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How erections work

Erections occur as a result of blood filling the soft tissue of the penis. An erection begins once the brain sends a signal to the nerves around the blood vessels of the penis. This will result in more blood flowing into the penis than out. This results in an erection. There are three types of erections that can occur. These are:

  • Spontaneous erections – those that occur without sexual stimulation or though
  • Erections from sexual arousal – those that occur as a result of sexual thoughts, vision, or touch
  • Nocturnal erections – those that occur during sleep, usually REM sleep. Responsible for morning wood.

What factors affect erections

There is a multitude of factors that can affect erection quality and the length of time a man is able to maintain an erection. These include:

  • Performance anxiety
  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Alcohol intake
  • Drug and medicine use
  • Physical fitness
  • Age

How long can the average man stay erect?

The average erection duration can vary wildly and there is no ‘correct’ duration for an erection. Typically they will last anywhere from a few minutes to 30 minutes. How long it will last will depend on the factors that can affect erections and whether they are causing problems gaining and maintaining an erection.

A healthy erection will last until it’s no longer required. This will usually happen after ejaculation; however, the duration will entirely depend on how long you engage in sexual activity. There is no definitive answer for how long this should be either. A study of 500 couples found the average time for intervaginal sex to be about 5.4 minutes.
Whether you are lasting longer than this, or shorter does not matter provided you and your partner are satisfied and erection duration is not a limiting factor.

Having an erection too long

While to many this does not sound like a problem, it can be serious. And for context, this refers to duration rather than penis length. To find out about the average penis length, you can read ‘Average Penis Size’. 

An erection lasting too long is called priapism. Priapism can occur due to insect bites, an underlying medical condition or a side effect of certain medications. Priapism is a medical emergency that can result in permanent damage to your penis. So, if you ever have an erection lasting for more than 4 hours, go to your nearest emergency room for urgent care. You may be embarrassed but it’s better to be embarrassed than to permanently damage your penis.

Having an erection too short

If you are unable to maintain an erection for long enough or hard enough to have sex, you may be suffering from erectile dysfunction (ED). This is a common sexual health problem affecting 50% of men in some way. This is not just a problem in old men, 25% of younger men under 40 will experience ED in their lives.

Visit our online ED clinic

If your erection isn’t lasting long enough because you ejaculate too soon regularly and lose your erection, you may be suffering from premature ejaculation (PE). This is another very common sexual health problem affecting 30-40% of men.

Visit our online PE clinic

Both conditions can lead to dissatisfaction for both you and your partner and can place a heavy mental burden on men.

If you believe you are suffering from either of these conditions, it is important that you are medically reviewed so you may receive treatment for the condition or if possible, the underlying cause. If you are too embarrassed to see your doctor in person, there are many online services such as Simple Online Pharmacy that can provide you with online consultations with a doctor for registered UK treatments that can be sent discreetly to your door.

How to improve erections

Dissatisfaction with erection quality can place a heavy burden on relationships and men in general. Those who experience erectile problems should implement advice for how to improve their erectile quality to relieve this burden and improve their sexual wellbeing.

Erection pills

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Erection pills are a group of medicines that promote blood flow around the penis. This allows it to fill with blood easier, making it easier to gain and maintain an erection. The medicines are most well known by the four major branded medicines Viagra (Sildenafil), Cialis (Tadalafil), Levitra (Vardenafil) and Spedra (Avanafil).

While these medicines are similar, each can be quite unique in regards to how quickly they work, or how long they last. Which one is right for you should be decided after a medical review of you and your condition.

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Premature ejaculation (PE) pills

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Premature ejaculation pills delay ejaculation in 8 in 10 men who use them. Better known as Priligy (dapoxetine), they can up to triple ejaculation time in some men when taken 1-3 hours prior to sex. If your erections aren’t lasting long enough due to fast ejaculation, this prescription medicine can be considered.

Lifestyle changes to improve erections

Erectile disfunction

It may not be necessary to use ED pills at all if you are able to control the underlying factors causing your erectile problems. To help improve erectile function you should consider trying the following things:

  • Improve fitness – poor fitness and blood circulation can worsen erections
  • Quit smoking – Improves vascular health leading to stronger erections
  • Engage in foreplay
  • Communicate with your partner
  • Reduce alcohol – Alcohol is a well-established cause of ED
  • Address and control underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and anxiety
  • Lose weight – men who are obese suffer ED 2.5 times more than those at a lower weight

These may take a while to improve however it is highly recommended you attempt to address these factors. For assistance, you should contact your health professional who can provide support and guidance on how to address these factors.

Premature ejaculation

There are some behavioural techniques you can use straight away to delay ejaculation and have longer-lasting erections. These are techniques to last longer in bed naturally which include the squeeze technique, the stop-start technique, distraction and sex therapy. The definitive guide for lasting longer in bed can be found in ‘11 ways to last longer in bed’.

11 ways to last longer in bed


There’s no right or wrong length of time a man can stay erect. You should be able to stay erect until you, or you and your partner are satisfied with the sex. If this is not the case, you should consider consulting a doctor about your options.