It’s way more complicated than we thought.
What are people even talking about when they use the term “sexual peak”? Essentially, the phrase refers to the point in your life when you’re feeling the most sexually confident and interested in sex. These two parts might not necessarily coincide, of course – just because you want to have sex doesn’t mean you feel awesome about your body, which has a lot to do with the fact that our traditional ideas about when (and if) someone’s sexual peak arrives are probably inaccurate.
The original research on the sexual peak, or prime, was done by Dr. Alfred Kinsey – you may have heard of his work in the form of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (published in 1948), as well as Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (published in 1953), or references to the Kinsey Scale. Kinsey extrapolated that a cis-man’s sexual peak occurred around the age of 18, and for cis women, in her mid to late 20s/early 30s. In Kinsey’s version of prime sexuality, though, we’re only talking about when hormone levels – estrogen and testosterone – are highest.
Linking a cis-woman’s desire for sex to her age and (traditionally) corresponding hormone levels isn’t completely baseless. “One of the more common theories regarding a woman’s sexual peak being in her 30s is that her biological clock is most likely trying to inform her that time is running out for her chance to have children – which may increase the likelihood for her to want more sex,” says Caleb Backe, a Health and Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics. “Of course, this has also changed because of the increasing support of antinatalism in our society – so if a women starts feeling hornier in her 30s, it’s really just a bonus for her and her partner(s) if she does not want to have children.”
Now, of course, we know that sexual desire isn’t just about hormones, and therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that folks who are older than 18 or 25 or 30 are into sex, and that some folks never reach what could be considered a sexual peak at all.
We have truly and deeply bought into, and perpetuated, the idea that people, particularly women, of a certain age no longer have sexual desire (or are desirable). “For a long time the general assumption has been that people’s desire decreases as they age,” says Kinkly.com contributor Tara Struyk. “That, in turn, may have affected their behavior and feelings toward sex. However, we are increasingly discovering that the body remains capable of pleasure well into old age.”
Asking more, and different, questions about women, sexuality, and culture has led to the formation of new ideas around the sexual peak. “Women no longer need to be in a long-term relationship or a marriage in order to have sex and are free to experience whatever kind of sex they would like to with whomever they want, whenever they want it,” says Back. “This means that a women’s sexual prime is no longer limited to a particular period in her life, but can start from whenever she is sexually active.”
It might also simply be that some folks have consistently higher sex drives throughout their lives than other people. There are many reasons sex drives can vary over the course of a lifetime – that is, become higher and lower – including pregnancy, having kids, taking antidepressants, anxiety, and the experience of being a woman in a society where misogyny is an active and unrelenting force.
Is there a bottom line when it comes to a woman’s sexual peak? “Now it is believed that for a woman there is no such a age limit,” says Dr. Mashfika N. Alam., a Family Physician from icliniq.com. “It can happen early like men or it can happen later depending on when she feels confident and comfortable with respect to her sexuality.”
Maybe not surprisingly, both the concept and the reality of the sexual peak is more complicated than Kinsey would have had us believe. Says Struyk,”Libido can be impacted by so many external factors, including general health, stress, life events and your sexual partners. When it comes to sex, everyone has their own story.”
So worry less, then, at least sex-wise, about your best days being behind you.
Cover image courtesy of Getty Images