How long should a normal erection last?

When it comes to sex, some people only care about getting an orgasm. Still, many glorify people with longer-lasting erections. So, how long should a normal erection last? 

A topless black man sitting on a bed with a white duvet looking down to his penis

There is no ideal duration of erection for sex. However, it can last an average of 10 minutes, Chike John Okeke, MBBS, MD(PhD), FMCS (Urol), a consultant urologist at Lagos University Teaching Hospital, told SemicHealth.

There are some perceived cultural and social norms regarding sex - one of such is that the longer erection lasts, the better the sex for both parties. 

Because people view sex differently, some people only care about climaxing, while others want sex to last as long as possible. For people with penises, the latter means harder, and longer sustained erections. 

Such expectations have put some people under unnecessary pressure, popping pills like viagra (even when they don’t have erectile dysfunction) and taking energy drinks so that they can sustain their erections and last longer in bed. 

This article will discuss how long an erection lasts in an average man, dispelling societal and cultural notions of how long it should last in healthy people. 

It will also discuss factors that can affect erection duration, what can be done to make erections last longer as well as when to be concerned about erectile dysfunction. 

First, it will start with answering the question, “what is an erection?”

Meaning of an erection

Erection is simply the hardening of the penis that occurs when a person is aroused. 

Most of the time, the penis is flaccid and hangs down in front of the scrotum. But, during an erection, it becomes engorged with blood. This causes it to get stiff, enlarged and stand erect, away from the body.

An erection is often triggered when a person sees, feels, or thinks about something that turns them on. 

There are also times when erections happen randomly for no particular reason, e.g., a person can sleep and wake up with an erection (even without having a sex dream).

If you are wondering why some people have erection issues and can't sustain an erection long enough to have satisfying sex, you should read about erectile dysfunction, its causes and symptoms.

How erection occurs

The penis is flaccid before arousal, but when aroused, it becomes hard and erect

To understand how an erection occurs, it will help if you understand a little about the anatomy of the penis as well as the role the brain plays in initiating and sustaining an erection. 

The penis is predominantly composed of the shaft, the longest part. The penis shaft ends in the glans or head, which contains numerous nerve endings making it very sensitive.

The penis also has cylinder-shaped chambers called corpora cavernosa that run its entire length. The chambers contain a network of blood vessels that fill up the space like a sponge. Two main arteries and several veins also move blood in and out of the two chambers.

When aroused by sight, sensation, or thoughts, the brain sends signals to the blood vessels supplying the penis via nervous impulse. 

The penile arteries start relaxing and opening to allow the inflow of blood into the corpora cavernosa. The veins close up simultaneously, so the blood doesn’t flow out. This leaves the penis engorged with blood.

A membrane around the corpora cavernosa also helps the penis stay hard by trapping the blood. After the arousal (or after ejaculation), the flow of blood stops, and the penis returns to a flaccid state.

The duration of erection in an average man

There is no standard set time for a penis to remain erect when aroused. While some people claim to have had erections that lasted an hour and more, most scientific sources show that erections in penetrative sex typically last a few minutes to about half an hour.

It is possible to have “premature ejaculation” or ejaculation that is too fast.

Some people also have erectile dysfunction (a condition that makes it difficult to get and sustain an erection firm enough to have sex). However, one can’t give a specific figure as to the duration of time a penis should remain erect in a healthy person after it is aroused.

Also, unless you and your partner only care about penetrative sex, an erection is not all that is needed to achieve an orgasm. You can try foreplay and oral sex. 

No one should be pressured into having sex or erections sustained for too long. In fact, an older study conducted across five countries indicated that penile-vaginal sex typically lasts about 5.4 minutes.

Also, when an erection lasts too long, it becomes unhealthy. Erections lasting for more than 4 hours are abnormal and are termed priapism, Okeke said. 

Factors that can affect the duration of erection

Fatigue and stress can affect a person's erection

A variety of factors (both physical and psychological) can affect erection and how long it lasts, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Stress
  • Excessive drinking of alcohol
  • Use of recreational drugs, such as cocaine, opiates, and nicotine
  • Anxiety
  • Distraction
  • Not being at ease with a sexual partner
  • Disturbing thoughts
  • Medical conditions such as prostate cancer, depression, poorly controlled diabetes mellitus, and obesity
  • Sickle cell disease (can cause priapism)

Can medications affect the duration of erection?

Aside from physical and physiological factors, certain medications can also affect erection.

Medications that can affect erection include drugs for treating prostate diseases such as goserelin and alpha-reductase inhibitors, which are hormonal agents and antihypertensive medications, Okeke explained.

Other drugs that may affect erection include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Antihistamine medications
  • Chemotherapy medicines
  • Opiate analgesics
  • Medicines for Parkinson’s disease

If you are on any medication that seems to be affecting your erection or your sexual life, you should discuss alternative treatments with your doctor. 

What can be done to make erections last longer

Exercising and losing weight can enhance erection and sexual performance

You can talk to your doctor if you have an erection challenge that makes it difficult to enjoy sex. If your doctor is a general practitioner, they may refer you to a urologist who will diagnose you and provide proper treatment, which may include medications.

Some drugs can make erections last longer. Urologists prescribe these drugs after evaluating patients who have erection issues, like erectile dysfunction, Okeke explained.

Other things you can do to enhance erections or make them last longer include:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Losing weight, if you are overweight
  • Eating healthy meals
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Reducing stress
  • Communicating with your partner and building a strong intimate relationship with them
  • Trying different sexual positions and exploring new things

When to be concerned about erectile dysfunction

Different factors, which can be physical, physiological, or psychological, can affect the duration of an erection. 

However, if you notice you are not sufficiently aroused, find it difficult to get hard, or can’t stay erect enough to have satisfying penetrative sex, it is advisable to seek help from a doctor. You may have erectile dysfunction (ED).

Erectile dysfunction makes it difficult for a person to have and keep a sustained erection long enough to have satisfying sex. 

Symptoms of erectile dysfunction include poor erection, erection not sufficient for vaginal penetration, premature ejaculation, and loss of libido, Okeke explained. 

Fortunately, erectile dysfunction is not life-threatening and is also treatable. With the right treatment plan, lifestyle, and dietary changes, you will start experiencing increased libido, normal erection, and satisfying sex.

References

  1. InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (2019). Premature ejaculation: Overview.
  2. MedlinePlus. (2021). Drugs that may cause erection problems.
  3. Sam, P. and LaGrange, C. (2021). Anatomy, Abdomen and Pelvis, Penis.
  4. Waldinger, Marcel D et al. (2005). A multinational population survey of intravaginal ejaculation latency time.