Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 4/25/2023
From your penis size to your stamina in bed, when it comes to sex, it’s easy to spend time stacking yourself up to other men. Healthy? No. But normal? Absolutely.
The reality is there’s no one-size-fits-all “normal” when it comes to most things sex-related, including erection duration. For some guys, an erection lasts for a few minutes. For others, it can sometimes feel like they're the Lance Armstrong of boners.
If you have trouble getting or maintaining an erection for long enough to have sex, it may be a sign that you have erectile dysfunction (ED), a common condition that can affect men in a variety of different ways.
The good news is that there are numerous ways to make getting an erection and maintaining it during sex easier.
Below, we’ve explained:
The biological process behind getting an erection
The different factors that could affect the amount of time that you stay hard during sex
What you can do to stay harder for longer.
Read on to learn the facts about erectile duration, as well as some treatments — from changes that you can make to your lifestyle to evidence-based treatments for erectile dysfunction — that can make getting and maintaining an erection an easier, less stressful process.
Erections are a lot like birthday balloons — they’re fun to play with, but they don’t last forever.
In general, according to some study results (more on these in a bit), erections can last anywhere from mere seconds to north of 45 minutes (or more), according to study results.
We know — wide gap.
The good news here, though, is that the ideal erection time is all subjective. It’s an intimate conversation that needs to happen between you and yourself, as well as you and each of your sexual partners.
It’s also important to manage expectations about what real erection times actually look like. We’ve all seen movies, watched porn, heard songs or read advertisements about “going all night” or whatever, but the reality is that the ideal erection time is however long it takes you and your partner to walk away satisfied from an intimate sexual moment.
But before we get into the weeds on all that, let’s cover some anatomical basics about how erections work.
Although getting an erection might seem simple, there’s actually a complex process that occurs whenever you start to feel sexually aroused.
Erections start with sexual stimulation. It could be an image, a scent, a scenario, a person, a place — whatever. It all starts with something tantalizing your turn-on button.
When you feel sexually aroused, your nervous system sends a signal to your corpora cavernosa — a pair of soft, elongated, sponge-like bodies of erectile tissue located inside your penis.
That signal sends blood flowing in.
As blood flow increases, the corpora cavernosa become larger and firmer, creating an erection that’s suitable for sexual activity.
Blood flow to your penis increases to 20 to 40 times above its normal volume when you feel aroused and ready for sex.
Our guide to how erections work goes into more detail about the process of getting and keeping an erection works, as well as how certain factors may affect your ability to stay hard.
Because erections are dependent on proper nerve function and blood flow, anything that affects these processes can potentially play a role in erectile dysfunction.
Potential causes of ED include physical health issues like:
Injuries to the penis and surrounding area
Unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking excessively or using illicit drugs
In some cases, ED can occur as a result of psychological conditions that reduce sexual arousal or desire, such as:
A stressful and demanding lifestyle
Our guide to the causes of erectile dysfunction discusses these problems, as well as the impact that they can have on your erections and general sexual function.
Although all erections might look and feel similar, there are three distinct types of erections, each with a different cause:
Let’s dig into what makes each of them tick.
Psychogenic erections develop as a response to audiovisual stimuli or fantasy, which triggers a series of impulses from the brain to the penis.
You may develop a psychogenic erection after seeing a sexually stimulating image, talking with your partner about a sexual topic or having a good ol’ fashioned sex dream. Even short thoughts about sex or a quick recall of a sexual memory (like that one weekend for that one Valentine’s Day a couple years ago…) can potentially trigger this type of erection.
Reflexogenic erections develop in response to physical stimulation of your genitals, such as the act of your partner touching your penis.
You may develop a reflexogenic erection in response to physical touch, oral sex or other forms of tactile stimulation, known scientifically as, “hanky panky.” This type of direct, physical stimulation activates your nervous system and stimulates blood flow to your penis.
Nocturnal erections develop while you’re sleeping, resulting in the morning wood erections that many guys experience when we wake up from a peaceful night’s rest.
Research shows that most nocturnal erections occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, a sleep phase that typically involves dreaming. There’s also evidence that testosterone levels in men are linked with the frequency of nocturnal erections.
As we mentioned earlier, when it comes to sex, there’s no precise definition of what’s “normal” and what isn’t. This is especially true when it comes to erections.
There’s no specific length of time that an erection should last. The amount of time you stay hard can vary widely 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.
Although there’s little research on average erection duration, over the years, researchers have looked into the amount of time for which men are able to have sex before ejaculating.
Commonly referred to as intravaginal ejaculation latency time (IELT), this measures the amount of time that passes between initial vaginal penetration and intravaginal ejaculation — the point at which a man reaches orgasm and ejaculates.
In a 2005 study involving 500 couples in five different countries, researchers found that average IELT varied from as little as 55 seconds to more than 44 minutes, with a median IELT of approximately five minutes.
According to research published in the Asian Journal of Andrology, nocturnal erections typically last for at least 10 minutes and occur several times throughout the night.
