Many of us want to know if we’re “normal” when it comes to anything related to sex. For those with a penis, it’s common to wonder about penis size and how long you can stay hard.
The truth is, erections are like sex––every person and every experience is different. For example, while erections often occur before sex, they can happen anytime––even while a man is sleeping or isn’t even thinking about sex.
Similarly, there’s no set-in-stone rule about how long an erection “should” last or how hard an erection “should” get.
If you have trouble getting an erection or your erection doesn’t last as long as you’d like, read on to discover what causes an erection, the average duration of an erection, what can cause problems with erections, and tips for getting a harder erection that lasts longer. A satisfying sex life is important for our overall wellness, so don’t settle if you aren’t happy.
What Is an Erection?
An erection occurs when the penis fills with blood and, as a result, becomes hard and stiff for sexual intercourse.
Types of erections
You may associate erections with sex, but they can occur anytime. The three types of erections are:
- Reflexogenic erections: These erections happen when something physically touches the genitals, triggering arousal.
Psychogenic erections: These occur in response to mental stimuli, such as sexual memories or fantasies.
Nocturnal erections: As the name implies, these happen during sleep. (Morning erections are typically the last nocturnal erection a man experiences during sleep.)
How an erection occurs
Although an erection is a physical experience, the process actually starts in the brain. The first step is sexual stimulation, which can occur through any of our senses. This triggers arousal and sends a slew of messages via the nerves that tell the brain to stimulate penile blood vessels.
In turn, arteries in the penis open up to allow for more blood flow while veins close. This traps the blood in penis tissue called the corpora cavernosa and causes the penis to expand and become rigid.
When the flow of blood stops––usually after ejaculation or the end of a man’s sexual arousal––the penises become soft or flaccid again.
How Long Do Erections Last?
There’s no black-and-white rule about how long an erection should last. Every man––and every erection––is unique. Factors that may affect how long an erection lasts include:
- Age: Older men may not remain as erect as long as younger men. In fact, the older a man gets, the more likely he is to experience sexual dysfunction.
Health: Medical conditions such as erectile dysfunction, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure can cause difficulty in having or maintaining an erection.
Emotional state: Anxiety, stress, shame about sex, and distraction can all affect a man’s ability to keep an erection.
Chemical influence: Alcohol or recreational drugs can make maintaining an erection more difficult. Additionally, certain medicines, such as antidepressants, antihistamines, high blood pressure medications, and others, may cause erection problems. On the other hand, medications for erectile dysfunction can lengthen a man’s erection.
How long does the average man stay erect?
There’s no “average” time for how long an erect penis, or sexual activities, should last.
To give you some sense of the range, according to a 2005 study of 500 couples, the time from when a penis enters a vagina during intercourse to when the penis ejaculates varies from less than a minute to 44 minutes, with a median of five minutes.
Trouble Maintaining an Erection
If you have trouble maintaining an erection, any of the above factors could be at play. If this problem persists, you may have erectile dysfunction. Common symptoms of erectile dysfunction include:
- Persistent inability to achieve an erection
- Persistent inability to maintain an erection for sex
- Reduced sexual desire
In some cases, psychological factors like anxiety or stress cause ED. This can be cyclical, as erectile dysfunction can contribute to anxiety, depression, and relationship strain. Lifestyle factors, such as obesity, lack of exercise, or smoking tobacco, can also contribute to erectile dysfunction. Other times it’s connected with medical conditions such as:
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Atherosclerosis (clogged blood vessels)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Metabolic syndrome
- Sleep disorders
- Low testosterone
If you think you may have erectile dysfunction, consult with your healthcare provider or chat with a K doctor for medical advice. Your doctor can rule out underlying health conditions and determine if erectile dysfunction medicine is right for you.
How to Get a Harder Erection
Sexual health is an important part of well-being, and while there’s no “average erection”, difficulty getting a hard enough erection for sex can be discouraging. To get a better idea of the state of your erection, consider the erection hardness score used by doctors when diagnosing erectile dysfunction:
- 0: Penis does not enlarge
- 1: Penis is larger, but not hard
- 2: Penis is hard, but not hard enough for penetration
- 3: Penis is hard enough for penetration, but not completely hard
- 4: Penis is completely hard and fully rigid
As a first step toward harder, longer erections, consider making simple but effective lifestyle changes:
- Engage in foreplay before sex
- Practice stress- and anxiety-reduction techniques such as mindfulness or meditation, or seeking counseling
- Quit smoking
- Reduce or stop drinking or recreational drug use
- Exercise and lose weight
If you consistently score a low erection hardness rating or if your erections are interfering with your sex life, talk to your doctor.
They can examine you for underlying health conditions that might be contributing to erectile dysfunction, and, if necessary, pinpoint which erectile dysfunction drug, such as sildenafil (Viagra) or tadalafil (Cialis), can help you achieve and maintain an erection.
When to Talk to a Doctor
Temporary circumstances, like stress, anxiety, or relationship difficulties, can make it difficult to maintain an erection long enough for sex.
However, if you’re persistently having difficulty getting or maintaining an erection or you’re concerned about erectile dysfunction, speak with a healthcare provider. They can make simple lifestyle recommendations to help your erections last longer.
Or if they diagnose erectile dysfunction, your clinician might suggest a prescription ED medication.
How K Health Can Help
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
5 Penis Facts. (reviewed 2018).
A Multinational Population Survey of Intravaginal Ejaculation Latency Time. (2005).
Nocturnal Penile Tumescence and Rigidity (NPTR) Findings in Spinal Cord Injured Men with Erectile Dysfunction. (2004).
Satisfaction with Sex and Erection Hardness: Results of the Asia-Pacific Sexual Health and Overall Wellness Survey. (2011).
Sexuality in Ageing Male: Review of Pathophysiology and Treatment Strategies for Various Male Sexual Dysfunction. (2019).