Premature Ejaculation

by Anne Freier
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Premature ejaculation (PE) can be difficult to talk about but is an issue across all age groups.

Is there a mental health link that you need to know about?

The facts about premature ejaculation

Studies differ considerably, but it's estimated that:

At least 20% and possibly up to 75% of men will experience PE temporarily at some stage of their lives, most commonly in their 20s and 30s.

And yet many men, especially millennials who’ve grown up on internet porn, aren’t aware of normal duration of intercourse to ejaculation.

Instead, they measure their sex life in comparison to the marathon performances of porn stars, put themselves under performance pressure, then convince themselves they have a problem.

Doctors typically only speak of premature ejaculation if the male orgasm happens involuntarily within the first minute of intercourse.

Also note that occassional premature ejaculation is normal. The NHS guide to ejaculation problems only recommends that you seek help for PE, "if you're finding that around half of your attempts at sex result in premature ejaculation."

So what is a normal time length for intercourse?

In a study of 500 couples from five different countries, the average time of vaginal intercourse up to the point of ejaculation (“intravaginal ejaculation latency time (IELT)” in science speak) was found to be five-and-a-half minutes, and rarely to exceed 10 minutes. (1)

And a study of Canadian and American sex therapists found that their opinions on the ‘adequate’ timing of intercourse to the point of ejaculation was three to seven minutes. Seven to 13 minutes was seen as desirable.

Not exactly like the movies, then.

Why do some men suffer premature ejaculation?

Prostate problems, thyroid problems, and using recreational drugs, as well as naturally having a more sensitive penis, can all add to ejaculation problems.

But there equally as many psychological reasons for experiencing premature ejaculation.

Premature ejaculation is often caused by performance anxiety. Young men in particular tend to forget that there’s so much more to great sex than just the intercourse part, which causes stress.

Other causes can be:

  • depression
  • guilt from a strict or religious upbringing
  • feeling uncomfortable in your relationship
  • sexual trauma as a child.

How can therapy help with PE?

If you feel you need professional support, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a great choice. CBT means cognition is used to identify and challenge negative thoughts, leading to changed attitudes and behaviors.

CBT is evidence-based for lowering anxiety and will help raise your confidence.

Mindfulness-based therapy is another therapeutic approach you may find worth exploring. Mindfulness aims to concentrate your awareness on the present moment over the future-based thoughts causing you anxiety. It can increase your awareness of your partner, helping you be more connected.

Finally, if you are in a relationship, couples therapy is recommended. And nowadays you can even do couples therapy via the internet, from the comfort of your own home, if that feels better for you.

Anne Freier is a medical and science writer. She has an MRes in Biomedical Research and a MSc in Neuroscience & Neuropsychology.

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