SEX: Duration matters just as much as frequency as a measure of sexual satisfaction

Posted by: on Jun 15, 2015 | No Comments

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The notion that sexual frequency is closely linked to sexual functioning and satisfaction is so widely accepted that it is often a topic of concern for couples seeking therapy or advice. Although average frequencies vary, in their book ‘The Normal Bar’ (2013), Northrup, Schwartz & Witte suggest that the magical number for sexual frequency in happy couples is 3–4 times per week. However the most recent NATSAL study estimated that the average sexual frequency in the UK is now less than five times a month. The lack of consensus on frequency is surprising when you consider that ‘how often couples have sex’ is the most commonly assessed aspect of sexual behaviour within sex research literature (Cohen & Byers, 2013; Schwartz & Young, 2009; Scott-Sheldon, Kalichman & Carey, 2010).

In contrast, only a handful of studies have examined the duration of sexual encounters (Call et al., 1995; Richters et al., 2006; Smith et al., 2012). Of those studies, Miller and Byers (2004) found that the average length of a sexual encounter, including both foreplay and intercourse, was 19 minutes. Nagao and colleagues (2014) found a median length of 30 minutes for women in Japan, including foreplay, intercourse and afterplay. And a national study of mixed-sex couples in Australia reported that the average length of a sexual encounter ranged from 8.5 minutes to 29.5 minutes, depending on the number of activities included in a couple’s sexual encounter (Richters, de Visser, Rissel, & Smith, 2006).

Women in same-sex relationships generally report lower levels of sexual frequency than both men in same-sex relationships and men and women in mixed-sex relationships. This pattern was first identified by Blumstein & Schwartz (1983) and ultimately came to be referred to as ‘lesbian bed death’. However, even though women in same-sex relationships have sex less frequently, when they do have it, they take their time.

Cohen & Byers, (2013) found that the average duration of a sexual encounter in a female same-sex couple was 57 minutes, considerably longer than any of the averages reported by mixed-sex couples. And survey results from the Institute for Personal Growth’s female sexuality survey, found that women in same-sex relationships reported durations of 30–60 minutes for sexual encounters, compared to 10–30 minutes for women in mixed-sex relationships.

Longer durations for sex generally include more sexual activities, which are in turn associated with more frequent orgasms for women (Nichols, 2004; Smith et al., 2012). And in terms of logistics, sex that takes longer requires a greater time commitment, which probably explains why it happens less frequently.

Research by Karen L. Blair at the Department of Psychology, University of Utah and Caroline F. Pukall at the Department of Psychology, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, confirms that the duration of a sexual encounter is just as important as sexual frequency, particularly for women in same-sex relationships.

They analysed the frequency and duration of sexual activity in a sample of 822 participants and found that although female same sex partners reported the lowest sexual frequencies, they spent significantly longer on individual sexual encounters than men and women in mixed-sex or male same-sex relationships. Most importantly, although there were differences in frequency and duration, there were no significant differences in relationship or sexual satisfaction.

Blair and Pukall’s research confirms that there is no one size fits all way to research sex, and it also shows how setting ‘standards’ for sexual frequency can create potentially unrealistic performance expectations. When it comes to good sex, quality matters more than quantity.

 

Blair, K. L., & Pukall, C. F. (2014). Can less be more? Comparing duration vs. frequency of sexual encounters in same-sex and mixed-sex relationships. Canadian Journal Of Human Sexuality, 23(2), 123-136. doi:10.3138/cjhs.2393