Refractory period (sex)

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In sexuality, the refractory period is the recovery phase after orgasm during which it is physiologically impossible for an individual to have additional orgasms. It is also sometimes defined as "the time immediately following orgasm during which a man cannot achieve an erection."[1] The penis may be hypersensitive and further sexual stimulation may even feel painful during this time frame.

The refractory period varies widely between individuals and across species, ranging from minutes to days. An increased infusion of the hormone oxytocin during ejaculation is believed to be chiefly responsible for the refractory period and the amount by which oxytocin is increased may affect the length of each refractory period.

Another chemical which is considered to be responsible for this effect is prolactin, which represses dopamine, which is responsible for sexual arousal.

Despite the tendency to lose an erection after orgasm, it is possible to regain it even during the refractory period via fellatio.

Unlike men, some women do not experience a refractory period immediately after orgasm and in many cases are capable of attaining additional, multiple orgasms through further stimulation (mainly oral-genital stimulation or through masturbation). The female sexual response is more varied than that of men, and there are many women who experience clitoral hypersensitivity after orgasm, which effectively creates a refractory period. These women may be capable of further orgasms, but the pain involved in getting there makes the prospect undesirable.

18-year-old males have a refractory period of about 15 minutes, while those in their 70s take about 20 hours, with the average for all men being about a half-hour.[2]


  • Haake, P.; Exton, M.S.; Haverkamp, J.; Krämer, M.; Leygraf, N.; Hartmann, U.; Schedlowski, M.; Krueger, T.H.C. (2002), "Absence of orgasm-induced prolactin secretion in a healthy multi-orgasmic male subject", International Journal of Impotence Research, 14 (2), pp. 133–135, doi:10.1038/sj/ijir/3900823, retrieved 2007-07-30 Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  • Rathus, Spencer A.; Nevid, Jeffrey S.; Fichner-Rathus, Lois; Herold, Edward S.; McKenzie, Sue Wicks (2005), Human sexuality in a world of diversity (Second ed.), New Jersey, USA: Pearson Education, ISBN 1-205-46013-5
  • Sexual Response Cycle, University of California, Santa Barbara, retrieved 2007-07-30
  2. Kanner, Bernice. Are You Normal About Sex, Love, and Relationships? p. 52.