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What is the Refractory Period?

by Beth Divine 4 Sep 2018

According to the dictionary definition, a refractory period is the recovery time needed by an ‘excitable membrane’ before it can receive a second stimulus after the climax of the first stimulus. It is basically a period following a reaction that must pass before that reaction can be repeated.

In human sex, the refractory period is the time immediately following an orgasm during which further sexual stimulus or another orgasm – in fact any sexual arousal at all – is impossible. This period does occur to both men and women, but women often have a very much shorter recovery time, and can even be ready to orgasm again within seconds after reaching satisfaction once. The jury is out on whether multiple orgasms count as single instances (which would count against the theory of women being subject to a refractory period) or as a series of responses within the same stimulus, with the refractory period coming after the series has completed.

In men, however, the refractory period is fairly lengthy and is easily discernible. Following orgasm, the man will be unable to be aroused, and his penis may temporarily become hypersensitive to the point that any attempt to initiate sexual arousal might actually be painful. This hypersensitivity also happens with women, and it is best to be very gentle and slow in your movements following a female orgasm – at least until she has recovered somewhat!

The refractory period in men changes over their lives. In very young men, eighteen-year-olds and their peers, the refractory period is about fifteen minutes. In men over the age of seventy, it can be about twenty hours, with the average of all men falling at about the half-hour mark. Some men can literally take days to recover. This is not all a bad thing as the refractory period is marked by featuring a feeling of satisfaction and fulfilment – and, of course, it frees one up to do so much more with one's time!  

There have been some rare instances of men enjoying multiple, fully-ejaculatory orgasms with the record of six orgasms in just over thirty minutes being noted. The whole process comes down to the release of hormones such as oxytocin, serotonin and prolactin. The few men who have no observable refractory period are shown to have a muted or indiscernible prolactin response, which lends some credibility to this theory.

How long do you need before you are ready to go again? Are you a slow and steady candidate or one of the lucky ones who can go again and again without stopping?