Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 10/29/2020
Erectile dysfunction can affect men in several different ways. Some men might find it difficult to get an erection when they’re sexually aroused. Others might be easily able to get hard but lose their erection after a few minutes of sexual activity.
When it comes to erections and sex, there’s no exact “normal” amount of time that your erection should last. Depending on factors such as the cause of your erection, your level of pleasure and others, an erection could last for anywhere from a few minutes to 30 minutes or longer.
Below, we’ve explained the biological process behind getting an erection, as well as the different factors that could affect the amount of time that you stay hard during sex.
We’ve also explained what you can do to stay harder for longer, from changes to your lifestyle to treatments for erectile dysfunction (ED) that can improve your sexual performance.
Although getting an erection might seem simple, there’s actually a complex process that occurs behind the scenes in your body whenever you’re sexually aroused.
Your penis contains a pair of soft, sponge-like areas of tissue called the corpora cavernosa. The corpora cavernosa contain a maze of blood vessels that, when you’re sexually stimulated, fill up with blood to give you an erection.
Two different types of sexual stimulation can trigger this process. Physical touch, such as from a sexual partner, can trigger impulses in local nerves, stimulating extra blood flow to the penis and causing an erection.
It’s also possible for psychological factors to trigger an erection. If you think of something related to sex, impulses from your brain can cause the corpora cavernosa muscles to relax and blood to flow to your penis.
Once blood flows into the corpora cavernosa, a fibrous membrane called the tunica albuginea, which wraps around the tissue of the penis, tightens to trap the extra blood and maintain your erection.
For more details, you can read our blog post on how erections work.
There’s no specific length of time that an erection should last. The amount of time you stay hard can vary hugely based on your level of sexual stimulation, your mood, how long it typically takes for you to ejaculate and a long list of other factors.
In a 2005 study involving 500 couples in five countries, researchers found that the intravaginal ejaculation latency time (IELT, or the total amount of time that passes from the start of sex until intravaginal ejculation) ranged from under one minute to as long as 44 minutes.
In short, people tend to have sex for varying amounts of time. The same study concluded that the median, or midpoint, IELT was about five minutes.
According to the Sexual Medicine Society of North America, nighttime erections — the type of spontaneous erections you get while asleep — generally last for between 25 and 35 minutes.
Now, this doesn’t mean that your erections should always last for 25, 35, 44 or even just five minutes every time. No two moments are the same, and erections — whether spontaneous or just prior to sex — are always going to vary in duration.
However, if you frequently lose your erection during sex before you ejaculate, or simply find it difficult to stay hard, you may have erectile dysfunction (ED).
Erectile dysfunction is common, even in younger men. In fact, one study from 2013 found that one in every four men seeking treatment for ED was below the age of forty.
It’s also a treatable condition, with numerous options available to help you more easily maintain your erections and improve your sexual performance.
If you find it difficult to maintain an erection, there are several steps that you can take to improve your erectile health. You may benefit from using ED medication, or simply by making changes to your habits and lifestyle to promote better blood flow to your penis.
Erections are all about blood flow, meaning that your cardiovascular health plays a huge role in your ability to get and maintain an erection. Try practicing the following healthy lifestyle habits to promote optimal blood flow and reduce your risk of experiencing erectile dysfunction:
Stay active. Regular exercise can help to promote blood flow and improve your general health. It may also improve your erections if your ED is caused by a physical factor, such as hypertension, obesity or cardiovascular disease.
In a 2018 meta-analysis, researchers found that working out for just 40 minutes four times a week can help reduce the severity of ED in men with relevant risk factors. In short, if you stay active, you may be less likely to face erection-related issues.
If you have high blood pressure, take steps to treat it. High blood pressure is one of several physical factors linked to erectile dysfunction. It’s also extremely common, with nearly half of all adults in the United States affected, according to the CDC.
If you have high blood pressure and find it difficult to maintain an erection, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider.
There are a variety of steps that you can take to reduce and control blood pressure, including changes in diet and activity level, as well as use of certain medications.
Be aware that some medications used to treat high blood pressure can interact with ED treatments. If you have high blood pressure and want to use medication to treat ED, this is something that you’ll need to discuss with your healthcare provider.
If you smoke, make an effort to quit. As we’ve explained in our guide to smoking and erectile dysfunction, smoking has several negative health effects that can reduce blood flow and make it more difficult for you to get and maintain an erection.
If you smoke, consider quitting. Research shows that quitting smoking can improve ED in many smokers. There are also many non-sexual benefits of quitting, from improved cardiovascular health to a reduced risk of developing cancer.
Make sure that you get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation is alarmingly common, with about 35 percent of adults getting less than the recommended seven-plus hours every night.
Although sleep isn’t directly related to ED, lack of sleep is associated with more stress and reduced testosterone production — two factors that can affect sexual performance and desire.
Feeling anxious before sex? Performance anxiety is a common cause of sexual performance issues, including ED. It’s also something that you may be able to overcome through clear and open communication with your partner.
If you sometimes lose your erection during sex or find it difficult to stay hard and think it might be due to sexual performance anxiety, talking to your partner may help you to reduce tension, become more comfortable with each other and reduce any feelings of anxiety you have.
Although talking to your partner about ED might not be the easiest thing to do, it’s far from an impossible task. Our guide to talking about erectile dysfunction with your partner explains how you can bring up this subject without making the conversation too awkward.
Erectile dysfunction medications like sildenafil (Viagra® or generic Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis®), vardenafil (Levitra®) and avanafil (Stendra®) work by increasing blood flow to your penis, making it easier for you to get and stay hard when you’re sexually aroused.
Contrary to popular belief, ED medications aren’t just for middle-aged and older men. If you’re in your 20s or 30s, it’s very normal to use medication to treat erection problems and improve your sexual performance.
Most erectile dysfunction medications are available in different dosages. If you only have a mild form of ED, using a low dosage of an ED medication may make it easier for you to maintain you erection during sex.
There’s no “best” ED medication for maintaining erections. However, ED medications can range in half-life (the amount of time the medication stays active in your body) and side effects, which may make one medication a better choice for you than others.
We’ve explained more about how ED medications function, their effects, side effects and more in our guide to the most common erectile dysfunction treatments.
There’s no precise amount of time that an erection should last. Most scientific research shows that the erections you get during the night last for about 25 to 35 minutes each, while for most couples, sex lasts for anywhere from under a minute to 40 minutes.
If you often lose your erection during sex, you may be able to stay hard for longer and improve your sexual performance by taking steps to improve your cardiovascular health, talking to your partner and using ED medication.
Erectile dysfunction, or ED, can affect men of all ages and backgrounds. Our full guide to the causes of and treatments for erectile dysfunction goes into more detail about the factors that can contribute to ED, as well as what you can do to treat it.
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