Actual and Desired Duration of Foreplay and Intercourse: Discordance and Misperceptions within Heterosexual Couples
Miller, S. Andrea, Byers, E. Sandra, The Journal of Sex Research
A mutually satisfying sexual relationship is complex. It involves the pairing of two individuals, each with his or her own idiosyncratic set of tikes and dislikes. Each, in the language of Simon and Gagnon (1968), with a unique ideal sexual script. A couple's sexual performance script--that is, what actually occurs during the couples' sexual encounter--may be quite incongruent with one or both partners' ideal script with respect to desired duration of sexual activities.
Past research has attempted to determine heterosexual couples' actual and desired duration of both foreplay (1) and intercourse. For example, early research by Kinsey and his colleagues (Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948; Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin, & Gebhard, 1953) found that women and men reported an average foreplay duration of approximately 12 minutes. Three quarters of the men reported an intercourse duration of under two minutes. Hunt (1974) found that reports of the duration of both foreplay and intercourse had increased over the intervening 2 decades. Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, and Michaels (1994) also investigated performance scripts. However, they chose to study "duration of last sexual event" rather than the duration of foreplay and intercourse separately. Further, none of these studies investigated participants' ideal duration of either foreplay or intercourse.
Denney, Field, and Quadagno (1984) studied both actual and ideal duration of foreplay, but not intercourse, using a multiple-choice format ranging from less than 5 minutes to more than 30 minutes. They found that both the reported performance and ideal sexual scripts involved between 5 and more than 30 minutes of foreplay. However, given their methodology, it is impossible to directly compare precise performance and ideal script duration. Thus, it is not known whether these individuals perceived themselves to be experiencing their desired duration of foreplay and intercourse. Further, as past research has been based on reports from only one member of a sexual couple, researchers have not compared male and female partners' reports of the duration of their performance or ideal sexual scripts for foreplay and intercourse.
Having both partners provide information allows for the examination of understanding or misperceptions within the couple. First, comparing perceptions of a partner's ideal duration of both foreplay and intercourse to the other partner's self-reported ideal duration provides an estimate of the extent to which partners understand one another's ideal sexual script. In a study of interpersonal communication and sexual adjustment, Purnine and Carey (1997) investigated understanding of partners' sexual likes and dislikes. They found that participants did not fully understand how pleasurable their partners found various sexual activities. However, they did not investigate partner understanding of the ideal duration of foreplay and intercourse.
There are a number of factors that may contribute to misperceptions about ideal duration of foreplay and intercourse. First, sexual misperceptions may be due to a lack of sexual communication (Purnine & Carey, 1997). Certainly there is evidence that many couples do not fully disclose their sexual likes and dislikes (MacNeil & Byers, 1997). Further, couples entering sex therapy frequently demonstrate poor sexual communication (Russell, 1990). Alternatively, such sexual misperceptions may be a consequence of commonly held stereotypes about differences in men's and women's desired duration of foreplay and intercourse. Barbach (1984) called these forms of stereotypes the cultural role script. An individual's notions of the cultural role script may influence judgments concerning a partner's sexual desires. For instance, consistent with the pervasive stereotype that men desire less foreplay than women do, women may inaccurately assume that men desire little or no foreplay (Basow, 1992; Zilbergeld, 1999). …