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We all want to know how long sex lasts for other people — and now we do

When she's not writing, Claire Gillespie can most often be found wiping snotty noses, picking up Lego, taking photos of her cat or doing headstands.

Science answers the age-old question: How long should sex last?

Whether we admit it or not, we’re all a little curious about other people’s sex lives. How often do the neighbors get down to business? Does the couple who barely exchange a word in public have fireworks between the sheets?

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We don’t just want to know what they do — we want the truth. Do people who boast about having sexual marathons every weekend actually spend Saturdays Netflixing without the chill?

What we know for sure is that sex in real life isn’t like a movie. Couples don’t tend to start doing the deed right after evening cocktails and still be writhing around on the bed when the sun comes up. But does that mean a two-minute quickie is the norm? How long does sex last for real people?

The question we've all asked ourselves at some point has been answered by psychologist Dr. Brendan Zietsch from the University of Queensland. He examined all recent research and found that the average time for penetrative sex (not including foreplay), across all different couples, was 5.4 minutes.

Naturally, findings like this often raise more questions than they answer. How do people know how long they spend having sex? If the act itself is any good, isn’t watching the clock the last thing they should be doing? Well, one study cited by Dr Zietsch asked them to do exactly that — 500 couples from around the world timed themselves having sex over a four-week period, using a stopwatch for optimum accuracy.

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What do professionals say about the ideal length of a sex session? In 2008, a survey of U.S. and Canadian sex therapists found that "satisfactory" sex lasted from 3 to 13 minutes. The 34 members of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research (including psychologists, physicians, social workers, marriage/family therapists and nurses) defined 1-2 minutes as "too short," 3-7 minutes as "adequate," 7-13 minutes as "desirable" and 10-30 minutes as "too long."

This survey hoped to dispel "fantasies" — largely peddled by popular culture — that anything less than all-night long sex was a disappointment.

A 2011 sex survey of 2,500 Cosmopolitan readers revealed that 77 percent of women would like the penetrative part of sex to last for at least ten minutes, with around one in five of them wanting it to go on for 25 minutes or more. The most common answer was 15-25 minutes.

What should we take away from this? For starters, perhaps the expectations of "experts" (and Cosmo readers) are too high. If sex lasts 5.4 minutes or longer, you're definitely keeping up with most people.

And there's plenty of anecdotal evidence that a few minutes of penetration is more than adequate. Sexual health therapist Matty Silver, writing in The Sydney Morning Herald, says in her experience, "very few women care much about the length of the sex session." She points out that penetration can become painful when it lasts too long, and that most women prioritise "foreplay, connection, pleasure, intimacy and emotional closeness" over all that thrusting action in any case.

So sometimes sex is over in a flash, and sometimes it goes on all night. When it comes to sex, there really is no "normal" — and that's why we want to know what everyone else is up to, right?

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