Refractory Period: What It Is & How to Shorten It

Vicky Davis

Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 11/17/2022

After sex, have you ever noticed that it’s difficult or impossible to get hard again? Not only is it often physically difficult to go for round two immediately — you may simply not feel in the mood for sex for anywhere from a few minutes to several hours.

This is caused by something called the refractory period — a period of time that occurs after you have sex in which you aren’t psychologically or physically interested in sexual activity.

During the refractory period, you generally won’t have very many sexual thoughts. Even if your partner tries to sexually stimulate you, you probably won’t notice much of a physical response from your body.

The potential duration of your refractory period can vary depending on a number of factors, one of which is your age. Although scientific research into shortening the refractory period is limited, some medications, such as sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®) may speed up recovery.

Below, we’ve discussed what the refractory period is, why it happens and how long it could take for refractory behavior to end after sex. 

We’ve also looked at the latest scientific research to explain what you may be able to do to shorten your refractory period and have sex for a second time without the usual wait. 

The refractory period is the time immediately after orgasm and ejaculation, where a man is either physiologically unable to be erect, psychologically disinterested in sex, or both. It can last from minutes to days and varies person to person.

What Is the Refractory Period?

The refractory period is the period of time that starts after you orgasm and ejaculate during sexual intercourse or masturbation.

During sex or masturbation, you’ll usually have strongly sexual thoughts. You’ll be stimulated, aroused and “in the mood.” From a physical perspective, you’ll generally have an erection for most or all of the time you spend engaging in sexual activity.

After you orgasm and ejaculate, your penis becomes flaccid and your level of interest in sex usually goes from intense to virtually non-existent. During this period, you won’t get aroused, nor will you spend much time thinking about sexual activity.

The refractory period is sometimes referred to as the “resolution” phase of the body’s sexual response cycle. This cycle has four phases:

  • Desire. During the first phase of the sexual response cycle, your heart rate will quicken and blood flow to your penis will increase. This phase lasts for a few minutes to several hours.

  • Arousal. During this phase, your muscle tension will increase, the blood vessels to your penis will increase in diameter and your heart rate will intensify. This phase begins after the desire phase and continues until just before you orgasm.

  • Orgasm. This phase is self-explanatory. Your sexual pleasure will become more intense, your heart rate and blood pressure will reach its highest point. During this phase, you will generally orgasm in response to sexual stimulation.

  • Resolution. This is the refractory period phase. Your body will slowly return to its normal functioning. Your heart rate will decrease, your penis will become flaccid and you’ll begin to feel simultaneously satisfied and fatigued.

What Factors Affect the Refractory Period?

When it comes to men’s sexual health, experts have a good understanding of most things, from how erections work to the causes of issues like erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation.

However, our understanding of the factors that contribute to the male refractory period isn’t quite so clear. 

One factor that’s known to have an effect on post-orgasm recovery time is age. According to the International Society for Sexual Medicine, younger men may only need a few minutes to recover after sex, while for older guys, it may take as long as 12 to 24 hours.

Another factor that may have an impact on your refractory period is your general cardiovascular health. 

Erections are all about healthy blood flow. When you feel sexually aroused, your penis becomes erect as blood flows into your corpora cavernosa — the two areas of soft, sponge-like tissue that form the bulk of your penis.

There’s also the arousal factor. If you’re in the mood for sex, you might feel ready to go again in relatively little time. However, if you’re tired, or just not feeling in the mood, you may take longer to feel ready for round two. 

All of these factors, in addition to the hormonal response that occurs in your body after orgasm, likely play a role in the amount of time it takes for you to recover after sex. 

Why Does the Refractory Period Happen?

Currently, researchers aren’t exactly sure of why the refractory period happens in men, or the specific biological processes that cause it. 

One theory is that a variety of hormones released during and after orgasm, including oxytocin, prolactin and others, all play certain roles in limiting arousal and preventing erection during the refractory period.

Interestingly, some of these hormones, such as prolactin, are released in greater amounts after sexual intercourse than after masturbation.

In simple terms, experts aren’t yet totally sure of why the refractory period happens. However, they are aware that how long this period lasts isn’t related to factors such as your testosterone production, performance during sex or potency in general. 

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How Long Does the Refractory Period Last?

The refractory period can vary in time from one man to another. Some men may have a short refractory period that only lasts for a few minutes, while others might not feel interested in sex for several hours after orgasm and ejaculation. 

If you’re an older man, it might take anywhere from 12 to 24 hours before you feel interested in and physically ready to have sex again.

Since carrying out scientific research on the average refractory period isn’t particularly easy — imagine asking hundreds of couples to monitor the amount of time that passes between round one and two — there’s no precise “average” time available for this particular aspect of sex. 

