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Premature Ejaculation 101: Causes, Statistics and Treatment Options

Mary Lucas, RN
Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN Written by Our Editorial Team Last updated 4/26/2020

Worried about premature ejaculation? You’re not alone. Data from medical studies shows that premature ejaculation is one of the most common male sexual disorders, affecting as much as 39 percent of the male population at one point or another in life.

Premature ejaculation (or “PE,” for short) is defined as “persistent or recurrent ejaculation with minimal stimulation before, on or shortly after penetration and before the person wishes it.”

In simple terms, premature ejaculation occurs when you ejaculate too early during intercourse or sexual activity. There’s no specific amount of time that defines ejaculation as “premature” -- most sources use figures ranging from 30 seconds to four minutes into sexual activity.

Premature ejaculation can occur for a variety of reasons, ranging from the psychological causes to physical triggers. In this guide, we’ll look at how premature ejaculation happens, how often it occurs in men and some of the most effective options for treating it.

What Exactly is Premature Ejaculation?

Because everyone has different expectations from sex, premature ejaculation isn’t always an easy disorder to define using sexual performance statistics.

On average, it takes around five-and-a-half minutes for a male to ejaculate during sex. As a disorder, PE is defined as ejaculation “before the person wishes it” -- something that can vary significantly between different individuals and couples.

Most of the time, physicians will diagnose a patient with premature ejaculation if they have one or several of the following symptoms:

  • Frequently ejaculate almost immediately (within 30 seconds to one minute) after penetration

  • Have difficulty preventing ejaculation during sexual intercourse or other sexual activity

  • Feel disappointed, anxious or unhappy with their sexual performance as a result of this, and potentially avoid sexual activity

One of the key terms to be aware of is frequent. Just about every male has ejaculated earlier than expected occasionally -- a normal occurence that isn’t a cause for alarm. However, if you frequently ejaculate earlier than you feel is normal, you might have PE.

How Common is Premature Ejaculation?

Premature ejaculation is extremely common. Data varies from one study to another, but most self-reported studies indicate that anywhere from four to 39 percent of men are affected by premature ejaculation at some point in life.

According to the Mayo Clinic, estimates based on reviews of study data show that about one in three men experience PE at a certain point.

In short, if you experience PE on a one-off or ongoing basis, there’s no reason to be alarmed. It happens to men of all ages, far more than you’d expect, and it’s not a condition that you should be embarrassed about.

It’s also not that big of a deal for most women. In fact, study data shows that men tend to worry more about premature ejaculation than their partners, with most women reporting no impact on relationship satisfaction from a partner’s PE.

What Causes Premature Ejaculation?

Like erectile dysfunction, there are plenty of widely shared but inaccurate “theories” about why premature ejaculation occurs. You might have heard that it’s a result of masturbating quickly in adolescence, or of not having sex frequently enough.

The reality is that researchers aren’t yet completely aware of what causes premature ejaculation in men. Most of the time, there’s no definite cause that a physician or patient can point to as the primary factor in PE.

However, researchers believe that several factors can potentially contribute to PE. Performance anxiety -- concern about sexual performance and your partner’s pleasure -- could play a role in premature ejaculation. Depression, stress and relationship problems may also play a role.

From a physical perspective, experts believe that prostate issues, thyroid problems and use of recreational drugs can all potentially play a role in causing PE. Some men may also simply be more sensitive than others to sexual contact, resulting in faster effects from sexual stimulation.

In general, the primary cause of PE isn’t completely settled science. As a result, most doctors that specialize in treating PE use a variety of treatment options, ranging from physical therapy and psychological techniques to medication. We’ve covered these in more detail below.

How to Treat Premature Ejaculation

Since there’s no definite, currently known cause of premature ejaculation, most doctors use a variety of treatment options to help their patients.

Right now, the most popular treatments for PE are relaxation and communication techniques, which are designed to help you and your partner improve control over the sexual stimulation that causes you to ejaculate.

In some cases, doctors also prescribe certain medications to lower the level of sensitivity from sex. SSRIs and non-SSRI antidepressants such as paroxetine and clomipramine, both of which are linked to delayed orgasm, are frequently used as PE treatments.

Doctors may also recommend topical creams and gels, which are designed to reduce sensitivity on a local level.

In other cases, the best treatment for premature ejaculation is time. Many cases of PE resolve themselves as men become more comfortable with their partners and gain better psychological control over their sexual performance using relaxation and distraction techniques.

Our guide to stopping premature ejaculation goes into more detail on the treatment options listed above, with a focus on how each option works to help you delay ejaculation and improve your sexual performance.

PE Is Common and Treatable

Premature ejaculation can be a stressful and difficult experience, especially if it occurs without you expecting it. However, it’s a very common disorder that can be treated easily, either through the use of relaxation techniques or widely available medications.

Worried about your own sexual performance? Our guide to stopping premature ejaculation goes into more detail about how you can treat PE, from simple exercises to gels, creams and other treatment options such as lidocaine spray.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.