Refractory Period: What It Is & How to Shorten It
Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
There you are — in bed with your partner, panting, sweaty and ready for round two. Your brain is cocked and ready to rock, but your body just... Can't. Literally.
If you've ever wondered why you don't have the limitless energy needed to keep up with the sometimes-hypersexual pace of your brain, we have a name you can give to this cosmic-level disappointment: the refractory period.
What is the refractory period? And why is it the natural enemy of our sexual desire? Like the Friday before a long weekend, the purpose is unclear to most, but we have answers.
Below, we've covered:
What the refractory period is
What happens during the refractory period
What affects the refractory period
How to shorten yours and (squeeze in another round)
Because, after all, the point is to get back to the thing that put you in this refractory state in the first place — sex.
What is the Refractory Period?
The refractory period is the boneless period of time from after you orgasm and ejaculate during sexual intercourse or masturbation. It is sometimes referred to as the “resolution” phase of the body’s sexual response cycle — that sharp transition where things go from “hot and heavy” to “I wonder what's on TV.”
After you orgasm and ejaculate, your penis returns to a flaccid state and your level of interest in sex usually goes from intense to virtually non-existent. During this period, you won’t get aroused, nor will you spend much time thinking about sexual activity.
You’ve undoubtedly experienced this countless times, but there’s a lot more going on than being hungry or sleepy.
The refractory period has four phases:
Excitement. During the first phase of the sexual response cycle, your heart rate quickens and blood flow to your penis increase. This phase lasts for a few minutes to several hours.
Plateau. During this phase, your muscle tension increases, the blood vessels to your penis enlarge in diameter and your heart rate intensifies. This phase begins after the excitement phase and continues until just before you orgasm.
Orgasm. This phase is self-explanatory (we hope). Your sexual pleasure becomes more intense and your heart rate and blood pressure reach their highest points. During this phase, you generally orgasm in response to sexual stimulation.
Resolution. This is the refractory period phase. Your body slowly returns to its normal functioning. Your heart rate decreases, your penis becomes flaccid and you feel simultaneously satisfied and exhausted.
Napping, by the way, is typically step number five. At least in our experience.
Why Does the Refractory Period Happen?
Like that strange noise your car makes in winter (and never at the shop), we actually have no idea why the refractory period happens.
One theory is that various hormones released during and after orgasm — including oxytocin, prolactin and others — all play specific roles in limiting arousal and preventing erection during the refractory period.
But experts aren’t sure why the refractory period is a thing. Still, they are aware that how long this period lasts isn’t related to your testosterone production, performance during sex or potency in general. So, there’s that.
What is the Average Refractory Period?
Now that you know how and why, we can discuss the more important question: how long does that fourth phase last?
Unfortunately, there’s no specific answer to that question because the refractory period can vary in time from one man to another.
Some men may have a short refractory period that lasts only a few minutes, while others might not feel interested in sex for several hours after orgasm and ejaculation.
While there are some connections between these numbers and other factors, the truth is that we don’t have much research on the topic.
Carrying out scientific research on the average refractory period isn’t particularly easy, after all — imagine asking hundreds of couples to monitor the amount of time that passes between rounds one and two.
Arguably, the more practical information is what can shorten or lengthen this period. That’s a topic on which we have more to share.
What Factors Affect the Refractory Period?
Here’s the hard-hitting truth, fellas: some baseball players can handle a doubleheader, and some can’t. Some guys can squeeze in 36 holes, and some guys are lucky just to make it through the back nine.
As a society, we know a ton about men's sexual health, from what is an erection to the causes of issues like erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. Why the refractory period happens, however, still isn't one of those things.
There can be a lot of variables involved in the equation of a refractory timetable, but three that we know for sure are:
Cardiovascular health. Erections are all about healthy blood flow. When you feel sexually aroused, your penis becomes erect as blood flows into your corpora cavernosa — the two areas of soft, sponge-like tissue that form the bulk of your penis.
The arousal factor. If you’re in the mood for sex, you might feel ready to go again in relatively little time. However, if you’re tired or just not feeling in the mood, you may take longer to feel ready for round two.
