At What Age Do Women Hit Their Sexual Prime?
If you ever watched the long-running TV series "Sex and the City" and its cast of middle-aged characters gushing about mind-blowing sex over brunch, you might believe women's sexual prime occurs in their 40s. It's just a TV show, but is there any truth to this common belief?
Where did the idea of a woman's sexual prime originate?
The concept of women having their best sex in their 40s likely comes from the idea that as women get closer to 50, they become more comfortable with their sexuality, care less about societal expectations, are better at communicating what they want and prioritize their sexual needs, desires and pleasures more, explained Lisa Lawless, Ph.D., the CEO of Holistic Wisdom, a sexual wellness company based in Bend, Oregon.
Maybe this belief stems from the idea that by the time women with children are in their 40s, the kids have grown up, so the women experience less stress, snag more sleep and aren't experiencing the hormonal fluctuations of pregnancy and childbirth. This could allow women to experience more arousal, sexual desire and time to enjoy sex, suggested Rhiannon John, M.Sexol., a New York City sexologist who works at Bedbible, a sex toy reviewer.
"It is essential to acknowledge that there is often a delayed sexual prime for people in the LGBTQIA+ community as they are a marginalized group that often experiences discrimination socially," Lawless said. "Because of the challenges they face in determining their own sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as navigating a highly biased social environment, they may find that their sexual prime is delayed."
Does the data say women peak sexually in their 40s?
There are plenty of ideas regarding why a woman may reach her sexual prime in midlife. But what about data? Unfortunately, there aren't enough studies exploring the most common age for a women's sexual peak in life.
While there are some studies suggesting sexual desire increases with age, others indicate it declines over time. But there are indications that sex is still important to women in their 40s.
"There simply has not been enough conclusive evidence to claim that a woman's sexual prime occurs during a specific time in her life," Lawless explained.
Alfred Kinsey, biologist and founder of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, published books on sex. Kinsey's books "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" (1948) and "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female" (1953) reported cisgender women reach their sexual peak in their late 20s to early 30s, while cisgender men reach theirs at 18.
However, Kinsey based his findings on when estrogen and testosterone levels were at their highest. We now know there are other factors aside from hormones which influence arousal, desire and good sex, John pointed out.
Menopause might have something to do with women's sexual prime
There is medical evidence suggesting hormones change during perimenopause, which women tend to hit in their 40s. But there are no studies supporting that women's hormonal fluctuation at this age, caused by a decrease in estrogen and progesterone, is what determines their sexual desire, explained Hallie Kay LeBlanc, L.I.C.S.W., a certified sex and couples therapist based in Newton, Massachusetts.
"It's interesting to consider that a woman's sexual desire is perceived as being the strongest just before menopause, which occurs around 50," Lawless said. "This may be the last time she may feel her sex hormones at their strongest because sex hormones such as estrogen, testosterone and progesterone decline during menopause. Thus, this could be why women perceive that just before these hormones plunge, they are at their sexual prime."
What does being in your sexual prime look like?
Another flaw in determining when is a woman's sexual prime is there is no consensus on the definition of "sexual prime" or how to measure it. A 2021 study did examine men's and women's perception of a "sexual peak" only to find men viewed it as the height of sexual desire, whereas women saw it more as sexual satisfaction, John said.
Women's sexual peak can be influenced by pregnancy, menopause, stress, anxiety, menstruation, depression, body image and their relationship with their sexual partner. So it's possible for women to experience many periods of high sexual desire throughout life rather than just one peak at a certain age, LeBlanc suggested.
"As a sex therapist, I'd define being in your sexual prime as the moments in which [a woman] feels confident and safe in their body, understands their own pleasure and the factors that make pleasure accessible and when [they] can manage the anxiety of sharing their desires [and] thoughts with their partner, whether it is a short- or long-term relationship," LeBlanc said. "This leads to sex worth having for women; experiences that are authentic, pleasure-based and something to look forward to."
Women's sexual desire may decline with age
A 2007 study observing 3,500 American and European women suggested women's sexual desire dropped with age, with no evidence of women hitting a sexual peak in their 40s.
However, a 2018 study of married women, both straight and lesbian, indicated sexuality and desire do decrease over time due to health, caregiving and aging, but lesbians had a stronger sense of duty to keep the sex alive compared to the straight subjects.
A 2009 study did suggest age can impact sexual activity, but not sexual desire, while a 2017 study indicated the frequency of sexual activity decreased for both men and women between their 20s and 60s.
If you're not having great sex, what can you do?
"Every individual will define this differently; being aware of your own sexuality template and how it changes [and] flexes in response to circumstances in your life, belief system and relationship with your partner is more helpful in working towards sexual health in your relationship…If you're unhappy with your current experience, seek support. You are deserving of sex worth having. Period," LeBlanc advised.
"Give yourself permission to feel pleasure. Humans are inherently sexual beings deserving of pleasure. Allowing yourself to feel pleasure is the first step in breaking free from the shame and guilt we've been taught to feel about sex," John suggested.
"It is essential not to get caught up in defining sexual primes as occurring during a certain age because it can cause you to feel you've missed yours, have to wait or are abnormal, when in reality, there really is no such thing as sexual prime occurring for everyone during a specific age," Lawless stressed.
The bottom line
Libidos vary. How a woman feels about sex and her positive associations with sex and her sexuality influence how happy she may feel about her sex life. "Sex and the City" had it partly right. Midlife can be an exciting time sexually. It all depends on you.
Editor's note: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Our medical experts advise that you consult with your primary healthcare provider before you begin using a supplement. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.