Women's Sexual Peak: Is It Real?

Medically Reviewed By Jennifer Litner, PhD, LMFT, CST
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You may have heard that women’s sexual peak is in their mid-30s. Is this true? Do women peak sexually at a specific age, or is this an old myth?

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “female” and “women” when discussing people assigned female at birth to reflect language that appears in source materials.

Learn more about the difference between sex and gender here.

Since the 1950s, it has been a common belief that women reach their sexual peak in their 30s. Society has held the view that after a woman reaches their mid-30s, they have peaked sexually, and their desire will decrease with each passing year after that.

There are many factors that directly affect a woman’s sexual desire, but current research suggests that age is not always one of these.

This article explores what a sexual peak is, what factors influence sexual desire, and whether or not women’s sexual peak actually exists.

What is a sexual peak?

Close up of a flower
Mark Windom/Stocksy United

Many people believe that a sexual peak is based on the frequency of sex. Others believe that the answer is based on the quality of sex and how satisfying it is (which raises its own questions about the definition of satisfaction).

In 1953, American biologist

Alfred Kinsey changed the way people viewed female sexual behavior. He released a book titled Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. In this book, he gave insight into female sexual activities and behaviors in a way no one had done before. This was a time when society still expected women to appear innocent and pure, and it was not recognized that they might have the same sexual desires as men.

It was Kinsey who suggested that women’s sexual peak came in their 30s, and this has been a common belief ever since.

Modern research suggests that although there are certain aspects of aging that can affect a woman’s sexual activity and desire, age does not necessarily mark a sexual peak. In fact, there are those who believe that women past their peak childbearing age are likely to be more open sexually and often more sexually active, as they no longer have to consider the possibility of unplanned pregnancy.

There are some who believe that women reach their peak orgasmic frequency in their 30s but maintain a constant level of sexual capacity up to the age of 55 years. There is little to no evidence showing that aging affects this later in life. However, it is possible that these statistics are subjective, as orgasmic frequency depends on many factors. These include the person’s partner, their comfort levels, their self-esteem, and their frequency of sexual activity.

The reality is that most women experience many peaks and valleys when it comes to their sexual desire and activity throughout their life. Although there are factors, such as hormones, that can impact a woman’s desire and sexual performance, there is no set age when their sexual peak happens.

How hormones affect women’s sexual peak and desire

Women tend to be familiar with how hormones affect their bodies. From the time they begin puberty, they are aware that hormones play a role in many aspects of their body’s functioning.

When it comes to sexual desire, this is no different. There are three main hormones that directly affect a woman’s sexual desire. These are:

  • estrogen
  • progesterone
  • testosterone

Although it is most often considered to be a male hormone, testosterone seems to hold the most influence over sexual desire in women.

Changes in hormones can indicate an underlying condition, such as a thyroid disorder or polycystic ovary syndrome. Often, however, these changes are not signaling anything serious. They can be nothing more than a part of your normal development or cycle. However, any change in hormone levels — no matter the cause — can have an effect on your sexual desire or pleasure.

There are several different factors that can affect your hormones and have a possible effect on your sexual desire or pleasure. The sections below cover these in more detail.

Menstrual cycle

It is very typical for your hormone levels to fluctuate throughout your cycle. Although this can vary from person to person, it is common to have a peak of sexual desire before or around the time of ovulation and then again during menstruation. The lowest period of desire is generally just before menstruation.

Hormonal birth control methods

Many types of birth control — such as certain types of oral birth control, patches, injectable contraceptives, and the vaginal ring — contain hormones. Studies indicate that these hormones can have a direct effect on your desire as well as your sexual function.

The specific effects that birth control has on sexual desire and function vary from person to person. Some women experience a higher level of desire, while others experience a lower level. Some have fewer orgasms or experience vaginal dryness.

If any of your experiences with changes in sexual desire, pleasure, or function concern you, talk with your doctor about changing your birth control method.

Pregnancy

It is not uncommon for women to experience an increase in desire during pregnancy. This is largely due to a rise in estrogen and progesterone levels, which causes the blood flow to the genital area to increase, as well as other physical and psychological effects of pregnancy.

However, other factors — such as changing body size, a negative self-image, fatigue, and nausea — can have a negative effect on your sexual desire.

Nursing

Breastfeeding results in higher levels of the hormone prolactin and a reduction in your levels of estrogen. This can stop ovulation for months after you give birth.

