Many people with penises worry that they cannot control when they come (release semen) during sex, or that they come too quickly once sex has started. Medical professionals often refer to this as premature (PE) or early ejaculation.
How soon is too soon?
It is very common to worry about coming too quickly, but the estimates for what ‘too quickly’ actually means can vary widely. Some consider coming during foreplay or in the beginning stages of penetration as too soon. Others think that coming after many minutes of penetration is also too quick. For some people, they may come before there has been any stimulation to the penis at all.
In fact, for men having penetrative sex, the average time from starting penetration to ejaculation is 2-7 minutes.
We get lots of messages about what is a ‘normal’ length of time to have sex from a variety of sources throughout our lives. Commonly this includes our peers, social media or porn. We know that many of the ideas we are exposed to are greatly distorted, and do not reflect the way in which the vast majority of people have sex. In particular, porn is often heavily edited to give the appearance of sex lasting longer than it does in reality. Porn stars often have to take breaks between shots, and ejaculate several times over the course of making one film.
Crucially, there is no ‘correct’ length of time for sex. It is up to you and your partner(s) to decide what you are comfortable with based on your enjoyment, and not on how long the sex lasts.
It is important to remember that sex does not have to be over once you ejaculate. It is possible continue to feel sexual pleasure in your genitals and other parts of your body even after you come. If you are having sex with a partner, you can talk to them about whether they would like you to continue giving them pleasure even after you have ejaculated. Many people find that if (following a period of stimulation and continued arousal) they attempt sex again after coming that it takes longer to ejaculate for a second time.
How common is premature ejaculation (PE)?
Very common. It has been estimated that around 30% of people with penises experience PE in some form at any one time, with this rising to around 50% when considering thos who said that there have been times when they have come more quickly than they wanted to at any point in their lives (even if this was no longer a problem).
At certain times, coming quickly is considered normal. This includes:
- Highly stimulating sexual situations
- Sexual situations which are new and exciting
- When it has been a long time since last having sex or masturbating
- In young people; for those aged 18-25 the average time between penetration and ejaculation is less than 3 minutes.
- When we feel tired, stressed or anxious.
- What can cause premature ejaculation?
PE can be caused by a combination of physical and psychological factors. Physical causes are unusual, but recreational drugs, and medical conditions such as prostatitis or thyroid problems can cause PE. Speaking to your GP can help to rule these things out.
Far more commonly, PE is caused by a range of psychological difficulties. Any type of stress or anxiety can lead to early ejaculation, and common difficulties often include:
- Worry about ‘performing’ in sex, particularly with new partners (often called Performance Anxiety)
- When one or both of you are inexperienced in sex or there is pressure to ‘get sex right’.
- Feeling guilty or shameful around sex (especially if we have been taught growing up that sex is sinful or wrong in some way)
- Feeling rushed in sex
- Having sex in secret and having to finish quickly
- Underlying relationship difficulties
- Differences between you and your partner’s expectations around sex, including your sex drives and beliefs about how long sex should last.
Read about techniques to manage the impact of stress/anxiety here, and additional specific techniques to manage premature ejaculation here.