“Are We Normal?”
As a sex and relationship therapist I regularly get asked -what is normal, is this normal, am I normal? In sexual medicine, we rarely use the word ‘normal’ unless we are using this to classify what ‘typically’ happens in sexual functioning as opposed to what is considered ‘acceptable’ practice because there is a huge range of personal preference. Everyone is different, sexual intimacy is subjective and it is the experience of the couple or the individual that matters. One person’s ‘norm’ or preference can be another’s struggle. The most obvious example of this is when we consider penetrative sex and how long this lasts. There may be banter or bravado about this, but very few people actually know. Films and pornography are scripted and don’t depict real time so there is no helpful yardstick against which to compare ourselves and does it matter what other people do anyway?
A study by Waldinger et al in 2005 recruited 500 couples from the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Spain, Turkey, and the United States. Men were aged 18 years or older, in a stable heterosexual relationship for at least 6 months, and having regular sexual intercourse. The surveyed population were a cross mix of men with varying ejaculatory time and health factors. Men were asked to use a stopwatch to record the length of time from the start of vaginal penetration to ejaculation.
The average time to ejaculation was 5.4 minutes but there was a huge range from 55 seconds to 44.1 minutes. The average decreased with age, from 6.5 minutes in the 18-30 years group, to 4.3 minutes in the group fifty-one years and older.
The clinical definition for premature or early ejaculation is that most of the time (75-100%) ejaculation occurs within one minute of vaginal penetration and this has persisted for at least six months. Interestingly though, a diagnosis can only be made if there is distress, for either the man or his partner. If there is no distress, then this would be considered ‘normal’ for that couple and there would be no clinical diagnosis made.
It is important to remember than sexual functioning changes over time and a reduced time for penetrative sex in the older age group is not necessarily a bad thing. Older men are likely be partnered with women who are peri or post-menopausal. Reduced vaginal lubrication and vaginal changes can make penetration uncomfortable or painful for a woman so a reduced time of penetrative intercourse may be beneficial.
There are many couples that find penetrative sex great for nurturing intimacy but not particularly sexually arousing, preferring oral sex or manual stimulation so how long penetrative sex lasts is less relevant anyway.
So, what does all this tell us? One couple’s struggle may be another’s norm. One couple’s norm in their twenties may be different when they reach their fifties. In an era where social media encourages unhelpful comparisons in many areas of life sex doesn’t have to be one of these. Couples are free to curate whatever they want their sexually intimate lives to be. The couples ‘normal’ is what they say it is.