Whether you've experienced it after sex with a partner or by yourself after masturbation, most of us are familiar with the refractory period. It's the time after climax when our bodies rest and recover, sometimes making a person lose interest in sex or even unable to orgasm, ejaculate or become erect.
You might've also heard that some people are "ready for round two" sooner than others and wondered if your refractory period is expected. We'll get into that and more below, but we'll start by defining the refractory period.
What's The Refractory Period?
The period between orgasm and when you feel ready to have sex again is the refractory period. It happens after orgasm and can range from minutes to hours. During that time, you aren't able to become sexually aroused again.
Almost everyone experiences this. It's an entirely normal part of the sexual response cycle, which has four phases:
Desire: Your heart rate increases, muscles tense, blood flow increases to the genitalia, and the skin might become flushed.
Arousal: Changes from the desire phase intensify. Breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate continue to increase. For men, testicles withdraw close to the body. The clitoris becomes very sensitive for women, and the vagina swells with increased blood flow. This stage lasts until right before orgasm.
Orgasm: The climax of the sexual response cycle and the shortest phase, generally only lasting a few seconds. Muscles contract and release tension, the body gets flushed and red, and people with penises ejaculate.
- Resolution: Your body starts to relax and calm down after orgasm, with heart and breathing rates gradually returning to normal. Body parts that have become an erect or swollen return to their average size.
The refractory period is part of the resolution phase. And it's not just limited to people with penises — people with vaginas can experience it, too.
What It's Like for Different Genders
There are specific critical differences between men and women regarding the refractory period. For example, women can have multiple orgasms without the need for a physical refractory period, while men typically have just one (though it's possible to have more).
However, both men and women can experience a psychological refractory period where they aren't interested in sex. That might manifest as a pleasant feeling of tiredness or contentment following an orgasm.
A 2013 study showed that the peripheral nervous system might be involved in the refractory period in men. Specific compounds that the body produces, like prolactin and somatostatin, are also thought to inhibit arousal and prevent erections during the refractory period.
Some people with penises can have orgasms without ejaculating, allowing for multiple "dry" orgasms without a refractory period. Refractory time also varies in duration depending on several factors and can be anywhere from minutes to over 24 hours.
It's still unclear why men experience a refractory period, why it varies in duration from person to person, or what exactly causes it to happen.
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People with vaginas usually don't experience a physical refractory period after orgasm and can have multiple orgasms during sex or masturbation. They can, however, experience a psychological refractory period where they aren't interested in sex.
Most research into refractory periods has focused on males, so the data is still lacking. According to a 2009 study, some women can experience such heightened sensitivity in the clitoris after sex that they don't want to have sex again right away.
Factors That Affect Refractory Time
According to sex education expert and author Emily Morse, six factors can determine how long the refractory period will last:
Libido and arousal level: People with a generally higher libido or who experience a higher level of arousal during a particular sexual encounter (read: are very turned on) can have a shorter refractory period.
Sexual function: Healthy sexual function can mean a shorter refractory period, while conditions like erectile dysfunction (ED) or difficulty producing lubrication can mean it takes longer for you to be ready for sex again.
Overall health: A healthy diet and regular exercise can help with sexual performance in general and result in a shorter refractory period. Healthy foods can increase blood flow, while consistent activity can keep blood pressure down.
Age: Younger people generally have a shorter refractory period. Generally, people over 40 experience libido and sexual functioning changes that can make the refractory period longer.
Genitalia: It usually takes longer for people with penises to be ready to have sex again than it does for people with vaginas.
- Type of sexual experience: There can be massive differences in the refractory period when masturbating and after sex with a partner. When masturbating, the refractory period can be much shorter. It's still unclear why this is, but some studies point to differences in the level of certain hormones released after masturbation versus after sex.
Alcohol and smoking can also lengthen the refractory period for men, so it's best to avoid or moderate your intake.
Can You Shorten Your Refractory Period?
There are specific methods you can try to shorten your refractory period. Just be careful which ones you use — the sketchy online banner ads promising you raging erections for hours? Not it.
There are three ways to broadly approach the issue: enhancing arousal, enhancing sexual function, and enhancing your overall health.
To boost overall health, try eating better, reducing stress, and getting regular exercise. It can reduce cholesterol levels, increase blood flow and increase your endurance.
To enhance arousal, you can try:
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Changing how often you have sex: Maybe reduce the time between sessions to increase anticipation and make things more exciting.
Exploring how masturbation affects your refractory period: Some people find it difficult to become aroused again if they masturbate shortly before having sex with a partner. If masturbating lengthens your refractory period, consider not masturbating before sex.
Experiment with erogenous zones: Explore your and your partner's bodies and determine which areas set you off. That can be ears, neck, nipples, lips, testicles — wherever works.
Switch up your positions: Different positions can offer you or your partner greater control over how much pleasure you both experience or allow people with penises to control their ejaculation to a greater degree. If things are getting stale, introducing something new can help.
- Fantasies and role-playing: Communication is vital. Talk with your partner about what turns you on and what you'd like to try. Come up with some scenarios that you're both comfortable acting out and see what happens.
For those having trouble with sexual functioning, consider these options:
ED medications: Drugs like sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra) and tadalafil (Cialis) might shorten the refractory period, but it's still inconclusive. A 2003 study with a small group of men found that some experienced a reduced refractory period when taking sildenafil. Always talk to a doctor when deciding whether to take ED meds.
Avoid alcohol: Especially before sex, avoid drinking, as it interferes with the cardiac functions necessary for sexual arousal for both men and women. It is especially true for excessive amounts of alcohol.
Kegel exercises: These exercises may help you experience a more powerful orgasm in both men and women. In men, it can provide greater control over ejaculation.
- You don't have to choose just one area to improve. Combining tactics from all three regions can benefit more than just going after one category.
Sex Toys that can help you Reducing the Refractory Period
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