Medically reviewed by Jill Johnson, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/30/2022
The reality is that 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, while for others, it’s normal for an erection to last for as long as one hour.
If you find it difficult to get or maintain 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, as well as the different factors that could affect the amount of time that you stay hard during sex.
We’ve also covered what you can do to stay harder for longer, 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.
Before we get into the specifics of maintaining an erection for longer, it’s important to cover the behind-the-scenes process that goes on in your body when you get an erection.
Although getting an erection might seem simple, there’s actually a complex process that occurs whenever you start to feel sexually aroused.
This process involves your nervous system (your brain, as well as the network of nerves around your body) and your vascular system (the network of vessels that carry blood around your body, including to your penis).
Erections start with sexual stimulation. This could be sensory stimulation (for example, physical touch from your partner) or a sexually arousing mental image, such as a sexual thought, dream or memory.
When you feel sexually aroused as a result of stimulation, your nervous system sends a signal to your corpora cavernosa -- a pair of soft, elongated, sponge-like bodies of erectile tissue that are located inside your penis.
This signal causes the blood vessels that supply the corpora cavernosa to relax, increasing the flow of blood to your penis.
As blood flow increases, the corpora cavernosa become larger and firmer, creating an erection that’s suitable for sexual activity. It’s normal for blood flow to your penis to increase to 20 to 40 times its normal volume when you feel aroused and ready for sex.
Once blood flows into the corpora cavernosa, a fibrous membrane called the tunica albuginea, which wraps around the tissue of your penis, tightens to keep the extra blood inside your penis and maintain your erection during sex.
As you reach orgasm and ejaculate, this process occurs in reverse, with blood flowing out from your penis and back into your circulatory system via outflow channels.
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 that affect blood flow, such as high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as conditions that reduce nerve function, such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis (MS).
Injuries to the penis and surrounding area can also make getting and staying hard more difficult by affecting sensitivity and blood circulation.
Certain unhealthy habits, such as smoking, drinking excessively, being overweight or using illicit drugs, can worsen these conditions and make maintaining an erection even more difficult.
In some cases, ED can occur as a result of psychological conditions that reduce sexual arousal or desire, such as depression, sexual performance anxiety, low self-esteem and 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, the reality is that there are three distinct types of erections, each with a different cause.
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 sexual dream. Even short thoughts about sex, or a quick recall of a sexual memory, 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. 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 upon waking.
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 sexual activity, 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 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.
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 intravaginal ejaculation latency times in healthy men varied from as little as 55 seconds to more than 44 minutes.
Put simply, people tend to have sex for varying amounts of time. The same study noted that the median, or midpoint, IELT was 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 necessarily mean that your every erection you get should last for five, 10 or 44 minutes. No two moments are identical, and erections -- whether spontaneous or just before sex -- are always going to vary in duration.
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 ta a time, you may have 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.
It’s also a treatable condition, with numerous options available to help you more easily maintain your erections and improve your sexual performance.
While it’s normal to maintain an erection for anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or longer, prolonged erections that cause pain or discomfort are not normal.
Painful erections that last for several 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.
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.
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.
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, making changes to your lifestyle or simply talking to your sexual partner to relieve feelings of stress, fear or anxiety about sex.
Erections are all about blood flow, meaning that your cardiovascular health plays a huge role in your ability to get and maintain a normal erection.
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, including to your penis. It’s also a good way to increase your stamina and improve your general health and sexual performance.
In a 2018 review, researchers found that working out for 40 minutes four times per week can lower the severity of ED in men with certain risk factors. Try to make exercise part of your daily routine, even if it’s just a short walk in your neighborhood.
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, 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. They may prescribe medication or suggest lifestyle changes that you can make to keep your blood pressure in the healthy range.
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. Smoking can harm your blood vessels and affect the flow of blood to your penis. Even when the link between smoking and cardiovascular disease isn’t taken into account, smoking is still associated with a higher risk of ED.
If you smoke, try to stop. 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.
While there’s no need to look like an athlete, it’s important to try to maintain a body mass index (BMI) in the healthy range to reduce your risk of developing ED or other conditions that could affect your ability to enjoy a fulfilling sex life.
Limit your alcohol consumption. It’s okay to enjoy alcohol in moderation, but drinking frequently or excessively is linked to an elevated risk of sexual dysfunction, as well as a chance of dealing with temporary “whiskey dick.”
Instead of drinking heavily, try to follow the CDC’s recommendation of no more than two servings of alcohol per day (for example, two cans of beer or glasses of wine).
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.
If you sometimes lose your erection during sex and think it might be due to sexual performance anxiety, talking to your partner may help you to reduce tension and feel more comfortable when you’re spending time together.
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 bring up this subject without making the conversation too awkward.
If you have persistent erectile dysfunction that doesn’t seem to improve with healthy habits and option conversation with your partner, you may benefit from using ED medication.
ED medications such as sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®), avanafil (Stendra®) and vardenafil (Levitra®) work by improving blood flow to your penis, helping you to more easily get and maintain an erection 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 common and normal to use medication to treat erection issues and improve your sexual performance.
Most erectile dysfunction medications are available in different dosages. If you only have a mild form of ED, your healthcare provider may prescribe a low dosage of an ED medication to assist you in getting and maintaining an erection.
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, their effects, side effects and more in our guide to the most common erectile dysfunction treatments.
People’s sexual preferences and performance can vary dramatically, meaning there’s no exact amount of time that an erection should last.
However, 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.
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.
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.