Blog/Sexual Health

The refractory period: What to know, and can you shorten it?

Check out our guide how to beat the refractory period for a treasure trove of techniques that can make your time in bed truly memorable.

Imagine that moment of passion, where you and your partner are entwined in the heat of the moment. Your mind is racing, your body is charged, and you’re ready for another round. But wait, your body seems to have its own plans, entering a phase where further action is a no-go. This baffling scenario has a name: the refractory period.

In this article, we delve into the realm of the refractory period, exploring its impact on our desires and relationships. We’ll uncover its meaning, dissect its stages, and even explore strategies like ED pills that could potentially turn the tide for a more exciting intimate life.

Understanding the Refractory Period

The refractory period is that unique window of time immediately following orgasm and ejaculation, during which a man experiences physiological changes that hinder erection, along with a psychological disinterest in sexual activity. The duration of this phase varies from minutes to even days, differing among individuals.

Defining the Refractory Period

Imagine the refractory period as the momentary hiatus post-orgasm. After the passionate climax, your body takes a breather. Often labeled as the “resolution” phase of the sexual response cycle, this period involves a distinct shift from intense arousal to a “what’s on TV?” kind of mindset.

The journey involves your penis returning to its flaccid state, and your enthusiasm for sexual activity receding. During this phase, thoughts of intimacy take a back seat, and sexual arousal takes a hiatus.

Behind the Scenes of the Refractory Period

Let’s dive deeper into the four distinct phases of the refractory period:

  1. Excitement: The first phase sees your heart rate escalate, and blood flow to the penis surges. This stage lasts from several minutes to a few hours.
  2. Plateau: Muscle tension intensifies, and the blood vessels in the penis expand. This stage bridges excitement and orgasm.
  3. Orgasm: The climax we’re all familiar with. Sexual pleasure peaks, heart rate and blood pressure reach their zenith, and an orgasm is experienced.
  4. Resolution: The refractory period phase. Your body gradually regains its equilibrium, heart rate settles, and your penis returns to its non-aroused state.

It’s worth mentioning that a little nap often follows, if our experience is anything to go by.

Why Does the Refractory Period Occur?

Much like the mysterious noise your car makes only in winter, the refractory period’s exact cause remains elusive. One theory revolves around hormones like oxytocin and prolactin, released post-orgasm, which play roles in dampening arousal and inhibiting erection during this phase.

While researchers are still puzzled by its existence, one thing’s clear: refractory period duration isn’t linked to testosterone production, overall sexual performance, or potency. That’s a silver lining, isn’t it?

What is the Average Refractory Period? 

Now that we’ve navigated what and why, let’s address the burning question: how long does this downtime last? Here’s the catch – there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. The refractory period’s length can differ greatly from one man to another.

For some, the refractory period could be as short as a few minutes, while for others, interest in sex might not resurface for hours after climax. Unfortunately, there’s limited research in this area. After all, imagine asking couples to time the gap between rounds one and two – not the most convenient study setup.

Yet, the real-world knowledge lies in what could either extend or shrink this period, which we’re eager to share.

Factors at Play in the Refractory Period

Gentlemen, think of it like this: some baseball players breeze through a doubleheader, while others take it easy. Likewise, when it comes to the refractory period, multiple variables come into play. Three concrete ones are:

  1. Age: Younger men may need mere minutes for recovery, while older gents might require a whole 12 to 24 hours, as per the International Society for Sexual Medicine.
  2. Cardiovascular Health: Erections thrive on healthy blood flow. Proper arousal leads to a firm erection, facilitated by blood filling the corpora cavernosa – those spongy tissues comprising your penis.
  3. Arousal: Being in the mood can significantly impact the refractory period. If you’re up for another round, you’ll probably need less time. But if you’re tired or not quite there mentally, expect a longer wait.

These elements, coupled with hormonal responses post-orgasm, collectively determine your recovery time.

The Role of ED Pills in Shortening the Refractory Period

You might wonder, how do I get back in the game sooner? While the science behind the male refractory period remains somewhat enigmatic, a promising strategy involves the use of erectile dysfunction (ED) medication.

ED medications, known as PDE5 inhibitors, increase blood flow to the penis when arousal strikes. Although they’re not FDA-approved for refractory period reduction, several studies hint at their potential:

  • In a study from 2000, sildenafil was shown to significantly shorten the refractory time compared to a placebo.
  • A different study involving men with premature ejaculation found that sildenafil users had a notably shorter refractory period than those on a placebo.
  • Although sildenafil offers sexual performance benefits, it may not necessarily shrink the refractory period.

Currently, there are FDA-approved options for ED treatment, including sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and vardenafil (Levitra). These medications are designed to improve erections and might indirectly contribute to a shorter refractory period.

Exploring Additional Techniques

Beyond ED medications, there’s more you can do to potentially trim your refractory period and boost sexual performance:

  • Prioritize Cardiovascular Health: Improved blood flow can do wonders. A healthy lifestyle, including exercise and balanced nutrition, can impact your refractory period.
  • Watch Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol can hinder sexual performance. If quick recovery is your goal, consider moderating alcohol intake.
  • Embrace Novelty: New experiences can reignite your arousal. Experiment with different sexual positions, scenarios, and fantasies.
  • Maintain Overall Well-being: Staying active and maintaining a healthy weight can positively influence sexual health. Nutritional choices and simple habits can play a pivotal role.

Closing Thoughts on the Refractory Period

If you aspire to enjoy multiple rounds of passion, understanding and working with your body’s refractory period is key. Armed with insights, you can navigate its ebb and flow for a more fulfilling intimate life.


  • The period between orgasms is the refractory period.
  • The duration varies from minutes to hours.
  • It’s natural to lose interest in sex post-orgasm.
  • While no FDA-approved treatment targets refractory periods directly, ED medications like sildenafil and tadalafil show potential.

With options available to you, including consultation with a healthcare provider and access to ED medications, you can potentially reclaim your passions and enhance both your erections and your post-orgasm recovery time. Curious about other ways to elevate your sexual performance? Check out our guide to better sex for a treasure trove of techniques that can make your time in bed truly memorable.

By Dr. David Kahan, PhD

  • Education: – B.S. in Kinesiology, 1990, UCLAM. Ed. in Teacher Education, 1991, UCLA Ph.D. in HPER, 1995, The Ohio State University
  • Professional Memberships: American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation & Dance (AAHPERD), National Association for Kinesiology and Physical Education in Higher Education (NAKPEHE)
  • Research Areas: My initial focus in graduate school was directed at coaching behavior with special emphasis on gender dynamics (e.g., males coaching female athletes). At my first appointment, I changed my focus to better match a major job responsibility—the preparation and supervision of preservice (student teachers and undergraduate field practicum students) teachers. To this end, I spent 5 years on projects to better understand cooperating teacher behavior and beliefs. Beginning in the Fall of 2001, I again switched my focus to issues involving the relationship between physical activity and religion/culture. During a sabbatical year in 2009, I added focus by investigating the impact of social-ecological variables on preschool children’s physical activity.