A successful erection depends on an intricate play of different body systems including the vascular system, that is the blood vessels, as well as the heart, neurological, endocrine, and psychological systems. On that note, many factors can affect erections including drugs, alcohol, and smoking, as well as common disorders such as diabetes, dyslipidemia, and high blood pressure.
An erection is a complex cascade relying on intricate interactions between the brain, vessels, and the heart to “fill” the penis with blood to lead to successful coitus.
Many factors can interfere with the erection process, including psychological ones such as relationship stress, medical ones such as heart disease, or “chemical” ones such as alcohol or medications.
The average duration of erections is highly varied, but between 7-13 minutes before ejaculation is typically ideal, and anything longer than 3-4 hours is a medical emergency.
What is erection?
A penile erection, or penile tumescence, in the simplest terms is the engorgement of the “spongy” tissues inside the penis with blood leading to enlargement and firmness to achieve coitus. When triggered, the parasympathetic autonomic nervous system (the one responsible for “rest & digest” processes), releases a potent vasodilator (a chemical compound that dilates blood vessels) termed nitric oxide and dilates the arteries feeding corpus cavernosa and spongiosum (the sponge-like tissue inside the penis that can soak up blood), as well as compresses several muscles such as the bulbospongiosus to compress veins and thus prevent the newly filled corpus cavernosa and spongiosum from draining back. Ultimately, an erection is reversed when the parasympathetic signal is terminated.
Factors affecting Erection
Numerous factors can affect erections in men. Normal testosterone levels are important for libido as well as appropriate erections, due to their importance for the maintenance of intrapenile nitric oxide levels. Depression, stress, as well as relationship issues, can affect erectile function as much as leading to erectile dysfunction, and many drugs such as antihypertensives (blood pressure drugs) and antidepressants can also lead to an array of erectile issues to erectile dysfunction. Although typically considered an aphrodisiac, alcohol is associated with low libido as well as erectile issues-particularly in those that are abusing it.
How long should an erection last?
When it comes to erections, it is easier to define what is abnormal than what is normal. Any erection lasting longer than 3-4 hours is abnormal and is termed priapism, which is a medical emergency as it can harm penile tissues.
Erection during sex
Although there’s a paucity of data, an adequate duration of erection for satisfactory coitus is usually stated as 3 to 7 minutes, while for “desirable” sexual intercourse, the duration is estimated to be 7 to 13 minutes.
Erection after ejaculation
The refractory period is the period of sexual quiescence following ejaculation and is extremely common among mammals, as well as resistant to medications; the actual mechanism behind this period is unknown. However, orgasm and ejaculation be separate events, with multiple orgasms in males having been shown possible without concurrent ejaculations. The duration of the refractory period is on average 15-35 minutes, and although historically thought to increase with age, there is no good data to support this hypothesis.
Erection without stimulation
Erections without stimulation such as those that occur physiologically in men overnight typically last about 10-15 minutes per event, and there can be up to 6 separate erections per night. Thus, an average erection without stimulation would not be expected to last longer than an erection with stimulation.
Erection before ejecting
Several studies have demonstrated that both women and men thought of an appropriate post-erection ejaculatory latency to be about 14 to 18 minutes. Coitus that is “too long” has been also shown to be problematic for couples and an ejaculatory latency post-achievement of erection of 10 to 30 minutes has been deemed as excessive.
Premature ejaculation vs. brief erection
In the same realm, those with premature ejaculation may be suffering from what some scientists have termed opportunistic ejaculation. That is as the patient is consciously and subconsciously aware of the short period before detumescence, a speedier ejaculation may become essential. As such premature ejaculation may be a milder form of erectile dysfunction.
When should you talk to a doctor?
As with most physiological processes, the average duration of an erection as well as the refractory period are individualized. However, any erection lasting longer than 3-4 hours is a medical emergency that warrants urgent medical attention. In the same sense, if you notice any changes in your libido, and/or average duration of erection and refractory periods, it may be a herald of underlying cardiac disease or vascular disease; warranting a talk with your healthcare provider, preferably a urologist (a specialist doctor for urinary function as well as erection troubles)