There is little we understand less than human sexuality.
Sex studies, bless them, are generally cobbled from an array of gendered stereotypes and poorly conducted without regard for the scientific method. Media outlets sensationalize the results with headlines like “How Long Sex Should Last, According To A New Study.” Then we get to feel bad about the sex we’re having if it doesn’t last whatever duration “should” implies.
The above headline refers to a recent survey from Saucy Dates, a free casual hookup app. Here’s how they described their research:
“What started out to be a comparison survey of how much men from different countries exaggerate their bedroom performance became one of the most scientific studies at Saucy Dates to date.”
Spoiler: it is not a scientific study. When conducting a scientifically sound study, researchers design the experiment before getting the data, not the other way around.
They asked 3,836 heterosexual participants how long their last sex session lasted (sex defined solely as intercourse) and how long they would like sex to last.
Infographic courtesy of Saucydates.com
Women answered, on average, that they want intercourse for 25 minutes and 51 seconds. Men reported almost the same desired time: 25 minutes and 43 seconds.
Twenty five minutes? There is not a single person I know that thinks 25 minutes of intercourse sounds fun. Additionally, there is actual reliable scientific data that the “ideal” duration of intercourse is much shorter and more time should be spent on foreplay. Seven minutes is the oft-repeated average. Again, based on actual science.
It’s notoriously difficult to investigate people’s sexual desires. As NYC sex therapist Dulcinea Pitagora points out, their responses are heavily influenced by social expectations and stigmas. Men should have rock-hard erections that last for hours and women are supposed to come a bunch from vaginal intercourse alone. These assumptions are generally false, yet they often determine people’s responses, not the other way around.
“Cognitive bias changes memory,” she says. “If someone is happy with their sex life, they might remember the time being longer and if they’re unhappy, they would remember it shorter. This is due to social desirability associating longer durations with better sex, which is also bullshit, if you’ll pardon the technical term.”
She also observes that in her professional experience, “most people have no idea how long sex lasts.” These participants weren’t being asked to time their next 10 sex sessions; they were asked to estimate the length of sex they already had. But who spends their sex staring at a clock? People having bad sex. Saucy Dates did not address this variable.
Of the countries represented in the survey, American men were closest to hitting the 25 minute, 51 second average. The Saucy Dates team also reported that Indian men’s stamina was the farthest below the average. In an impressive display of ignorance, this was their conclusion:
“There’s some anecdotal evidence to imply that Indian women may have a smaller vagina. Could this make it harder for the men to perform?”
Shouldn’t someone—at the very least their public relations people—have suggested they draw, another conclusion? They are blaming Indian women’s genitals for men’s inabilities to have weirdly long intercourse. A bizarre and bold inference, given how blatantly racist and misogynistic it is. But then, the practice of stigmatizing women’s vaginas—too smelly, too tight, too loose, too flappy, too brown, too pink, too hairy—is not new.
According to Portland, OR marriage and family therapist Alana Ogilvie, this study says more about the “researchers” than the subjects:
“What this study really tells me is that we’re pathologizing healthy men and women because their bodies work like they are supposed to and many people have unrealistic expectations about the sex they have.”
If you like 25 minutes of intercourse, power on. But this one shoddy study does not prove it’s the norm, or that it’s what we women all secretly crave. Suggesting so, as Ogilvie says, “is completely absurd.”