All of these factors, in addition to the hormonal response that occurs in your body after orgasm, likely affect the amount of time it takes to recover after sex.
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How to Shorten Your Refractory Period
Because we don’t know much about how or why the male refractory period occurs following sex, there are very few proven, evidence-based strategies for reducing the length of your refractory period and getting ready for sex faster after you orgasm.
However, research has identified a few techniques that may work, such as using medication for erectile dysfunction. We’ve discussed these findings below and explained how they might help you recover faster after sex.
Erectile Dysfunction (ED) Medications
Currently, the most promising option for shortening your post-orgasm refractory period is using medication for erectile dysfunction.
These medications belong to a class of drugs called PDE5 inhibitors, which work by increasing blood flow to your penis when you feel sexually aroused.
Although ED medications aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for reducing the refractory period, several studies suggest that they might be helpful.
A study published in 2000 looked at the effects of sildenafil on 20 men’s recovery time after sex. One group was given 100mg of sildenafil and the other group was given a non-therapeutic placebo. The men who received the sildenafil had a significantly shorter post-ejaculatory refractory time (2.6 ± 0.7 minutes) than the men who were given the placebo (10.8 ± 0.9 minutes).
In A different study of men with premature ejaculation (PE), participants were given either sildenafil or a placebo. Although sildenafil didn’t significantly improve ejaculatory latency (time to ejaculation), the men in the sildenafil group had an average post-ejaculation refractory time of around half that of the men in the placebo group.
A 2005 study published in Urology concluded that while sildenafil has several benefits for sexual performance, it doesn’t appear to shorten the refractory period after ejaculation.
Currently, there are four medications approved by the FDA for erectile dysfunction, all of which can be taken before sex for improved erections and, potentially, a shorter refractory period.
Other Techniques to Shorten Your Refractory Period
Beyond using erectile dysfunction medications like sildenafil (generic Viagra) or tadalafil, making certain other changes to your habits and lifestyle may help shorten your refractory period and enhance your sexual performance:
Pay attention to your cardiovascular health. Erections are all about blood and the way it flows in your body. If you find it difficult to get hard again after sex (and especially if you’re prone to ED in round one), focusing on your overall health and, specifically, your cardiovascular health, may help. We’ve discussed these techniques in detail in our guide to improving blood flow during sex.
Limit your alcohol consumption. Alcohol is closely linked with many forms of sexual dysfunction, including erectile dysfunction and low sex drive. If you’d like to enjoy round two as soon as possible, it’s best to avoid drinking excessively.
Try new sex positions, scenarios and fantasies. Optimal sexual performance is all about stimulation and arousal, so to spice up your sex life, try something new. After you finish round one, try new forms of foreplay or sexual positions to make you feel aroused, excited and ready to go.
Try to exercise and eat well. Generally speaking, staying active and maintaining a healthy body weight can do wonders for your sexual performance. Our guide to techniques for a stronger erection lists tactics that you can use to improve your sexual health and well-being. Simple things like eating heart-healthy foods and reducing your salt intake can majorly impact your sexual performance.
The Bottom Line on the Male Refractory Period
If your goal is to have multiple orgasms a night, then you’ve got to work the system. And by “the system,” we mean “your body.”
Understanding how your refractory period affects sexual function is arguably the best way to “hack” more rounds into your sex life.
To get more sex in, remember:
The time between your last orgasm and your body ready for sex again is called your refractory period.
The refractory period varies from one man to another, meaning it might take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours for you to recover after sex. If you’re in your 40s, 50s or older, it might even take the better part of a day before you’re ready to have sex again.
It’s perfectly normal to lose interest in sex and have difficulty getting or maintaining an erection right after you reach orgasm and ejaculate.
While there are no FDA-approved treatment options specifically for reducing a long refractory period, ED medications like sildenafil and tadalafil do show potential.
We offer several erectile dysfunction medications online following a consultation with a licensed healthcare provider, including several medications that may help improve both your erections and your post-orgasm recovery time.
Interested in finding out more about improving your sexual performance as a man? Our guide to having better sex lists numerous techniques that you can use for a more pleasurable experience in bed — from practicing good communication to trying new positions, exercises, and more.