messy parts of life that make it that much more beautiful.