April 11th, 2008
10:51 AM ET

Let's talk about sex

By Val Willingham

Medical Producer


I've been reading a lot about sex lately. Not the stuff with nothing-to-the-imagination pictures or racy prose.  I'm talking health studies on sex. It's bad enough that we are bombarded 24/7 with details of Lindsay Lohan's exploits or Madonna's great sex life, but now serious medical journals are taking up the once-taboo topic.


But scientists say sex shouldn't be taboo.  Knowing how people conduct their sex lives is important, they say. It helps us understand that we're probably not so different from the rest of the world.  Just recently an article in a prestigious journal announced that the optimal amount of time for sexual intercourse was three to 13 minutes. (Read more about the study)  Seems therapists looked at 1,500 couples in 2005 and found the median duration was 7.3 minutes.  Women in the study were actually armed with stopwatches.  How romantic.


"There are so many myths in our culture of what other people are doing sexually," says Marianne Brandon, a clinical psychologist and director of Wellminds Wellbodies in Annapolis, Maryland. "Most people's sex lives are not as exciting as other people think they are."


Therapists I've talked to say your sex life is like your fingerprint.  No two are the same.  What works for some doesn't work for others. We spend so much time worrying about measuring up to Heidi Klum or Matthew McConaughey that we miss the moment. Analyzing sex and putting it under a microscope, to me, just takes the fun and passion out of it.


I realize sex studies will continue.  But wouldn't it be nice if the money they put into this kind of research could go to finding the cure for breast, prostate or cervical cancer?    Who cares if you go three minutes or three hours? If you wake up smiling, that's all that counts.  Put the stopwatches away, and get down to some real research.


What do you think? 


Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation. 


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soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. reza

    thanks for...................

    April 11, 2008 at 12:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. R. from Oakland

    I agree, money should be put to work for more important researches.
    So what if the results of those sex researches say 3 to 10 minutes for intercouse, that find did not save a life, did it?

    April 11, 2008 at 13:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. John

    I think it's high time we stopped demonizing sex and anything to do with it, and that includes sexual harassment, sex offenders, etc. Sex is why we are here, folks. It's not dirty, nor illegal, nor against anybody's religion – it's a basic human emotional and physical need. It should be studied, published about, and better understood so we can move beyond our Victorian opinions about it and maybe become better people sometime in the future!

    Yes, sex is used as a weapon, as an intimidation tactic, etc. Yes, people who use it that way should be convicted of whatever appropriate crime. But sex is also so terribly misunderstood with deep-seated misconceptions and fears that it should be discussed. And by even reading about studies we might begin to break down some of the taboos and ideas that ruin even the most basic enjoyment of it for many people.

    April 11, 2008 at 13:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. john doe

    I agree completely. I am currently a neuroscience major and I am planning on going into research myself. I have come across this issue before in one of my classes, a drug addiction class in which a study was done about the amount of money funding research on different issues and the amount of economic impact the issue had. It was found that drug abuse and alcohol abuse had the most impact on the economy, but less money was set aside for research in that field. It is mind blowing how research is done for entertainment and not for benefit. Instead of spending money on the length of time someone can go in bed, why not spend it on Alzheimer's, which from personal experience really takes a toll on a family, as well as diseases like cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other mental health problems that takes a huge toll not only on the families but also the overall population of the world.

    April 11, 2008 at 14:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Casey

    How could you be "against" sex research and in the same paragraph say that we should be focusing on HIV/AIDS and cancer?

    You do realize that those things can be sexually transmitted (cervical cancer is somewhat sexually transmitted), right? Knowing the who's and why's of sex can help aim prevention and treatment at the right people. And if – as a side effect – you find out that most people average 7.3 minutes a "session" then so be it.

    April 11, 2008 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Erick Corrales

    I agree with you Sanjay, who ever they is does need to do real research, with that being said why did that even make the news on CNN.COM

    April 12, 2008 at 06:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. therapydoc

    Dear Doctor,
    I'm afraid you're missing the point. Not only is a half an hour of "canoodling" considered healthful for a relationship, but foreplay to foreplay is, too.

    If you consider the costs of divorce to society, the emotional pain of separation and failure, then you'll understand how important it is that these "little" facts are disseminated by social and biological scientists.

    You can read more on my blog, Everyone Needs Therapy.

    Google it. It'll pop up right away. People like to read about relationships. They're important.


    April 13, 2008 at 00:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. patty

    Corporate America has the money and they will pay to research things they believe are profitable. Always follow the money!

    April 13, 2008 at 01:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Betty

    Why NOT study sex? So much of our lives revolves around sex, the desire to breed and how social interactions and relationships are shaped by attraction and coupling behavior. Almost everything we do is tied into attracting and keeping mates and preparing for and supporting children. Do not forget that sex is what keeps our species going - we should definitely find out all we can about it (and talk about it OPENLY!).

    April 13, 2008 at 20:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Michael

    Dr. Gupta,

    I agree that studying "normal" sex lives has limited value, especially the stop-watch study you referenced. However, there are many important discoveries yet to be learned about impaired sexuality. Many pharmaceuticals, namely antidepressants, can come with grave neurological and hormonal sexual side effects that are not understood, and are rarely discussed with patients. I beg you to do a search on a condition called PSSD, for the lack of a better acronym, to understand the range of seemingly untreatable sexual side effects suffered by thousands.


    April 14, 2008 at 07:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Me

    Other countries don't even come close to the amount of time discussing sex like we do. Ironic that they don't have as many people with diseases as we do.

