Is the 18-minute rule a secret to better sex?

My 2019 new year’s resolution was to figure out how to consistently have mind-blowing sex. As a result, I’ve been doing some digging.

I came across a study in the Journal of Sex Research (okay, okay, I found an article about it first) that looked into how long foreplay is supposed to last. It examined 152 straight couples, and asked the men and women to rank how long they wanted to engage in foreplay, and then looked at how long they actually did it. To clarify what they mean by foreplay, oral sex doesn’t count. Touching there doesn’t count. It’s all the stuff that comes first. Women wanted about 19 minutes of foreplay, ideally. Men said they wanted 18. What they usually got was 11 for women, and 13 for men.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who was surprised that the men wanted just as much foreplay as the women. The women in the study underestimated their partner’s desire for foreplay significantly. In my own experience, I’ve never had a guy ask for longer foreplay- but then again, I’ve wanted it and never asked for it either. What’s also interesting is that the gap between the ideal and the actual is so large. Does 18 minutes just sound perfect, but not work so well in practice?

It might not seem like a huge amount of time between 18–19 and 11–13, but, if you’ve ever stood in a line without your phone for long enough, or had a personal trainer demand you do something for 30 seconds longer, you’ll know that minutes can feel infinite. There’s also something incredibly delicious about wanting to dive in to something, and holding back just a little bit longer. It creates anticipation and desire, the magic ingredients to making sex truly hot.

I’ve usually found that sex is usually better at the beginning of a relationship, even when a partner gets to know me better over time. I think part of that is that it becomes easier and easier to fast forward over the foreplay the more that you do it. At the beginning, there’s more making out. There’s more butterflies. There are more surprises and curiosity.

Thinking back to the sex that I’ve been having lately, it’s not been bad- but there’s a lot of room for improvement. Foreplay generally takes between 3–8 minutes, which is likely at least part of the reason why things haven’t been as spicy as they could be. I don’t think having more foreplay is the magic cure. Sex is complex. Length of time spent getting hot and bothered is only one piece of the puzzle.

The only way to figure out how much it could help was to test it.

I thought that setting a timer for how long we were supposed to engage in foreplay would rank amongst the least sexy things you could possibly do in bed. At first, it was actually kind of fun. Pushing just a little longer, avoiding slipping into the same old habits- it felt good. Honestly, I had gotten a bit lazy. Knowing I had time to kill encouraged me to work harder, which I think we both benefited from.

Then, there was a point where the excitement began to decline. For the last five minutes, it kind of dragged. The anticipation turned into a feeling of “no, seriously, can we just do this now?”. There wasn’t that moment where one of us just couldn’t take the teasing anymore. The flow was ruined.

I think, without the timer, we would have ended up at around the 11–13 minute mark. It seems there’s a reason why that’s the average amount of time spent. I love the idea of spending a luxurious amount of time indulging in slow, teasing foreplay… but maybe the time I really want to spend in the moment is much shorter than in my fantasies.

So, maybe 18 minutes is not the magic number for me. It might be for you. This did remind me that I should ask for slightly more time to be spent on foreplay- just maybe not that much.