Now, this doesn’t mean that every erection you get should last for five, 10 or 44 minutes. However, if you often lose your erection during sex before you ejaculate or simply find it difficult to stay hard for more than a few minutes at a time, you may be suffering from some form of erectile dysfunction.
Erectile dysfunction is common, even in younger men. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2013 found that one out of every four men seeking treatment for ED was below 40 years of age.
While it’s normal to maintain an erection for anywhere from a few minutes to the 45-minute mark (or longer), prolonged erections that cause pain or discomfort are not normal.
If you develop an erection that feels painful or doesn’t go away within four hours, it’s important to seek medical care as soon as you can. In fact, it’s so dangerous they have a name for it.
Painful erections that last for four hours at a time are referred to as priapism, and can be a serious medical emergency. These erections can develop when blood is able to flow into your penis, but can’t flow out due to a blockage of the outflow channels.
When left untreated, certain forms of priapism, such as ischemic priapism, can potentially lead to permanent damage to the tissue inside your penis.
You may be more at risk of developing priapism if you have a blood disorder such as sickle cell disease, or if you use vasoactive drugs such as ED medications.
Our guide to priapism goes into more detail about what priapism is, as well as how it can occur and the potential tissue damage that priapism can cause.
So you want to learn how to make your erection last longer. Say no more. There are several steps that you can take to improve your erectile health and your sex life with your partner/s.
Using ED medications
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle
Seems simple, right? Well, it’s not a trick, fellas.
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 common and normal to use medication to treat erection issues and improve your sexual performance.
ED meds typically belong to a class of medications referred to as PDE5 inhibitors. These medications work by improving blood flow to your penis, helping you get and maintain an erection when you’re sexually aroused.
Medications in this class include:
Sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®)
They come in tablet form (and some in chewable form) can be used around one hour before sex (or, in the case of tadalafil, on a daily basis).
There’s no “best” ED medication for maintaining erections. However, ED medications can vary in half-life (the amount of time the medication remains active within your body) and their risk of side effects, which may make one medication a better choice for you than others.
We’ve explained more about how ED medications function and what you can expect from using them in our guide to the most common erectile dysfunction treatments.
If you’re falling flat in the bedroom consistently, it may be linked to other neglected areas of your body. Your cardiovascular health plays a huge role in your ability to get and maintain a normal erection.
So… No erections? Two words: lifestyle changes.
Try practicing the following healthy lifestyle habits to promote strong blood flow throughout your body and reduce your risk of experiencing erectile dysfunction:
Stay active. Regular exercise can help to promote optimal blood flow around your body — yes, including to your penis. Fun fact: it’s also a good way to increase your stamina and improve your general health and sexual performance.
Treat high blood pressure. High blood pressure is one of several physical factors that are linked to erectile dysfunction. It’s also highly common, with almost half of all adults in the United States affected by it in some way, according to the CDC.
If you smoke, make an effort to quit. Smoking can harm your blood vessels and affect the flow of blood to your penis. Research shows that quitting can improve erectile dysfunction in many smokers, in addition to the numerous non-sexual health benefits that can occur after you kick the habit.
Maintain a healthy body weight. Being overweight or obese is associated with a higher risk of developing erectile dysfunction, as well as other health conditions that could affect your sexual health. There’s no need to look like a D-1 soccer player or anything, but staying active and healthy (and maintaining a healthy diet) definitely supports a fulfilling sex life.
Limit your alcohol consumption. It’s okay to enjoy alcohol in moderation, but drinking frequently or drinking to excess is linked to an elevated risk of sexual dysfunction, as well as a chance of dealing with temporary our favorite side effect of alcohol consumption, “whiskey dick.”
Our guide to naturally protecting your erection shares other habits and techniques that you can use as part of your daily life to promote healthier, more consistent erections.
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.
Although talking to your partner about ED might not be the simplest thing to do, it’s far from an impossible task. Our guide to talking about erectile dysfunction with your partner explains how you can broach the subject without making the conversation too awkward.
There’s no two ways about it, detective — asking how long you can stay hard is a bit of a red herring. Lasting long enough is less about a physical number or time frame, and more about your partner and your shared erotic ecstasy.
If you’re failing to make it to the last quarter of the game, there are ways to improve your stamina, but before you go running off to a monastery to train with the masters, consider these takeaways:
Good sex is about more than numbers. People’s sexual preferences and performance can vary drastically, meaning there’s no exact amount of time that an erection should last.
However, there is a “normal” duration. Research suggests that most guys stay hard for between one minute and almost one hour before ejaculating, with a median ejaculation latency time of around five minutes.
Erectile problems are solvable. 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 medication to treat erectile dysfunction. For erection problems like premature ejaculation (PE), you might also talk to your provider about antidepressants.
We can help. We offer a range of ED medications online, following a consultation with a healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
Interested in learning more about successfully dealing with ED? Our detailed guide to erectile dysfunction covers everything from common causes of ED to early warning signs, risk factors and techniques that you can use to improve your erections and sexual health.