Do Women Reach Their Sexual “Peak” In Their 30s?

Man removing his girlfriend's bra in bed

If you’re anything like me, you have probably heard over and over that women reach their sexual peak in their 30s, quite a bit later than men. Naturally, I have always wondered whether there was any truth to this idea. If you Google “women’s sexual peak,” you will come across article after article stating that it is a myth. Most of those articles say that this notion can be attributed to a misreading of Alfred Kinsey’s classic research on female sexuality, which found that women in their 30s reported having the most orgasms compared to women of all other ages. The authors of these articles argue that this higher number of orgasms is not a sign that 30-something women are more desirous of sex; instead, it is argued that these women are probably just more comfortable with their bodies and have figured out more effective ways of reaching orgasm than younger women. However, none of these articles offer any real evidence to back up their contention that the sexual peak idea is a myth. So who should you believe?  

A 2010 study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences provides some evidence that women may indeed have a sexual peak in their 30s [1]. In this study, researchers examined how women’s age is related to their sexual thoughts and behaviors. It was predicted that women’s sexual activity would peak in the years leading up to menopause. Why? The authors theorize that it is evolutionarily adaptive for women’s sexual desires and behaviors to increase as their “biological clock” winds down in order to capitalize on their remaining fertility.

In order to test their prediction, researchers recruited a sample of 827 women aged 18 to 65. The women were divided into three groups: (1) young women (ages 18-26), (2) women whose window of fertility was growing short (ages 27-45), and (3) women who were likely no longer fertile (ages 46 and older; 46 was selected because it is the median age of menopause in the United States). All women completed a survey in which they were asked how often they think and fantasize about sex, how willing they would be to have casual sex, as well as how often they had sexual intercourse recently.

Results indicated that women ages 27-45 reported having the most daily thoughts about sex and the most sexual fantasies compared to both younger and older women. Additionally, women in the 27-45 year age group reported the greatest willingness to have casual sex with someone they had just met, as well as the highest frequency of recent sexual intercourse. However, it is important to note that while the observed differences were statistically significant, they were relatively small overall. Thus, it is not as though women approaching menopause were hypersexual—they were just a little more sexual than average.

These results are consistent with the popular notion that women may indeed have a slight sexual “peak” in their 30s, during which their sexual desires and behaviors increase. Is this peak the result of an evolutionary adaptation, as the authors of the research argue? Not necessarily. Other biological and psychological explanations are possible (e.g., the findings could be due to age-related hormone changes, or perhaps women in this age group are more comfortable with sex because they have the highest body image). Although we cannot definitely explain the basis for these results, they suggest that perhaps some of us have been too quick to dismiss the idea that there may be a noticeable increase in women’s sexual desires and behaviors before menopause.

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[1] Easton, J. A., Confer, J. C., Goetz, C. D., & Buss, D. M. (2010). Reproduction expediting: Sexual motivations, fantasies, and the ticking biological clock. Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 516-520.

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