fbpx A Woman's Libido Changes With Age—But It Doesn't Disappear
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Seven circles sit against a purple background with two woman hugging and smiling in the center circle.

A Woman's Libido Changes With Age—But It Doesn't Disappear

The female sex drive is very different from men's and should be approached accordingly.
Written by

Candice Neo

Women's libido has typically been treated as mystical. To many men, it's as unpredictable and baffling as mood swings, sometimes appearing to follow a cycle and other times seeming more random. Some women have a high sexual drive, while others don't get turned on easily at all.

So what actually drives the female libido? How does it change with age and other factors? When does it peak?

With a collective shrug of shoulders, we decided to ask sex experts and therapists.

Style and context

"Too often, when we compare women's sexuality to men's sexuality, women's sexuality falls short," said sex therapist Kathy McMahon, Psy.D., founder of Couples Therapy Inc., a couples therapy center with counselors based in various regions in the U.S. and internationally.

She added that while 75 percent of men have spontaneous sexual desire, only 15 percent of women experience the same. And while spontaneous sexual desire is sparked by an external stimulus, 30 percent of women tend to experience responsive sexual desire, which is usually triggered by physical and emotional intimacy.

For most women, sexual desire is a gradual process.

"Spontaneous desire is when your boyfriend walks into the room and the desire to jump his bones wells up inside of you," McMahon said. "In contrast, responsive sexual desire happens when you and your partner have had an emotionally connected evening. You begin kissing on your couch. Great music has been put on, the lights are set to a warm glow, and you see the love light in your partner's eyes. The more you are touched, the greater your desire."

To recap, 15 percent of women experience spontaneous sexual desire and 30 percent respond to physical and emotional intimacy. The remaining 55 percent of women need to have the right context internally, externally and interpersonally, McMahon explained.

"In the same trusting relationship, if that tender kiss hits an exhausted or overwhelmed brain, or if there are hidden resentments that have not yet been expressed, that same physical sensation will be experienced very little, not at all or negatively," McMahon added. "The context is important."

She emphasized that understanding the differences in sexual desire between men and women in heterosexual relationships is important in building an intimate relationship that caters to the needs of both parties.

"The problem with our culture is that we expect women to be like men and have a spontaneous desire, and that's just not going to happen to the majority of us," she said.

Peaking with age

Experts have observed that the sex drive for both men and women is modified as they age.

"Women's libido change with their age over time and are usually in sync with the start or end of a relationship as well as life-transforming events, such as pregnancy, menopause and health issues," said Jane Greer, Ph.D., a New York-based marriage and family therapist and author of "What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship."

According to Greer, a woman's libido typically peaks between the ages of 18 and 24, especially if she is in a relationship where she feels safe and free to express her sexual needs and desires.

"It can continue to intensify in their 30s as they gain more self-awareness and confidence in sharing their sexual needs with their partner," she added.

However, McMahon said libido jumps also hinge on changes in women's relationships, both with their partners and with their own bodies.

"When women are in their 20s, they develop the capacity for intimacy...and are also at peak reproductive time and the closest to a youthful 'ideal body type' that our culture values so much," McMahon said. "It's also a time of high insecurity as a young woman attempts to develop a professional identity as well as find an appropriate partner. Navigating a satisfying sexual relationship during these years is going to require more communication, as well as a capacity and interest in learning what arouses you and a willingness to talk about it.

"[As] women [enter] their 40s, they may feel less anxious about sex and more comfortable experimenting sexually, but they can also be filled with self-doubt as their body ages," she added. "In addition, decreasing levels of estrogen in the body can cause vaginal atrophy. This can also lead to urinary symptoms and lower sexual interest if intercourse is painful."

Supplements may help some women address a waning desire for sexual activity. Giddy Health Libido Boost vitamins can help you maintain a normal, healthy sex life. These supplements use ethically sourced formulations and dosages backed by science and research, including Panax Ginseng and Ashwagandha, which can enhance sexual arousal and satisfaction, including in women who report a diminished libido for physical or psychological reasons.

According to studies, Ashwagandha also helps control stress mediators like cortisol and proteins, while also reducing inflammation, which is a normal response to certain situations like trauma, infections, and toxins.

Factors in decreasing libido

"Many factors—from the stresses in our lives and careers, to caring for children, to unresolved issues and poor communication with our partners—can reduce sexual desire," Greer said.

"Anything that negatively impacts your emotional, physical or relational health will impact your libido," McMahon agreed, noting that this includes not just external stresses, but internal insecurities as well.

"A sex-negative culture has trained women to be judgmental about their bodies, and many will repeatedly question whether they are sexually attractive, whether they are sufficiently spontaneously aroused, etcetera," she added. "The more judgmental we are about ourselves, and the less positive we feel about ourselves, the less sexual interest we will have."

This is especially challenging because women tend to have responsive sexual desires.

"[If] your partner expects you to have a spontaneous desire, the stress can be enormous," McMahon said. "It's a vicious cycle in which the expectation of spontaneous desire dramatically lowers your own self-confidence, which in turn presses down on the brakes and lowers desire."


Could you be experiencing low libido?

Something erotic...like housework

Greer suggested women need to exercise regularly and focus on communication with their partners.

"[You should] plan scheduled spontaneous sex, like a date night for intimacy," she recommended.

Greer also shared that there are some foods thought to have positive effects on libido, such as ginkgo, chocolate, coffee, red wine, honey, strawberries and raw oysters, though she added there's insufficient scientific evidence to absolutely confirm their effects.

McMahon's advice focuses on male partners: Make them do more of the housework.

No, she's not kidding. According to clinical psychologist John Gottman, Ph.D., who has studied more than 3,000 couples across two decades, "Women find a man's willingness to do housework extremely erotic."

"It may sound boring, but if the partner with higher sexual desire first takes care of creating environments that are relaxing, comfortable, safe and pleasurable for their lower-desire mate, you're doing a great service to enhancing your sex," McMahon explained. "This type of environment can put their partner in the best mindset to register sexual arousal, [especially] if they are part of the 55 percent of women who need the 'right context.'"

And to women, she advised that they should "avoid exhaustion, be self-compassionate, reject social standards of beauty, and learn how to express complaints to your intimate partner without being critical."

Talk about sex often

According to Gottman, only 9 percent of couples who don't talk about sex with each other are satisfied sexually. However, more than 50 percent of couples who talk about sex regularly have enjoyable sex.

"Any couple who does not regularly talk about sex is setting themselves up for a problematic sex life. Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, but eventually," McMahon said.

Both McMahon and Greer advised women to communicate often with their partners, sharing any struggles they have with sex, as well as turn-ons and turnoffs.

"For [many] of us, we need to either have a friendly, loving partner who's interested in turning us on in a way we enjoy or we need to set up a context that allows us to feel loved, desired, sexy and beautiful," McMahon said. "This is true whether we are [age] 20, 40 or 80."