Sexual Wellness

The Refractory Period: What is it, Duration & Shortening It

Fact Checked

The refractory period is the length of time a man needs to become aroused before he can achieve an erection between sex sessions. Can it be shortened and how long does it last?

Last Updated: 04/14/2022

Written by

Eric Ridenour

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Paul Thompson

The refractory period is the length of time a man needs to become aroused before he can achieve an erection between sex sessions. The male refractory period varies widely and is one of the most misunderstood and misused aspects of human sexuality and sexual function. This post explains what the refractory period is and how to shorten it.

The refractory period is from ejaculation to the start of a second erection. In other words, the time it takes for a man to become erect again after having an orgasm. There is no absolute refractory period so that it can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, depending on many factors, including:

  • The age of the man

  • His level of sexual arousal

  • His testosterone and dopamine levels

  • The time since his last ejaculation

  • Whether he has had any alcohol or drugs recently

  • His mental state

  • The number of previous orgasms he has had

  • Cardiovascular health and overall health

  • Whether or not he ejaculated during orgasm

  • Other factors not listed

Refractory period for males

While the sexual response cycle varies widely between people, for most men, it is much more difficult for men to experience peak pleasure or sometimes even have sexual intercourse as blood flow and other sexual function abilities are reduced during a man's relative refractory period.

Research varies widely on how long the refractory period is for men based on many factors. One study suggests that orgasm-induced prolactin secretion may be responsible for the length of time the refractory period occurs in. 

However, after more research, the theory has come under doubt. Alternative beliefs and evolving ideas imply that hormones and feel-good chemicals such as oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine are involved; nevertheless, scientists are still unsure what causes the refractory phase or how to minimize it due to little research and peer-reviewed studies producing definitive results. 

Any scientific study that does produce definitive answers to this question will undoubtedly provide an invaluable service to the sexual health world.

What happens during the male refractory period?

Famous researchers in sexual health and sexual dysfunction, Masters and Johnson came up with four different phases in the sexual response in 1966, each with unique characteristics. 

The first phase of excitement marks an erective response for men. The second stage, called arousal, extends the desire stage. It is followed by an additional (and usually the favorite!) period called orgasm. Finally, resolution happens before orgasms, which is the final step. 

Resolution occurs when blood flows to and from the genitals and returns to normal. Refractory time occurs during the resolution period, and additional orgasms cannot happen before the resolution phase is completed. The refractory period is also known as the "resolution" phase of the sexual response cycle of the body. 

Here are the four stages in detail:

Desire 

Your pulse rate will rise and blood flow to your penis will increase during the initial phase of the sexual response cycle as you get ready for sexual activity. This phase might last anything from a few minutes to several hours.

Arousal 

During this period, you have sexual arousal. Your muscular tension will rise, blood flow to your penis, respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure. This phase follows the desire phase, is the moment of most sexual activity, and lasts during sexual intercourse until right before you orgasm.

Orgasm 

This is a self-explanatory phrase. In reaction to sexual stimulation, your sexual pleasure will increase, your heart rate and blood pressure will peak, and you will climax and ejaculate, leading to the post-ejaculatory refractory period.

Resolution 

This is known as the refractory period. Your body will eventually revert to normal operation after being sexually aroused. Your pulse rate will slow, your penis will go flaccid, and you will feel fulfilled, weary, and lose interest in further sex.

What is the reason for the male refractory period?

Researchers are still unsure of the exact causes of these refractory periods in humans. Among other theories, oxytocin and other hormone-releasing substances significantly influence erection during the reaction time and inhibit its effect upon oestrus. 

Interestingly, certain sex hormones like prolactin are released more rapidly after sex or masturbation. So far, experts have not figured out exactly what the refractory periods are. In addition, there is little information on the exact cause of a longer refractory period or shorter refractory period.

How long does the refractory period last before sexual stimulation returns?

Refractory periods vary depending upon the individual and their situation. 

Depending on the person, some, especially people with a more active sex life and better overall health may have a relatively short refractory period. 

