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What is the Refractory Period?

Malcolm Tatum
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Refractory periods are the amount of time that passes between the completion of some type of physical stimulation and when the individual is capable of experiencing another round of the same type of stimulation. Periods of this type are used to identify several different situations, including the male refractory period, and the period in between phases of epilepsy. During these interim periods, the individual is physiologically incapable of responding to further stimulation designed to induce the same type of outcome.

When many people think of refractory periods, the first example that comes to mind has to do with sexual activity in men. After experiencing ejaculation, there is normally a short period of time that must pass before the male is able to experience orgasm a second time. This type of refractory period varies between men, and can be influenced by factors such as age and general physical condition. As is true with many types of sexual function, there is some difference of opinion as to what constitutes a normal male refractory period. However, many health professionals believe that the average male will require anywhere from twenty to forty-five minutes after the initial orgasm before it is possible to enjoy a second one.

Another common example of a refractory period has to do with epilepsy. Sometimes referred to as the postictal state, this is the time frame that immediately follows the occurrence of series of seizures. During this period, it is not possible to induce a seizure, and the patient enjoys a season of relatively stable health. A refractory period of this type can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

There are other types of refractory periods associated with general health. Stressed muscle groups often require what is known as a muscle refractory period before they can perform at optimum levels once again. A psychological refractory period refers to interludes after an emotional trauma in which the individual is not capable of responding to additional traumas. In general, the term can be used to refer to any period of time that must pass before it is possible to repeat a given action or function.

It is important to note that refractory periods are not under the conscious control of the individual. In many instances, the duration of a refractory period is determined by the subconscious operation of the body and mind. This mechanism can sometimes be seen as one of the body’s natural defenses, as the short downtime means that it is impossible to physically or emotionally overload the body or mind and thus run the risk of causing long-term damage.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including The Health Board, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By rfaircloth — On Nov 06, 2014

I had to do a little research to find answers to my two basic questions above in discussing this article. It seems that part of what makes it easier for women to recover post orgasm and move on to another one (if she is inclined to do so) is because her head is still in the mood. If her mind is still turned on then her body is as well.

As to my second question, I believe we would have to study dopamine, neurons, synapses, and delve deep into neuroscience to figure out why men and women differ in the refractory period. Or, more to my point, why women don't have much of one at all.

By rfaircloth — On Nov 05, 2014

Before reading this article I only knew the 'refractory period' as that of the male, after having sex, withdrawing and unable to respond to stimulation again for a while. I wonder what makes this period different for women during sex? I mean, some women can have multiple orgasms with little to no rest in between, right? What makes it easier for some to recover from the refractory period, or 'rest' period, than others? I believe women become fatigued after sex, but some can become aroused again within minutes after having an orgasm. How very fascinating to learn how very different we all are, and it's scientifically proven every day.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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