Good sex needn't last all night. In fact, experts now say it shouldn't drag on longer than an episode of Sex and the City.
The best sex, according to new research published Wednesday in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, lasts a whopping seven to 13 minutes, plus a little foreplay.
The study, based on a survey of 33 qualified Canadian and U.S. sex therapists, found that one to two minutes of intercourse for a heterosexual couple is "too short," three to seven minutes is "adequate" and 30 minutes is "too long."
Between seven and 13 minutes of intercourse is "desirable," the experts said. But that doesn't mean people should program their bedside timers.
"I don't want this to come down as the gospel," said Eric Corty, associate professor of clinical psychology at Pennsylvania State University.
He also co-authored the study.
"It depends on the couple. It changes over time. I view this as basically giving more information to the public."
The study could help to "prevent sexual disappointments," the authors wrote, because it helps undo unrealistic expectations about marathon sex that are often perpetuated in the media and films.
But a random poll found that people's needs and expectations in bed can be as varied as people themselves.
"Seven minutes is ideal? Sounds like a quickie to me," said Steven Hoban, a producer of the Canadian comedy You ng People Fucking.
Seven minutes would be brief for some women, said Carolyn Syme, manager of Love Nest, a sex shop in North Vancouver. "I think they'd want to go longer," she said. "And yet, some women say it goes on way too long."
Several sex therapists and researchers said it's a mistake to try to quantify any aspect of sex or intimacy.
"Any generalizations regarding what is normal or an adequate length of time for intercourse should be taken with a sizable grain of salt," said Alex McKay, research co-ordinator for the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada. "It's not time that matters, it's the quality of the experience."
David McKenzie, a sex therapist in Vancouver, added: "There's no such thing as normality in sex."
About 24 per cent of the sex therapists who responded to Dr. Corty's survey agreed. They refused to give a time-estimate response to at least one of the four fill-in-the-blank questions about what length of time was too short, too long, adequate or desirable. They said their answers would depend on the context and the couple.
Other researchers pointed out that women and men vary widely in what turns them on and what they want out of sex.
"What we found in our research is that women, in particular, are incredibly complex," said Robin Milhausen, assistant professor in human sexuality and family relations at the University of Guelph in Ontario.
For her research on sexual arousal, she has interviewed women ranging in age from 18 to 80. "Some said quick and spontaneous sex was exciting, while others wanted more intimacy," she said.
Sandra Byers, a sex therapist and chairwoman of the department of psychology at the University of New Brunswick, said some of her research has shown that men and women in heterosexual relationships often wish intercourse lasted longer than it does in reality. But with better communication, that almost always can be achieved, she said.
"I don't know how the therapists came up with a number," Dr. Byers said. "To me, 'adequate' is the amount of time that both partners are having fun."
Start your engines
A new study published Wednesday in The Journal of Sexual Medicine asked qualified Canadian and U.S. sex therapists what they thought was the ideal duration for intercourse. Researchers calculated the medians for several variables.
Too short: 1.25 minutes
Adequate: 4.91 minutes
Desirable: 8 minutes
Too long: 19.96 minutes