When an older man is with an older partner, the period can last 12 to 24 hours or even longer after the resolution stage. The time it takes for the most accurate analysis of the refractory phase is scarce because the amount of time the couples have to spend in each round of sex is often hard to measure.

How does age affect the refractory period?

As we get older, our sexual desires can change. It takes longer for a guy to get an erection, and these erections are usually less durable. Women may find their vaginal lubrications decreasing with age, particularly during menopause. The refractory period typically increases in response to biological changes or other psychological changes occurring over time.

How can I shorten my refractory period?

While there are many popular articles on the refractory period written online about reducing the refractory period, most are based on hearsay instead of real science. 

The truth is that there is no known definitive way to reduce the refractory period backed by professional medical advice by wellness professionals. Erectile dysfunction medications may be helpful to some people, but you can never know if they will help you. Because there is no known specific cause for the refractory period, there are few sound methods of reducing your refractory period.

However, it is not impossible to improve your overall sex life, which may, in turn, reduce the average range of your refractory period. Arousal, sexual health, and general health are three main elements that determine the refractory period length that you may be able to manage.

Here are some things you can do that may help reduce the refractory period:

  • As part of the process, feel yourself out, literally, with masturbation. Masturbating before sex may interfere with your ability to get off with your partner if you have a prolonged refractory period. 

On this one, pay attention to your body; if it takes a long time to become aroused again, skip the solitary session and watch what happens. In addition, masturbation can help you learn the timing of your refractory period for performance timing later.

  • Change up how frequently you have sex. If you're already doing it every other day, consider cutting it down to once a week. And if you're currently hooking up once a week, wait till every other week to see what happens. A refractory period may change depending on your sex schedule.

  • Attempt a different position. Various postures produce various experiences. If you're on top of your partner or they're on top of you, you could discover that you have more control over your arousal and approaching ejaculation.

  • Play around with erogenous zones. Pull, twist, or squeeze your ears, neck, nipples, lips, testicles, and other nerve-rich places with your partner.

  • Play a role or fantasize. Consider the scenarios that turn you on and tell your spouse about them. Consider seeing yourself and your partner as characters in a "sex scene."

  • Some people use pelvic floor exercises to reduce the refractory period. These movements are called Kegels or pelvic floor muscle training (PFMT).

So far, no conclusive study has been conducted to demonstrate that PFMT reduces the refractory period. However, it may increase male sexual function more broadly.

  • According to certain studies, erectile dysfunction medication may lessen the refractory time in men.

In a small, older placebo-controlled crossover laboratory setting study conducted in 2003, most of male participants reported a substantial decrease in the refractory time and detumescence time after using sildenafil citrate. 

Only a small percent of placebo users saw a similar decline. However, another placebo-controlled, double-blind research published in 2005 discovered that sildenafil did not decrease refractory time.

  • Get regular exercise. Regular exercise is a trait that can help with the body's overall sexual performance and general recovery from any strenuous activity.

FAQ's

Can erectile dysfunction affect the refractory period?

While there is little research on ED and the refractory period, there is a common belief that having erectile dysfunction would likely mean there is a much longer refractory period. If someone is having trouble getting it up without prior sex, they are likely to have even more difficulty after sex.

What is a typical refractory period?

According to some studies, the refractory interval for male men is approximately 15 minutes, while the average time for men is 20 to 30 minutes. However rare, some males do not experience refractory peritoneal ovaries for less than 10 seconds.

What is the purpose of the refractory period?

Refractory periods limit potential action generation – an essential aspect of neuron signaling. Furthermore, refractory periods enable the non-directional spreading of action potentials along the axis.

Is the refractory period a sexual dysfunction?

The refractory period is not a sexual dysfunction. It is a perfectly normal part of the sexual process, both for men and women.

Is there a longer refractory period after multiple orgasms?

This experience has not been significantly studied, although with each successive orgasm, the refractory period can be longer for many people.

Do women have a physiological refractory period similar to men?

In contrast to males, many females can have several orgasms, implying that they do not typically endure a physiological refractory phase. Furthermore, following sexual activity, a female's genitals may remain lubricated even if she no longer feels aroused, making sexual intercourse simpler.