Therapists Time Good Sex

According to a new study, iconic rock band AC/DC got it wrong. When it comes to sex, no one wants to be "shook" all night long.  The best sex, say therapists, lasts about 7 to 13  minutes. Who knew? Lead author, psychologist Eric Corty of Penn State, talks to NEWSWEEK's Joan Raymond about the study results, set to appear in the May issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine. And about why it's important for couples to know that a good roll in the hay doesn't need to last much longer than the time it takes to make a hard-boiled egg. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Why conduct a study on sex duration and what makes for a satisfying experience?
Eric Corty:
I was curious, and I was interested in what therapists thought about the issue. After all, these are people who have counseled thousands of couples about the most intimate aspects of their relationships.

Exactly how was the study conducted?
We sent surveys to 50 members of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research asking them to rate a range of time intervals for intra-vaginal ejaculatory latency. In English, that means the time elapsed from when the penis enters the vagina, until ejaculation. The therapists were asked to rate the time intervals on a scale of "too short," "adequate," "desirable" and "too long." The response rate was 68 percent.

What did they have to say?
When it comes to time and vaginal penetration and ejaculation, the average for "too short" was rated as 1 to 2 minutes. "Adequate" was 3 to 7 minutes. "Desirable" was 7 to 13 minutes. And "too long" was 10 minutes to 30 minutes. What we concluded is that intercourse that lasts from about 3 to 13 minutes is considered the norm.

Were there gender differences in these responses?
No. Surprisingly, there was no statistical difference in responses in terms of therapist's gender. I thought that perhaps there would be. But men and women responded the same way. And the age of the respondent wasn't a factor either.

Why ask therapists, not lay people, this question?
Because they are professionals. They are medical doctors, Ph.D's, social workers and other experts. They bring a lot to the table, based on their clinical judgment and their education. If anyone could rate time intervals for sex, these experts would be the best people to go to.

So, according to the therapists, it's okay, to be a three-minute man, not a one-minute man?
Sex is a unique experience between couples. So believe it or not, one minute may be fine for some couples. But according to this survey, one minute is too short in the opinion of many therapists. And three minutes is considered adequate, the low end of adequate, but adequate nonetheless. This isn't gospel. But it's clear that the "one minute man" can be frustrating for a woman. Just vaginal penetration is the least reliable way to bring a woman to orgasm.

But what about dinner and a movie? What about foreplay? Aren't these things part of the entire sexual experience?
In a class I teach on human sexuality I pose this scenario: "Two people had sex last night. Who did what to whom?" Essentially, that's asking the question "What is sex?" Bill Clinton certainly raised that issue. For most people, the definition of sex is the penis entering the vagina, and then ejaculation.

Let's try this a different way. Isn't foreplay important?
If you look up intercourse in the dictionary, the first definition is communication. So yes, foreplay is important. But how do you define foreplay? Is it that dinner and a movie, a great conversation over a bottle of wine, and then coming home and taking your clothes off? There need to be parameters on how to define "time" and sex.  A previous study did break sex into two components, foreplay and intercourse. Couples were asked to report the actual and desired length of each component. Men wanted a combined average of 37 minutes and women an average of 33 minutes. But when comparing actual time to that desired time, both men and women wanted more of an increase in the length of time of intercourse than foreplay. Men wanted an increase to 18 minutes, from a reported time of 7 minutes. And women wanted an increase from 7 minutes to 14 minutes. So both men and women wanted intercourse to last longer.

Why do you think that is?
We are bombarded with images of men with hard erections who can go all night. As a society, we have such unrealistic expectations of sex. And that unrealistic expectation translates to our bedrooms. Hopefully, knowing what therapists think are adequate and desirable amounts of time for the sex act will reinforce a more positive message to couples that think they are having problems because they don't live up to an unrealistic ideal.

But doesn't a survey like this give men permission to be selfish underachievers?
Absolutely not. But it does give men the permission to feel okay if they can't sustain an erection for 30 minutes. And it gives women the permission to be realistic, too. It doesn't give anyone permission to stop thinking about the needs of their partner. And those needs can be met in a lot of different ways