Dear Eve, how long should sex last?
What an interesting question! You wouldn't believe how often I get this question. Well, thank you for asking.
Research varies so widely on this question: Alfred Kinsey, one of the most well-known (and controversial) researchers found that male-to-female heterosexual intercourse lasted about 2 minutes after the beginning of sexual intercourse (this data is representative of American males in 1943). More recent studies have been done and they all seem to suggest that sex lasts between 5 minutes and about 8 minutes. As you can see, these numbers aren't exactly as high as those commonly reported in locker rooms or other gatherings. In addition to these numbers, research has found – and keeps finding – that there seems to be a discrepancy between actual length of heterosexual intercourse, and the desire for sexual intercourse that lasts longer. In other words, our desires for longer lasting sexual encounters are higher than our sexual behavior.
Knowing what we know now, wouldn't it be better to improve the quality of your sex life and let the quantity take care of itself? In which case, a more useful question might be, "how can I have a more fulfilling sex life?", "what's getting in the way of a more satisfying sex life?" and "what do I need/want to happen to feel that I am having the kind of sex that satisfies me?" In other words, instead of measuring sex in minutes, why not measure it in satisfaction instead? Usually, when people ask for my opinion on their sexual behavior, they are surprised by some of what I tell them. Well, let's see if this will surprise you too: one of the keys to a happier, more satisfying sex life is held in the parts of your life that require you to keep your clothes on. Ironic, that you can strengthen your sex life by focusing on the sex-free parts of your life and body, huh? Well, I consider that to be good news. No, great news! This means that you have so many options and opportunities at your disposal that you can use to benefit your sex life, so use them!
First, broaden your definition of sex. Thinking about penis-to-vagina as sex in the strictest sense will only put pressure on you, and stress does not lead to great sex. Think about how you speak to your sex partner(s), how you look at him/her, how you think about sex with her/him; does it excite you? Do you look forward to it? Do you resent it? Do you dread it? Is there anything about the way that you interact with your partner that could be improved? Next, pay attention to the aspects of your sex life that you love, like or look forward to and then extend those parts. Do you enjoy kissing? How about extending the kissing sessions instead of rushing through them on your way to intercourse-land? How about making it a tradition to kiss every time you meet or say good bye, even if it means sneaking away from watching eyes? Do you look forward to the cuddling? Why not extend the length of time that you cuddle, before/during/after sex? Why not cuddle instead of sex? Before you panic and/or roll your eyes, consider the fact that no one hates the idea of being desired with their clothes ON, and I have yet to hear of a man or woman who felt so desired, so sexy, so wanted that they decided to have less sex. Have you? I didn't think so! Ratchet up that desire for your partner with your' clothes ON and they'll probably ratchet up their desire for you with your' clothes OFF. Finally, consider how you yourself relate to the idea of sex; if you have unhelpful attitudes, expectations or beliefs about sex, please take the time to work on them so that you can release them and exchange them for more helpful ones. It would also be prudent to remember that there is such a thing is 'good enough sex' so stop competing for gold in a non-existent race, and enjoy the process instead.
A word of warning: this is not a short cut to getting into your partner's pants. If you try to "act" more loving only for the purposes of sex, your partner will not only probably pick up on it (because we all – males and females – have a 6th sense whose job it is to protect us) but will also likely resent you, which will have the opposite desired effect on your sex life.
Another thing: if you've damaged your relationship in any way (affairs, financial mismanagement, etc), consider this to be a part of building trust within your relationship. This is a starting point on which you can earn back the trust of your partner, not the end or a short-sighted means to an end.
Back to your question: how long should sex last? For as long as you want it to last. Remember, quality reigns over quantity. I wish you a happy sex life, no matter how long it lasts.