How Long Should An Erection Last?

July 7, 2021

Satisfactory sex is nearly impossibly without an erection, and there are many factors that contribute to why a guy might have difficulty sustaining an erection. In some cases, the fix may be as simple as a few lifestyle changes, but in others it may take prescription ED medications to resolve.

But how long should erections last? When should you get worried? Before getting into how to improve the duration and strength of an erection, let's understand what they are and how erections happen. 

What is an Erection?

An erection is the physical response to sexual stimulation and arousal – but it's not all in the brain. To achieve an erection, your nervous system, heart, lungs, hormones, arterial system, muscles, and more must all work in tandem.

The arousal process begins when you encounter mental or physical stimulation, which sends chemical signals to get things moving. Your heart rate increases and blood begins flowing to the penis.

Located in the penis are two long tube-like tissues that run down either side of the penis shaft called the corpus cavernosum. Another tube surrounds the urethra and is called the corpus spongiosum. All of these are sponge-like in formation, and during arousal the blood vessels in the penis relax and blood flows into these tissues. They fill with blood, inflating them much like a balloon, to the point of erection. As it fills with blood, the veins that normally usher blood out of the penis are squeezed closed, helping to keep blood in the penis.

When the process is completed correctly, the penis contains nearly eight times the amount of blood that it normally does when flaccid. 

There are three distinct types of erections that can occur:

  • Reflexive: This erection occurs when direct physical contact is made to the penis itself or to other erotic areas on the body. It can be involuntary and occur without sexual or stimulating thoughts. 
  • Psychogenic: As opposed to physical stimulus, this erection occurs due to mental stimulation, fantasies, or viewing erotic materials. 
  • Nocturnal: It’s common for men to experience as many as five erections during sleep each night. They are often the result of various areas of the brain being activated during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, but can also be reflexive.

When arousal or stimulation has stopped, or after orgasm and ejaculation has occurred, the blood drains away from the penis and it reverts to its flaccid state. 

The Stages of Achieving an Erection 

If everything goes according to plan, there are three stages that occur during the process of achieving an erection. 

The first stage is when the penis is in its normal state: soft and flaccid. No sexual arousal or stimulation is happening, and the blood that flows in and out of the penis is equal.

When sexual stimulation occurs and a guy becomes aroused, the second state begins. In this stage the penis becomes swollen as the brain and nerves alter the blood vessels and tissues of the penis and increase the amount of blood flowing in. The penis swells up as blood is trapped. 

The last phase is when an erection is achieved. By pinching veins shut and preventing blood from leaving the penis, the increase in blood flow into the penis creates an erection firm enough to engage in sexual intercourse. 

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How Long Should An Erection Last?

The duration of an erection will vary from one man to the next and there is no specific timeframe for an erection. They typically last anywhere from a few minutes to a half hour, but might last longer from some men. Erections will continue as long as adequate stimulation continues and end when the stimulation has stopped or an orgasm has been achieved. 

It can be possible to achieve orgasm without an erection, so this may not always be the case.

Excluding foreplay, the average amount of time that vaginal intercourse lasts is a little over five minutesNaturally occurring nocturnal erections commonly last between 25 and 35 minutes, but these are without stimulation to start or orgasm to finish. 

Overall, the duration and the intensity vary for each man based on several contributing factors. These factors include:

  • Activity (whether sex or masturbation)
  • Age
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Confidence
  • Distractions
  • Emotional state (purposefully trying for an erection)
  • Energy level
  • Health
  • Level of arousal
  • Obesity
  • Penis sensitivity
  • Prescription or over the counter medications
  • Smoker
  • Tension 
  • Testosterone levels

While there is no exact time frame to expect when achieving an erection, there is a limit. An erection that has persisted for more than four hours, naturally or after taking medication, could be a sign of priapism. This is a serious medical condition and may require immediate medical attention in order to resolve safely and before permanent damage is done. 

How To Increase The Duration of an Erection 

If you're struggling with maintaining an erection, you may be experiencing erectile dysfunction. There are many factors that could be contributing, but only a few treatments. The best treatments are prescription medications such as sildenafil (Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®), or vardenafil (Levitra®)

These drugs have been used by millions of men and can increase blood flow to the penis to achieve an erection that is suitable for sex. The effects of these medication can vary in length, with Viagra working for about 4 hours and the effects of Cialis working for as long as 36 hours.

In addition to medication, there are a few ways that you can naturally increase the quality and duration of your erections, primarily with a few lifestyle changes:

  • Quit smoking. Not only can smoking reduce the strength and ability of your heart and lungs, but the nicotine found in tobacco is a known vasoconstrictor that will tighten arteries and blood vessels. This can lead to an increase in blood pressure and reduce overall blood circulation, both of which can severely impact erections. 
  • Eat a balanced diet. Foods that are high in sodium or saturated fat, processed foods, and red meat can all contribute to plugging up your arteries and will have a negative effect on blood flow. Eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and seafood can help to improve your blood flow and various sexual functions.
  • Get some more exercise. Walking for as little as 30 minutes a day can dramatically increase your cardiovascular strength and improve blood flow. It can also help you to lose excess weight and slim down. The higher your body mass index (BMI) the more likely you are to experience erectile dysfunction. 
  • Cut back on alcohol. Having one or two drinks won’t have a negative impact on sexual function for most men, but heavy consumption can. Alcohol not only decreases your overall blood volume, but since it is a depressant it can also impact various senses, making arousal more difficult. Long term consumption of alcohol can damage the liver and result in an increase of estrogen in the blood, which harms the sexual functions of men. 
  • Reduce stress. Find a healthy way to lower stress. When your body is stressed, it releases the chemical cortisol, which is known to constrict blood vessels and elevate heart rate. This increase in blood pressure can disrupt the erection process and make it much tougher to maintain one. 
  • Get enough sleep. Try to get a minimum of six hours of quality sleep a night, but most people should aim for around eight hours. Your body needs time to rest and repair, and cutting back on sleep can affect all of your bodily systems, including those involved with sexual function. Not getting enough sleep can also contribute to other ED risk factors, like cardiovascular conditions and mental health issues.
  • Check your medications. Some of the most common causes of sexual dysfunctions are adverse side effects of drugs. Most commonly antidepressants, high blood pressure medicine, tranquilizers, and diuretics. Check if any of your medications have a potential to cause sexual side effects, and if so, talk to your doctor about alternative treatments.

The Takeaway: The exact time frame for an erection can vary from person to person, but an erection should last long enough to engage in sex. Vaginal intercourse lasts around 5 minutes, on average, and reflexive erections can last for 30 minutes, thus the average erection can last from five to 30 minutes.

The process of achieving and maintaining an erection is physiologically quite complicated. By making lifestyle changes and using prescription medications like Viagra or Cialis, you should be able to achieve and maintain an erection that lasts long enough for sex.

Curious if medications are right for you? Click here to get started with Rex MD's free, online consultation. If appropriate, you could have generic ED meds delivered in no time.

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Disclaimer : This article is for information only and should not be considered medical advice. Always speak with your doctor about your health and the benefits or risks of any treatment or intervention. This information should not be relied on as a substitute for professional medical advice.