    April 14, 2008 at 11:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Mike Z

    I completely disagree. Regardless of the social systems we have set up, sex is arguably the most powerful instinctual force governing our lives. MORE sexual studies should be conducted despite how "unromantic" it may seem. Sexual issues and resulting mental health and relationship issues remain taboo because not enough work is done in this field.

    April 14, 2008 at 14:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Nellie

    Well I feel there is a need for studing sex. But when it is being studied, we should also include the mental feelings, because the length of time doesn't matter as long as at the end we are both satiafied, and for the most part that all depends on your connection with your partner.

    April 15, 2008 at 11:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Kate

    How does sexual activity and overall health relate? Is there a credibile study or paper documenting this?

    April 15, 2008 at 11:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. maureen germany

    Studies about sex ( or how long the "process" should take for its benifits) is a simple issue that should forego to what is more important : human's natural bioligal needs and its effects.That's the trick.

    April 15, 2008 at 12:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. LaShawnda

    I think research on this should take place. Sex is something that is more romantacized than presented in a realistic manner. If the only information we get are the Harlequin and Hollywood versions then no wonder people are disappointed in relationships and looking for the happy ending Julia had in Pretty Woman. Honestly, throughout college I wouldn't let any one kiss me because I didn't want to get attached (that's the reason Julia gave for not kissing her johns in Pretty Woman). I believed it. Just like I believed I would have a glorious aha moment of recognition when the man divinely appointed to share my life crossed my path. I got that from the hundreds of romances I read in high school.

    I would have loved to have access to a study like this instead. A study of real people in real relationships providing us a snapshot of their interaction. Perhaps my expectations of men wouldn't have been so out of this world.

    I don't understand why people are so scared to talk about sex – as it is, not as we fantasize it to be. Real information is much better than the unrealistic made-for-entertainment version we've been getting for decades.

    April 16, 2008 at 11:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. BruceM

    Just a quick comment about sex & Christianity.
    Jesus Christ loves for His people to have sex. Read the
    New Testamont admonishment. Except for where both husband
    and wife are agreed to obstain for prayer or fasting God says
    fulfill your responsibility to your mate. In other words, enjoy
    lots of sex. God knows best. I love God's approach to life.

    April 17, 2008 at 15:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. James S.

    " But wouldn’t it be nice if the money they put into this kind of research could go to finding the cure for breast, prostate or cervical cancer?"

    Yea, like cause, like, then we could all live in a happy rainbow world and, like, not be sad and stuff.

    Yes, it is arguable that sex research grants and private money could be spent on research that is working to cure more immediate-threat sudden illnesses. However, it is dangerous to big trivializing investigative research because, like it our not, it was some silly, investigative research team that first established a strange link between HPV and cervical cancer.

    April 18, 2008 at 17:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Jersey

    We are so bombarded by sex in pop culture, that I think science should take a better look at it. While I am still all for trying to keep sex in marriage or long-term relationships, it is important to try to research the effects it has on us through terms of health, society, and psychology.

    April 19, 2008 at 14:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Debbie Mercer

    My husband and I have been married for almost 23yrs. Having a great sex life takes communication and time to get to know each other. More importantly remembering that as a couple our needs change over time, as our relationship has evolved so has our sex life. Taking the time to communicate instead of getting frustrated or giving up is the key.

    April 20, 2008 at 13:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Jacqueline


    Unless this blog is only for the "Let's make believe God doesn't exists and/ or the Holy Doctrine of the Bible is ONLY true as much as I can perceive it to be people," then I'd like to add my two cents, if I may. My views have gotten me into hot water for almost as long as I have been alive. So, go ahead throw the daggers if you will. I'm used to them.

    A person's sex life or lack thereof, is no one else's business. I am a TRUE believer in the Word of God and believe that sex should only occur between a Man and Wife (a real/natural man and women by birth, otherwise, it's just "Let's Make Believe") according to the Word. It is a sacred union and should be handled as such; with discretion and reverence.

    Whatever issues there are, good, bad or lukewarm regarding sex between two people, then they should stay there. If however, there is more than one partner involved on either side... well then, out goes the sacredness and security thereof. And the issues become the business of everyone involved, which lends to unnecessary money spending on unnecessary studies on sex, whereas, these monies could be put toward efforts combating poverty and homelessness.

    But that's just my opinion.

    April 22, 2008 at 13:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Jacqueline

    James S,

    There would be no HPV virus and cervical cancer, nor any other sexually transmtted deseases if people didn't have multiple partners.

    April 22, 2008 at 14:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. mark

    I think it was a good research to know the duration of effective sex time in general. Sex is not as fascinating as it looks when you don't have it. Good to know that in general.

    April 23, 2008 at 00:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Josh

    I don't agree that money set aside for this study should have been allocated to cancer research. The funding for this study was probably a small percentage of total funding for medical sciences – the social impact and psychological benefits from this study is not life saving, but have strong implications for the quality of life of many people.
    Just as research on the link between good marriages and stress can not save lives, it provides physicians better basis to advice patients on how to improve the quality of their lives.
    Yes, research on saving lives are important, but research on the quality of life for those living are important too and should not be treated as waste.

    April 25, 2008 at 04:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. vic

    i agree to stop so much sex research. There are two catagories though. if it is research about preventing and curing STDs or something along those lines i say go for it, but to spend millions of dollars telling me how long i should last in the sack...no. now if you find out how long while doing the other research than that's okay but we do not need to spend our money on stupid studies like the one that was on here about how women would be more willing to have sex if men help around the house... okay... how does that help hummanity? besides, most guys already know that, we are just a little lazy sometimes... okay alot of times. maybe we can do a study of why guys hate chores....

    April 28, 2008 at 12:53 | Report abuse | Reply
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