Refractory Period: What Is It & How Can Men Shorten It?

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Have you ever felt disinterested in sex immediately after having an orgasm?

You’re not alone. 

Or do you remember the cliché scene in movies, where after a round of sex, one partner rolls over to find the other asleep?

There’s a reason for this – and it’s known as the refractory period.

Men experience a refractory period after ejaculating. During this time, it is entirely normal to feel uninterested in sex. This article will examine the causes behind this commonly-occurring phenomenon, as well as how long it lasts – and if it’s possible to bypass it.

Read on to discover if you can defeat this unseen adversary, and crack on straight to round two – or three.


What is the refractory period in men?

The refractory period is the length of time post orgasm when a person is not sexually responsive. Whilst the specific length of time may vary for everyone, the refractory period ends once the excitement phase of the human sexual response cycle begins anew. This can last for a few minutes, to a few hours. Unfortunately, your body is unlikely to allow you to stimulate a physical response during this period, even if your partner tries to sexually stimulate you. This makes it incredibly difficult to stay hard after you ejaculate.

The sexual response cycle is the sequence of physical and emotional changes that occur from the initial point of stimulation, to post orgasm. The refractory period is often referred to as the resolution phase of the cycle.

Stage 1: Desire, excitement, or arousal 

Lasting anywhere from a minute to several hours, the first stage of the sexual response model is defined by the physical stimulus and chemical processes that induce feelings of arousal and sexual interest.
Whilst the specific characteristics vary from person to person, they may generally include:

  • Increased heart rate and muscle tension
  • Flushed or blotchy skin on the chest and back
  • The nipples may become erect
  • Blood flow to the genitals increases, resulting in an erection
  • The swelling of the testicles and scrotum, and the secretion of a lubricating liquid from the tip of the penis


Stage 2: Plateau

The general characteristics of the plateau phase – which lasts until the achievement of an orgasm –often mimic or enhance the symptoms experienced in the first phase. These compounding and additional effects may include:

  • Continued tightening of the testicles
  • The prolonged and accelerated increase of breathing, heart rate and blood pressure
  • Muscle spasms in the feet, face, and hands
  • A harder erection

Stage 3: Orgasm 

The orgasm represents the (literal) climax of the sexual response cycle. The achievement of an orgasm aligns with the shortest of the four phases, generally only lasting a few seconds. During this phase, a man is likely to experience the following: 

  • Involuntary muscle contractions
  • The peak of elevated blood pressure and heart rates
  • Breathing at an accelerated pace, with a rapid intake of oxygen
  • Muscle spasms, often concentrated in the feet
  • The sudden and pronounced release of sexual tension
  • Rhythmic contractions of the muscles at the base of the penis, resulting in ejaculation
  • A post-coital rash, or “sex flush” may appear over the entire body

Stage 4: Resolution

Also known as the refractory period, the resolution phase is the period in which the body slowly resumes its normal level of function. During this period, swollen and erect body parts return to their normal size and colour. 

The refractory phase is often associated with a general sense of well-being, enhanced sensitivity – both emotionally and physically – and fatigue. Men cannot achieve orgasm again during this timeframe and will begin the ‘desire,’, or first stage, of the sexual response cycle upon becoming aroused once again. This happen to every man after sex.


What is the purpose of the refractory period?

Why the refractory period happens is unknown. After ejaculation, testosterone levels take a dip, and a hormone called prolactin rises. Prolactin is an important hormone for breastfeeding mothers, as it regulates milk supply for babies. Its purpose in men is not yet fully quite understood, but it reduces sexual desire. So, after sex, the drop in testosterone and rise in prolactin are the major contributing factors to the refractory period, where you temporarily lose interest in sexual activity.    


How long does the refractory period last?

The length of the refractory period can vary depending on the person. The average refractory time is not known, due to lack of scientific data. The most likely reason for this, is due to the lack of clinical significance of any findings.

However, research on a 25 year old male who did not experience a refractory period, found that he did not secrete the hormone prolactin. This rare case does in fact mean that subject in question is able to go back to back rounds.

There are also some males who can have an orgasm, without ejaculating. Research has shown that they are able to have several dry orgasms, without a refractory period.


How to shorten the refractory period

The internet is full of ideas and advice on how to reduce the refractory time. The truth is that most of the advice you read is likely to help improve sexual performance in general.

A few tips on how you may be able to shorten the refractory period include:

Exercise and eat well

The link between exercise and its effect on the refractory period lacks evidence. However, being active and having a healthy bodyweight can transform your sex life. Don’t underestimate the importance of keeping fit and eating healthy.

Look after your cardiovascular health

In order to get an erection, you need a healthy flow of blood around your body. If you are struggling to get hard again after a sex (particularly if you have ED), looking after your cardiovascular health will be of benefit. Reducing salt intake, avoiding nicotine, lowering stress levels and eating food that is good for your heart is likely to improve sexual performance.

Reduce alcohol consumption

Alcohol is strongly associated with several types of sexual dysfunction, including erectile dysfunction and low sex drive. Limiting alcohol can reduce how long you have to wait for round 2.

Try something new

Sex is all about arousal and stimulation. Fantasy, roleplay and new sexual positions can help you get aroused soon after round one

Because little is known about how or why the refractory period happens, finding a solution has proven to be difficult. Whilst ED medication is not prescribed to help bypass the refractory period, some scientific research has shown that those little blue pills may come in handy when it comes to reducing the refractory period.

Let’s take a closer look…


Can Viagra and Cialis help to reduce the refractory period?

