This is one of those statistic-y posts that people tend to like. It’s stuffed full of the kind of facts you can share at parties. Put them in your pocket and whip them out when there’s a lull in the conversation, or use them as icebreakers when you’re looking for an in with the hottie over by the bean dip.
“Did you know that a hypothesized function of the male refractory period is to allow his body time to replenish its sperm supply?”
Panty peeler. Every time.
(Not really. Never start a conversation that way.)
So here we go: I’ve mentioned that there seem to be some differences between male and female arousal processes, and it’s also true that there are differences between male and female orgasm – some are fairly straightforward and others are really very complicated, but I think they’re all important and interesting and are a great way to win friends and influence people.
Orgasmic “latency.” Latency is the amount of time it takes from the start of stimulation to orgasm. For women, it’s somewhere between 5-25 minutes on average (masturbating), and for men it’s more like 4-7 minutes (intravaginal). Unless they’ve changed the diagnostic criteria since the last time I checked, men are chosen for clinical trials for premature ejaculation drugs if they take, on average, less than one minute to ejaculate after penetration. If a medication takes premature ejaculators up to two and a half minutes, still well below the average time to orgasm for women, it’s a significant result. Simply put, most women take longer to come than men do.
Orgasmic “modality.” Virtually all heterosexual men are reliably orgasmic from penile-vaginal intercourse, while only about a quarter to a third of women are. Another third of women are sometimes orgasmic from penetration, and the remaining third of women are never or almost never orgasmic from penile-vaginal penetration. These results have been replicated over and over, in the lab and by self-report. And yet rather more than 90% of women can have orgasms by some modality – manual or oral stimulation or vibrators, or even just from muscle tension and imagination. Still, men and women alike wonder if a woman might be dysfunctional if she never has orgasms from penetration. Penetration may be pleasurable for both men and women, but it’s not your best bet for women’s orgasm.
Duration of Orgasm. There are a lot of complications about this one. Depending whether you go by physiological measures of muscle contractions or by self-report, it’s not even clear what an orgasm is, much less how long it lasts. As with so many aspects of sexuality, there’s not a clear relationship between what the body does and what a person experiences.
Example: in one study, the physiological symptoms of orgasm lasted on average 26 seconds, plus or minus 14 seconds, but the reported duration was 12 seconds, plus or minus about 10 seconds.
(Aside: Can we just take a minute to notice how HUGE that variability is? 26 seconds plus or minus 14 seconds? That’s a range from 12 to 40 seconds!! Count out 12 seconds, and then count out 40 seconds. Those are VERY different experiences! Anyway. Back to our post.)
So how long did their orgasms last? As long as it was measured, or as long as it was experienced? Some women report orgasm when researchers measure no contractions at all; did she really have an orgasm? Of course she did! But how long did it last?
In another study, roughly 40% of women reported in retrospect that their orgasms lasted 30 seconds or more, which raises the wacky conundrum about the relationship between our experience of sex and our memory of sex, and the implications for sexual wellbeing. Do we remember the duration of orgasm more accurately than we experience it at the time? How? Why?
So the orgasm duration thing is an open question that can’t really be answered unless you clarify what you mean by orgasm. Physiologically, on average, men. Psychologically, probably women.
Refractory Period. Men experience a post-ejaculatory refractory period, when their bodies do not respond to sexual stimulation and ejaculation is impossible. At ejaculation, a man’s body throws a massive, systemic “shut off” switch, which effectively puts his sexuality in “park,” leans back the seat, and turns lulling music on the radio. The hypothesized reason for this phenomenon is that it gives a man’s body an opportunity to begin replenishing the sperm stores spent in ejaculation. Since women don’t ejaculate, no refraction happens.
It’s important to note that ejaculation and orgasm are two distinction functions; even though most of the time they’re very closely coupled, it is possible to decouple them and experience one without the other. A man who orgasms without ejaculating can maintain his erection, continue stimulation, and even have more orgasms. (Blocking ejaculation requires a lot of practice.) Lack of refraction is a likely reason why multiple and extended orgasms are easier for women than for men.
So. Yeah. Now you’re ready for that next big shindig or that hot date. Nothing sexier or more entertaining than some orgasm-related trivia, eh? Except maybe trivia about other species’ vaginas and penises. People can’t get enough of that.