The refractory period occurs right after you reach your sexual climax. It refers to the time between an orgasm and when you feel ready to be sexually aroused again.
It’s also called the “resolution” stage.
Here’s how it works:
- Excitement. Your heart rate goes up, your breathing gets faster, and your muscles get tense. Blood starts heading toward your genitalia.
- Plateau. Your muscles continue to tense. If you have a penis, your testicles pull up against your body. If you have a vagina, your clitoris retracts under the clitoral hood.
- Orgasm. Your muscles contract and release tension, and your body gets flushed and red. If you have a penis, your pelvic muscles contract to help release ejaculate.
- Resolution. Your muscles start to relax, your blood pressure and heart rate go down, and your body becomes less responsive to sexual stimulation. This is where the refractory period begins.
One 2013 review suggests that the male peripheral nervous system (PNS) is much more involved in the body’s changes after orgasm.
It’s thought that compounds called prostaglandins affect the overall nerve response, resulting in a longer refractory period.
A peptide called somatostatin is also thought to reduce sexual arousal right after ejaculation.
This may explain why males typically have a longer refractory period.
There are no hard numbers here. It varies widely from person to person based on a variety of factors, including overall health, libido, and diet.
Average figures suggest that for females, mere seconds may pass before sexual arousal and orgasm is possible again.
For males, there’s a lot more variance. It may take a few minutes, an hour, several hours, a day, or even longer.
As you get older, 12 to 24 hours may pass before your body is able to become aroused again.
A 2005 analysis suggests that sexual function most noticeably changes — for both sexes — at age 40.
Yes, quite a bit.
One 2006 review looked at data from three different studies of males and females engaging in masturbation or penile-vaginal intercourse (PVI) to orgasm.
The researchers found that prolactin, a key hormone in the refractory period, levels are over 400 percent higher after PVI than after masturbation.
This suggests that your refractory period may last a lot longer after having intercourse with a partner than after solo masturbation.
You can. There are three key factors affecting refractory period length that you may be able to control: arousal, sexual function, and overall health.
To boost arousal
- Feel out masturbation as part of the process. If you have a longer refractory period, masturbating before sex may interfere with your ability to get off with your partner. Listen to your body on this one — if it takes a while to become aroused again, skip the solo session and see what happens.
- Switch up how often you have sex. If you’re already getting down every other day, try moving to once a week. And if you’re already hooking up once a week, see what happens if you wait until every other week. A different sex schedule may result in a different refractory period.
- Try a new position. Different positions mean different sensations. For example, you may find that you’re more in control of your arousal and impending ejaculation if you’re on top of your partner or if they’re on top of you.
- Experiment with erogenous zones. Have your partner pull, twist, or pinch your ears, neck, nipples, lips, testicles, and other sensitive, nerve-dense areas.
- Fantasize or role-play. Think about situations that turn you on and share them with your partner. Consider acting out a “sex scene” with you and your partner as characters.
To boost sexual function
- Practice Kegel exercises. Strengthening your pelvic muscles may give you more control over when you ejaculate.
- Avoid drinking alcohol before sex.This can interfere with the cardiac functions necessary for arousal.
- Talk to your doctor about erectile dysfunction (ED) medications. Medications like sildenafil (Viagra) can help you get back in the sack quicker by relaxing penis muscles and improving blood flow. However, individual results may vary, and in some cases ED medications can be counterproductive. It’s best to consult with a therapist or physician who specializes in sexual health.
To boost overall health
- Stay active. Exercise at least 20 to 30 minutes a day to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol down.
- Eat a healthy diet. Fill your diet with foods that increase blood flow, such as salmon, citrus, and nuts.
It’s important to remember that everyone has a different refractory period. You may even notice that your individual refractory period varies from session to session.
It all comes down to a number of unique factors. Some you can change, such as alcohol intake and overall diet. And some, such as chronic conditions and age, you can’t.
If you’re concerned about how long it takes you to reach or recover from orgasm, see a sex therapist or a physician who’s knowledgeable in human sexuality.
They can answer any questions you have and, if needed, diagnose or treat any underlying conditions.