One study looked at the effect of sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra) on 20 male subjects, and their recovery time after sex. Men were split across two groups - one group received sildenafil 100mg, whilst the second group received a placebo (dummy pill). The group that received sildenafil had their refractory time reduced by around 11 minutes, as opposed to the placebo group who experienced a reduction in refractory time by around 2 and half minutes.

Another study found that 40% of men that took sildenafil, experienced a reduction in refractory time, as opposed to just 13.3% of men who experienced the same when taking a placebo.

Having said this, a separate study found that whilst sildenafil increased the time that it takes to ejaculate, it had no effect on the male refractory period.

Verdict: There is evidence to prove that ED treatments such as sildenafil and tadalafil may reduce the refractory period, however, research doesn’t appear to be conclusive.


Does age affect a man’s refractory period?

All male sexual function begins to decline with age. Older men may need longer to get both physically and psychologically stimulated, than their younger counterparts. Additionally, they may require more time to recover from sex, extending the refractory period.

The refractory period a man experiences when young could also influence how the effects develop as they age. A man who experiences a longer refractory period as a teenager may find it increasingly difficult to perform sexually after orgasm for longer periods of time as they age. 


Do psychological reasons play a part?

Various psychological factors, such as performance anxiety, can play a part in the extended duration of the male refractory period. For some men, reaching sexual climax represents a well-deserved release, and the thought of performing again within a short period of time can be a daunting experience

The level of attraction and desire that you feel for your partner may also play a part – for example, if you are not sexually attracted to the individual that you are sharing a sexual experience with, it may be difficult for you to achieve an erection in the time following your orgasm.


What else can affect the refractory period?

There are a virtually infinite number of influences upon your individual refractory period response. Whether physical, chemical, or psychological, the impact of your age, excitement levels and internal response mechanisms each play an important role in when you’re ready for subsequent bouts of sexual intimacy. 

Here are some of the other common factors that can dictate a man’s ability to engage in renewed sexual activity post-orgasm:

Your mood

Increasing your level of arousal may represent the most effective way to get back in the game. Post-sex, your body releases hormones including oxytocin and prolactin that may –as outlined by the National Library of Medicine (NIH) –  play a role in limiting your arousal and preventing your ability to achieve a subsequent erection. The loss of interest in sex caused by the release of these hormones, explain why often, a man’s mood changes after ejaculating.

The chemical and hormonal response after ejaculation, encourages rest and relaxation. By focusing on your sexual desire towards your partner, you may be able to speed up the time it takes for your body to re-enter the arousal stage of the sexual response cycle.

How tired you are

Whilst the link between fatigue and the duration of the male refractory period varies in individuals, chemicals released after sex, such as norepinephrine, serotonin, and oxytocin – as well as the hormone prolactin – result in feelings of sexual satisfaction. 

This relaxed state is associated with the body’s internal ‘recovery time response’ in order to generate more prolactin. The link suggests there may be an association with the level of fatigue a man has prior to the initial sexual encounter.


The link between testosterone and the duration of the male refractory period is largely unrelated, although an abundance of the hormone may influence your ability to re-enter the four-stage sexual response model quicker. So, the more testosterone you have, the more likely you are to be able to engage in sexual activity soon after ejaculation.


But why can I get hard again so quickly after masturbating and not when having intercourse?

We have already established that prolactin in men, reduces sexual desire. Whilst prolactin is released after ejaculation, whether it be via masturbation, or sex, it will result in a loss of sexual appetite either way. However, the volume of prolactin released after sex is 400 times higher than levels that are released after masturbation. This means that lower prolactin levels after masturbation, makes it easier to get an erection and ready for round two in a much shorter space of time.


What about the female refractory period?

Women have almost no refractory period, enabling them to achieve multiple orgasms during a single sexual encounter. The neurotransmitters released upon achieving orgasm in order to stabilise the body affect women differently than men, resulting in a refractory period that often lasts mere seconds for females.


What about supplements?

There are a variety of vitamins and supplements available on the market that can reduce the body’s production of prolactin, the hormone that suppresses sexual arousal post-orgasm. It is thought that an increased levels of B6 can directly inhibit the levels of prolactin in the body – although the blood levels of this vitamin required to immediately work are only achieved via IV injections.

If you’re looking for some oral supplements to take, here’s a list of effective options:

  • Vitamin B6: 200-400mg should be enough to aid in reducing the levels of prolactin in the body, when IV administration isn’t a readily available option.
  • Zinc:  A study published by the NIH indicates that the testosterone-boosting effects of daily zinc supplementation may also be effective in reducing the production of prolactin in the body. By steadily increasing the dosage from 25mg to 50mg, a diminished presence of prolactin was identified in the study participants.
  • Mucuna Pruriens: This herb from Asia and Africa has been noted to raise testosterone and reduce prolactin. A study published on the American Society for Reproductive Medicine website noted that 5 grams of Mucuna Pruriens seed powder daily for 3 months dropped 19% prolactin and raised 27% testosterone levels in healthy men.

It is important to note that there is a lack of robust clinical data to support the use of vitamins and supplements, in helping males to shorten the refractory period.


Is it even possible to stay hard after ejaculation?

Most men are likely to lose their erection after ejaculation. This is normal. The period that comes after this is called ‘latency’, which makes it difficult to get an erection. Latency periods are shorter in younger, healthier people, and can get longer as you age. 

Whilst you can have more than one erection in a session, it is highly unlikely to ejaculate without a latency period – or to stay hard after an orgasm for that matter.

Whilst all of our content is written and reviewed by healthcare professionals, it is not intended to be substituted for or used as medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, please speak to your doctor.