How to Shorten Your Refractory Period

If you search online for advice on shortening your refractory period and recovering faster after sex, you’ll likely find a large variety of theories and products, including lots of over-the-counter supplements, that promise amazing results. 

Many of these theories are based more on hearsay than actual science. Similarly, most of the products out there for extending your refractory period aren’t supported by previous studies on sexual stamina or recovery.

While these approaches and products may be effective for some people, there’s no guarantee that they’ll work for you. 

The reality is that because we don’t know much about how or precisely why the male refractory period occurs following sex, there are very few proven, evidence-based strategies for reducing the length of your refractory period and getting ready for sex faster after you orgasm. 

However, research has identified a few techniques that may work, such as using medication for erectile dysfunction. We’ve talked about these findings below and explained how they may help you to recover faster after sex.

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Erectile Dysfunction (ED) Medications

Currently, the most promising option for shortening your post-orgasm refractory period is using medication for erectile dysfunction. 

Over the last few decades, several studies have found that erectile dysfunction medications like sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis®) and similar drugs may help to speed up recovery after sex. 

These medications belong to a class of drugs called PDE5 inhibitors, which work by increasing blood flow to your penis when you feel sexually aroused. 

Although ED medications aren’t approved by the FDA for reducing the refractory period, several studies suggest that they might be helpful. 

For example, a study published in 2000 in the journal Human Reproduction looked at the effects of sildenafil on 20 men’s recovery time after sex.

The men were divided into two groups, with the men in one group given 100mg of sildenafil and the men in the other group given a non-therapeutic placebo.

The men who received the sildenafil had a significantly shorter post-ejaculatory refractory time (2.6 ± 0.7 minutes) than the men who were given the placebo (10.8 ± 0.9 minutes).

A different study of men with premature ejaculation (PE) produced similar results. In this study, men were given either sildenafil or a placebo in an effort to see if sildenafil would help to reduce the severity of their premature ejaculation symptoms.

Although sildenafil didn’t significantly improve ejaculatory latency (time to ejaculation), the men in the sildenafil group had an average post-ejaculation refractory time of around half that of the men in the placebo group.

Other research has produced different results. For example, a 2005 study published in Urology concluded that while sildenafil has several benefits for sexual performance, it doesn’t appear to shorten the refractory period after ejaculation.

There are several medications for erectile dysfunction, all of which can be taken before sex for improved erections and, potentially, a shorter refractory period.

Other Techniques for Reducing Your Refractory Period

Beyond using erectile dysfunction medications like sildenafil (generic Viagra) or tadalafil, making certain other changes to your habits and lifestyle may help to shorten your refractory period and enhance your sexual performance:

  • Try to exercise and eat healthy. Although there’s very little research on exercise and the refractory period specifically, staying active and maintaining a healthy body weight can do wonders for your sexual performance in general.
    Our guide to techniques for a stronger erection lists tactics that you can use to improve your sexual health and wellbeing.

  • Pay attention to your cardiovascular health. Erections are all about the flow of blood throughout your body. If you find it difficult to get hard again after sex (and especially if you’re prone to ED in round one), focusing on your cardiovascular health may help.
    Simple things like eating heart-healthy foods, avoiding nicotine and reducing your salt intake can have a major impact on your sexual performance. We’ve talked about these techniques in detail in our guide to improving blood flow during sex.

  • Limit your alcohol consumption. Alcohol is closely linked with many forms of sexual dysfunction, including erectile dysfunction and low sexual desire. If you’d like to enjoy round two as soon as possible, it’s best to avoid drinking excessively.

  • Try new sex positions, scenarios and fantasies. Optimal sexual performance is all about stimulation and arousal. After you finish round one, try new forms of foreplay or sexual positions to make you feel aroused, excited and ready to go.

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The Bottom Line on the Male Refractory Period

It’s perfectly normal to lose interest in sex and have difficulty getting or maintaining an erection right after you reach orgasm and ejaculate.

The refractory period varies from one man to another, meaning it might take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours for you to recover after sex. If you’re in your 40s, 50s or older, it might even take the better part of one day before you’re ready to have sex again. 

While there are no FDA-approved treatment options specifically for reducing a long refractory period, ED medications like sildenafil and tadalafil do show potential.

We offer several erectile dysfunction medications online following a consultation with a licensed healthcare provider, including several medications that may help to improve both your erections and your post-orgasm recovery time.

Interested in finding out more about improving your sexual performance as a man? Our guide to having better sex lists numerous techniques that you can use for a more pleasurable experience in bed, from practicing good communication to new positions, exercises and more.

9 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.