How Soon After Sex Can You Orgasm Again?

Looking to go for another round? You probably need 30 minutes — at least. Getty Images

It's hard to say whether men or women have it better when it comes to sex. An argument in favor of women's superior sexual experience is that they can have multiple orgasms. An extremely small subset of men claim they can achieve this as well — as in have multiple orgasms (ejaculations) without losing their erection in between — but there's no good evidence that this ability exists.

Most men have to wait a considerable amount of time before they can get things going again. In men and women, this is called the refractory period. "It's not as though there is a standard definition out there, but typically we think of it as being the interval of time between a person having an orgasm and the person having the next orgasm," says David Rowland, professor of psychology at Valparaiso University. The fact that the term refractory period is used gives us a hint that there are still many unknowns when it comes to this bodily process.

With some confidence, Rowland says refractory periods usually last a minimum of 30 to 40 minutes for most men, but the upper end of the spectrum is open. "There's nothing considered normal because there aren't really data on this," he says. Part of the issue here is that this is difficult to test. It would require a man to have an orgasm and then attempt to do it again as soon as possible. Even if someone did take on this challenge, he would still only gain part of the picture. This is because refractory periods are highly variable and dependent on the situation, says Rowland.

A major part of this, after all, is that the refractory period is dependent on wanting to have sex again. A man who is, for whatever reason, really into his partner one day may have a shorter refractory period than he will three days later, when that mysterious spark is gone. It's not as though the period is set in stone and a man's body is going to start on the path to orgasm on its own. Refractory periods also tend to lengthen as a man ages.

There aren't any good answers as to why the refractory period exists, but there are a couple theories. One, says Rowland, is taken from an evolutionary perspective. "It's one way of assuring that there's a high sperm count with each attempted sexual interaction, which then increases the likelihood that there will actually be an insemination, a pregnancy, and so on," says Rowland. We know that ejaculation causes an immediate decrease in sperm count and that it takes some time to build that count back up. If a man ejaculates more than once in a relatively short period of time, his otherwise high sperm count could drop to levels that would indicate infertility. This is why many fertility experts advise men to wait at least two days between ejaculations in order to get an optimal count.

In terms of the physiological reasons for the refractory period, the uncertainty continues, but Rowland has a rough idea of what may be happening. Some people think that the refractory period results from signals sent by the brain after orgasm that temporarily prevent the erectile and orgasmic process from starting up again. Rowland isn't sold on this because he says it doesn't explain the difference in refractory period between men and women. "Our thinking is that this is not something that is occurring centrally in the brain, but rather it's a local circuit in the body," says Rowland. He co-authored an article in BJU International detailing this alternative idea.

Both experts suggest that stretching of muscles, tissue, vesicles, or tubes during stimulation and arousal could cause stretch receptors in the pelvic area to build pressure and then release a substance during orgasm that inhibits the next orgasm. This would be similar to the way certain feedback loops work in the cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems, says Rowland. Given that women don't have the ejaculatory structures that men have, this could explain the difference in multiple-orgasm capabilities between the sexes.

Whatever causes the refractory period and whatever qualifies as a normal amount of wait time between orgasms, having to wait a day is not a red flag. "I don't know of anybody that has been considered to have a problem because of a long refractory period," says Rowland.