Warning: Mature content
I once rejected a guy in the middle of sex.
He was a lot younger than me, and very attractive; the kind of attractiveness befitting a Disney prince – with an impossibly chiselled jawline and thick hair that flopped charmingly over his forehead.
It was quite the ego trip, having a man whose body looked like it should be sprawled across a Calvin Klein billboard in my bed. I found myself half-wishing the awkward teenage version of myself could see me now.
Unfortunately, it turned out we had very different ideas of how the evening would unfold.
I was prepared for a hot half-hour rumble in the sheets and a good night's sleep, and he was evidently committed to going longer than a Twitch streamer hopped up on Red Bull and Tide Pods.
An hour-and-a-half in, I terminated our sex-a-thon. An all-night bang-fest may have been vaguely alluring in my 20s, but post-30, the only prolonged physical activity my body is up for is lifting Doritos to my mouth while watching Marie Kondo in my Snuggie.
This appears to be the same sentiment of a woman who took to TikTok last month to ask, "How long is sex supposed to last?", after getting into a debate with a group of younger women.
In the video, which has since gone viral, sparking global discussion and garnering over four million views, she says, "I was talking to these young girls here, and they were like, 'If he ain't going for an hour ...' An HOUR?! Who is having sex for that long? Just straight intercourse? For an hour? No, ma'am. Fifteen, 20 minutes, tops. After that, get the f*** off of me, Sir."
A cursory scroll through the tens of thousands of comments the video has amassed suggests most women agree.
"After 15 minutes I'm making grocery lists," joked one female commenter.
"AN HOUR?! I'm 42. It would take me two weeks to recover from that mess. Fifteen minutes. Foreplay included," chimed in another.
Many of the commenters also posited a link between duration and sexual performance. As one woman put it, "If it takes an hour for either of you to get what you came to get, there's a problem."
But some were less convinced – another lamented, "I'm sad for all of you. Been with my man 20 years and we go hours. Like, two or three hours, and have a blast."
So then, who's right?
That depends on who you ask. In 1948, sex researcher Alfred Kinsey infamously concluded three quarters of men finish after two minutes, but a 2008 paper published in The Journal Of Sexual Medicine insisted the average sexual encounter lasts between three and seven minutes. Another study found wild variations, ranging from just 33 seconds to almost an hour.
Interestingly, while research overwhelmingly indicates women require more time than men to orgasm during partnered sex, it's typically men, not women, who report wanting nookie to last longer. This may, in part at least, be due to the influence of porn.
Research suggests at least a quarter of young people aged 18 to 24 rely on it as a form of sex education. And given its emphasis on enduring erections and marathon sex sessions, it's plausible a man might feel he's come up short if he hasn't surpassed the 10-minute mark.
Perhaps nowhere else is this more pronounced than in the premature ejaculation (PE) market. Research group Arizton forecast the industry to hit over 2.5 billion by 2025, attributing its explosive growth to "the growing prevalence of premature ejaculation among men globally". Which of course begs the question: why is there a sudden trend toward men experiencing duration-focused sexual dysfunction?
Well, for starters, there's no universal time frame for a man to ejaculate in order to qualify for a diagnosis. Though many doctors will only classify a patient as suffering from PE if he orgasms within less than a minute of intercourse and is unable to hold off climaxing, some practitioners are happy recommending PE treatments to patients who simply repeatedly ejaculate sooner than they'd like to.
More significantly, the vast majority of men accessing PE treatments are doing so without medical advice. Most topical PE products can be bought over the counter without a prescription, so self-diagnosis is common, and though Australian products are regulated by the TGA, there's a growing underbelly of counterfeit drugs available online for those too embarrassed to front up at the pharmacy, that come with serious side effects.
Just last week, the TGA issued a warning to online consumers purchasing Ressurection – an unapproved overseas pill claiming to help men last longer in bed. Containing Dipyrone, a substance that can cause serious or fatal blood damage, it's one of many dangerous male sexual enhancement products that have made its way onto Australian shores in recent years.
It's arguable we have less of a male sexual dysfunction epidemic going on, and a far greater problem with the pressure we place on men to be consistently up for it, erect, and possessing athletic sexual stamina.
There's also the issue of the problematic metrics researchers use to come up with sexual averages in the first place. They tend to focus on penetration and entirely neglect everything else, which isn't just dismissive of LGBTQIA+ folks, but of the millions of men who can't endlessly maintain robust erections (because, FYI, bodies aren't supposed to perform on cue).
I often think back to my encounter with the handsome hour-and-a-half guy and wonder if he felt as pressured to perform sexually as he did to look perfect physically. If perhaps behind that impossibly chiselled jawline, there was a person who was as insecure as I was that night, and who just wanted to measure up.
That's what we're all really doing when we ask, "is the sex I'm having long enough/hot enough/pleasing enough?" – we just want to know we're normal; that we fit in (pun unintended).
In truth, there's no such thing as normal when it comes to sex. For some of us, it lasts all night. But for many also, it's wrapped up in time to get into our Snuggies, watch some Marie Kondo, and get the hell to sleep.