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Refractory Period: What It Is & How to Shorten It

Mary Lucas, RN

Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 12/21/2020

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.

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 typically 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 total 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 Viagra and Cialis, may help you to recover faster.

Below, we’ve explained what the refractory period is, why it happens and how long it normally lasts. We’ve also looked at the current scientific research to explain what you might be able to do to shorten your refractory period and have sex for a second time without the usual wait. 

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, blood flow to your penis will intensity and your breathing, heart rate and blood pressure will increase. This phase begins after the desire phase and continues until just before you orgasm.

  • Orgasm. This phase is self-explanatory. Your sexual pleasure will intensify, your heart rate and blood pressure will reach its highest point and you’ll orgasm and ejaculate in response to sexual stimulation.

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

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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 do know how long this period lasts isn’t related to factors such as your testosterone production, performance during sex or potency in general. 

How Long Does the Refractory Period Last?

The refractory period can vary in time from one man to another. Some men might 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 may 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. 

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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 variety of theories and products promising amazing results. 

Many of these are based more on hearsay than actual science. Although they 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 exactly why the refractory period occurs, there are very few proven strategies for shortening your refractory period and getting ready for sex faster after you orgasm. 

Erectile Dysfunction (ED) Medications

With this said, there’s some scientific evidence that erectile dysfunction (ED) medications such as sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis) and others might shorten the male refractory period.

For example, a study published in 2000 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 receiving a placebo and the men in the other a 100mg dose of sildenafil.

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 the 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 certain benefits for sexual performance, it doesn’t appear to shorten the refractory period after ejaculation.

Sildenafil, tadalafil and other ED medications require a doctor’s prescription. We offer several ED meds following an online consultation with a physician who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.

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 might 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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In Conclusion

So, it’s perfectly normal to lose interest in sex and have difficulty getting an erection right after you 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 may even take the better part of one day before you feel ready to have sex again.

If you’re concerned about your refractory period, talk to your healthcare provider. While there’s no medication specifically for shortening the refractory period, ED medications like sildenafil or tadalafil may help you to improve your general sexual performance and recover faster.

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.