Foreplay has a bad rap. In heterosexual relationships, the stereotype goes that acts of intimacy leading to intercourse are things women crave and men tolerate. And cuddling after sex? Straights guys only do that to please their partners, right? Well, a new study shows that most of us want some pre- and post-game action, and there’s a magic number for peak satisfaction: six.
It’s called the “six-minute rule,” according to a new study commissioned by Trojan condoms and the non-profit Sex Information and Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN). The study of 1,500 Canadians between 18 and 24 years old found that people of all sexualities who engage in six or more minutes of “pre-sex affectionate behaviour” (making out, cuddling, below-the-belt stuff, etc.) were more likely to say that they were “very sexually satisfied.” An even higher amount (56% of men and 55% of women) were more satisfied if they engaged in post-sex affectionate behaviour for the same amount of time.
“Particularly in heterosexual relationships, the main event is [typically] penis-in-vagina intercourse,” says Robin Milhausen, a sexuality professor from the University of Guelph, who worked on the survey. “Oftentimes, we forget about the opportunity that comes from bonding after sex. We're vulnerable, we feel relaxed, we feel really connected, and so, that's a perfect time for intimacy that can lead to more sexual satisfaction.”
Even though men reported enjoying sexual encounters more if they followed the “six-minute rule,” the study did show that they will still reach orgasm without it, whereas the majority of women (61%) will not. That’s where the “wham, bam, thank you ma'am stereotype” that men get saddled with comes from, says Cynthia Loyst, sex educator, advice columnist, and author of Find Your Pleasure: The Art of Living a More Joyful Life. Loyst says that perceiving intercourse or men achieving orgasm as the “main event” is the biggest problem with our current outlook on sex. “There's this idea that women see sex one way and men see sex another way,” she says. “We need to rename ‘foreplay’ and ‘after-play’ to just ‘sexual play’ because it's all sexual pleasure.”
The new data is promising to Loyst because she says it signals a shift in Gen Z’s attitudes towards consent. “This data shows that people do need to feel like their body is being respected, especially after sex, and that there's a mutual pleasurable experience for both people.” She says, whether you are in a long-term relationship or just in it for a one-night stand, taking time before and after sex to show affection to your partner indicates thoughtfulness and deference that is essential to an enjoyable sexual encounter.
So, why is six minutes the sweet spot for pre- and post-coital intimacy? In general, the longer the entire sexual encounter, the more satisfied people reported being, but their pleasure ratings dipped at lower than six minutes. “Six minutes is a critical time,” Milhausen says. “People who are the most satisfied in their encounters are doing a variety of activities... It’s a simple thing that people can do in their relationships that doesn't cost any money.”
Loyst says that she agrees that though six minutes is the shortest amount of time for optimal pleasure, it’s shouldn’t be a hard-and-fast rule. “It can’t hurt to go a little bit longer on both of those ends.”