I remember clearly being told that I wouldn’t come into my fully bloomed sexuality until I hit the age of 35 as women didn’t peak sexually until they were older. As I was enjoying myself then, I didn’t really think about when I might ‘peak’.
As I started seeing more clients who wanted help with their sexual lives, this was a topic I thought more about. I see women in their 30’s who have not yet experienced a sexual peak. I also see women in their 30’s who feel their best sex is definitely behind them. So I began to wonder if the idea that women don’t reach their sexual peak until their mid-30’s was a myth.
Unless it is in the consulting room or amongst really close friends, when people talk about their sex lives they talk of the best times. I listen to lots of people wearing rose tinted spectacles, looking at only the positives in the past, present and for the future. Clients come to me and talk about their struggles with sex and sexuality so I had their stories to draw on. Close friends were willing to talk more frankly too so I had their stories to draw on.
Research seems to suggest that actually sex for women in their 30’s is extremely conflicted. In fact, sex for men and women in the 30’s age group is often problematic. There is a difference between married (or partnered) women with children and single women. Female sexual drive is very connected to hormone levels. When women are in their 30’s they are right in the middle of their child bearing years. The biological clock is no myth! The intensity of the drive to procreate should not be minimised. Many ‘accidents’ occur in the 30’s. Many single women suddenly become partnered (and often inappropriately so) and find themselves pregnant.
The drive to have lots of passionate sex is highest at ovulation. For married women and women with children, after ovulation passes there is little hormonal drive. It appears that things may be a bit more stable over the month for unpartnered women. Once women have children, the additional stress can cause a severe dip in libido.
Why am I talking about libido? Because libido is what drives us to seek out sexual experiences. If you have no or low libido, you may not even think about sex. You won’t seek sex out. When libido has completely gone, you probably won’t be upset by not having sex or opportunities for sex. Low libido can be caused by stress, a number of health problems, various medications (some antidepressants, some blood pressure medications), low testosterone (in men in particular) and low oestrogen (in women). Low libido is a big problem for menopausal and post-menopausal women that is rarely talked about in detail. With most causes, there is a lot that can be done to bring libido back and when libido comes back so does the possibility of an exciting sex life.
For women, sexual desire and sexuality is intimately linked to emotional elements. Research continues to highlight that women become turned on more via their minds and emotions than by a pretty/hot/sexy visual. Women who are stressed lose interest in sex. If there are emotional issues in the relationship, women will find it really hard to connect sexually. Women find men who are emotionally available very sexy, for example. Many women find intelligence very sexy. This isn’t to say that men don’t also find these things sexy but rather that men tend to look at the physical form first. Also many men will use sex to create emotional closeness whereas many women need to feel emotionally close in order to become physically close and have sex. As a result, it appears that women have a variety of sexual peaks during their lives. Rather than have a sexual prime in the 30’s, many have one in the 20’s and then another in the 40’s and 50’s.
Scientists don’t agree about the depth or description of ‘normal’ sexual response in women or whether women even have a sexual peak. Rather than being upset by this information, I encourage you to see it as liberating. This means that however you are is fine. Seek help if you are not happy with your sexual drive, desire or any aspect of your sexual life. Seek help if you and your partner are not well matched or are having sexual issues.
There are currently no particular drugs to increase female libido. There is no equivalent to Viagra for women. A number of researchers have suggested that lower levels of testosterone after menopause are responsible for the drop in desire. Lots of drugs are being trialled but thus far nothing has worked well enough with few enough risks to be brought to market. However, there are quite a few doctors who are prescribing testosterone off label to increase female libido. I know a number of people who have taken testosterone for this reason. They have all reported increased sexual desire. They have also reported a variety of side effects including some increased facial hair growth, some increased hair loss, increase in anger and acne. It is thought that part of the reason for high levels of side effects is that the dosages are too high.
When libido is not being negatively influences by low testosterone or low oestrogen, there is evidence that many women who have decided not to have children and/or are post-menopausal experience a sexual prime. Sex is not related to procreation at this stage and is primarily for pleasure, love, power or other motivations. Cindy Meston and David Buss found 237 reasons in their 2009 book Why Women Have Sex. Is this THE sexual prime for women? After listening to women and looking at the research, I think not.
The idea of one sexual peak or sexual prime is outdated. After all, this idea came out of research on married couples in the 1940’s and 50’s. Dr Kinsey’s research was ground breaking at the time. There had been almost no research on sexual behaviour. Relationship behaviour has changed significantly since then. There is evidence from an evolutionary perspective that suggests an additional reason for women to have more sex in their mid 30’s to mid 40’s. Pregnancy is much harder to achieve as women move past the child bearing prime of the 20’s. In order to achieve pregnancy, often much more sex is necessary.
Women have more than one sexual peak and the peaks are influenced by evolution, hormones, emotions, relationship and family status and stress. Orgasm creates more sexual desire. So in times where stresses contribute to decreased desire, I often advise clients to push through the indifference and either masturbate or have sex with a partner. Reaching orgasm will almost always create a desire for more orgasm which means more sex. The feel and look of women’s sexuality changes over the life span so rather than looking at peaks perhaps looking at it as a wave with ebb and flow creates a clearer picture.