Sex Question Friday: Is It Really True That Women Have A Sexual Peak In Their 30s?

Every Friday on the blog, I answer people's questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week's question comes from a reader who wanted to know the following:

"Is there any truth to the idea that women have a sexual peak in their 30s?"

Great question! The idea that women have a sexual peak in their 30s likely has its roots in Alfred Kinsey's research from the 1950s, which revealed that women in their 30s reported the most orgasms compared to women of all other ages. But are more orgasms in and of themselves necessarily a sign that thirty-something women are having a sexual "peak?" Not necessarily, in fact, many have argued that, more than anything else, these women have probably just figured out more effective ways of reaching orgasm than their younger counterparts. However, recent research suggests that there might indeed be something to back up the idea that women experience at least a small sexual peak in their 30s and that perhaps there is even an evolutionary reason for this.

In a 2010 study published in Personality and Individual Differences, researchers examined how women’s age is related to their sexual thoughts and behaviors. The authors predicted that women’s sexual activity would increase in the years leading up to menopause because it is evolutionarily adaptive for women’s sexual desires and behaviors to ramp up as their “biological clock” winds down as a means of capitalizing on their remaining fertility.

A sample of 827 women aged 18 to 65 were recruited. These women were divided into three groups: (1) younger women (ages 18-26), (2) women whose window of fertility was shortened (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 were surveyed about how often they think and fantasize about sex, how willing they would be to have sex outside of a committed relationship, as well as how often they had sexual intercourse recently.

The results revealed that women ages 27-45 reported the most daily thoughts about sex and the most sexual fantasies compared to both younger and older women. Moreover, women in the 27-45 year age group reported the greatest willingness to have casual sex with someone they had just met and the highest frequency of recent sexual activity. That said, I should caution that although the observed differences between groups were statistically significant, they tended to be pretty small. So, it was not the case that women in the 27-45 age group were hypersexual or anything like that—they were just a bit more sexual than average.

These results suggest that women may have a small sexual “peak” in their 30s, during which their sexual desires and behaviors increase. But is this truly sign of an evolutionary adaptation, as the authors suggest? That is not definitive, and other explanations are certainly possible (e.g., perhaps this is due to age-related hormone changes, or perhaps women in this age group have the highest body image and most comfort with sex). Although we cannot fully explain the basis for these results, they do suggest that there may indeed be some peak, but it is far from a seismic change and may actually be subtle enough that it is not always consciously recognized.

For previous editions of Sex Question Friday, click here. To send in a question for a future edition, click here.

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To learn more about this research, see: 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.

Image Credit: iStockphoto.com

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