Women often experience a decrease in their sexual desire, with some having no desire at all and some developing anorgasmia. None of this is uncommon, and levels of sexual desire tend to increase again once you stop breastfeeding.

Perimenopause and menopause

During the years leading up to menopause, known as perimenopause, women often experience spikes and erratic falls in their estrogen levels. This occurs at the same time as your progesterone levels are decreasing.

After menopause, which occurs when you have not menstruated for a full year, your estrogen and progesterone tend to even out at lower levels.

During this time, it is not uncommon for women to experience a decrease in their sexual desire. They may also have an increase in vaginal dryness. Lubricants and certain types of hormonal supplements can help with vaginal dryness.

If you are concerned about your decrease in sexual desire or an increase in vaginal dryness, talk with your doctor to see what options are available to you.

Some women have stated that no longer needing to consider the possibility of unexpected pregnancy actually gave them a newfound sense of sexual freedom.

Learn more about menopause by visiting our hub.

Other influencing factors on women’s sexual peak and desire

There are numerous other factors besides hormones that can affect your sex drive, desire, pleasure, and sexual peak.

Some of these factors include:

  • relationship problems
  • stress
  • anxiety
  • exhaustion
  • depression
  • underlying health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease
  • medications, including certain types of antidepressants
  • alcohol and drug use
  • body image

There are also specific disorders and conditions that can have an effect on your sexual desire, which can also affect any sexual peaks you might experience. The sections below look at some of these in more detail.

Hypoactive sexual desire disorder

A person with hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) experiences a chronic lack of sexual interest or desire. This can be ongoing and become either personally distressing or begin to affect your relationships.

HSDD can affect anyone. However, it is far more common in women. Around 22% of women have continuous HSDD, and 40% of women receive an HSDD diagnosis at some point in their life. This makes HSDD the most common type of female sexual dysfunction.

Symptoms of HSDD include:

  • few to no thoughts or fantasies about sex
  • a loss of desire for sex while having it
  • a lack of response to a partner’s sexual suggestions
  • avoidance of sex

HSDD is sometimes a lifelong issue. For some, however, it might only occur during a specific period of time. You might experience HSDD all the time or only during certain time periods.

There are many possible causes of HSDD, including:

  • past sexual abuse or trauma
  • low levels of sex hormones
  • a negative self-image
  • menopause
  • recent pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding
  • tiredness

If you feel that you are experiencing symptoms of HSDD and they are affecting your life or relationship, contact your doctor. They will be able to assess any underlying concerns and recommend some treatment options.

Sexual arousal disorder

Sexual arousal disorder, or genital arousal disorder, occurs when you have difficulty becoming or staying aroused. This may have an effect on your life or relationship.

Typically, when a woman becomes aroused, there is a physical response of lubrication along with swelling and tingling in the genital area. Women also tend to become mentally or emotionally excited at the same time. For women with sexual arousal disorder, however, there is a disconnect between their body and their mind.

Arousal involves many different physical and mental aspects. Factors such as your hormones, your relationship, your experiences, and your overall health all have effects on your sexual arousal.

The possible causes of sexual arousal disorder are very similar to those of other sexual dysfunction disorders. They include:

  • stress
  • past trauma or abuse
  • medication use
  • issues with the blood flow or nerves in the genitals
  • relationship issues
  • a negative body image
  • underlying health conditions
  • anxiety or depression

If you feel that you are experiencing sexual arousal disorder and it is affecting your life or relationship, contact your doctor. They will be able to discuss the issue with you and create a treatment plan.

Orgasm disorder

It is not uncommon for women to find reaching orgasm difficult. In fact, around 3 out of 4 women report that they are unable to reach orgasm through penetration alone.

However, there is a difference between occasional difficulty reaching orgasm and female orgasmic disorder (FOD). Around 21% of women in the United States experience FOD.

The diagnostic criteria for FOD include the following:

  • You are never or rarely able to reach orgasm, even when aroused.
  • It causes distress in your relationships.
  • The problems last for longer than 6 months.
  • The issues are not due to medication or any other medical condition.

As with other sexual dysfunction disorders, the causes include psychological issues, physical factors, medications, and relationship issues.

If you feel that you are experiencing FOD, contact your doctor to discuss treatment options.

Dyspareunia

Dyspareunia is the medical term for pain during sex experienced by women. It can also refer to pain felt when using a tampon.

Women typically feel pain from dyspareunia in the genitals or deeper inside the pelvis.

Symptoms of dyspareunia include:

  • sharp, burning, or cramping pain
  • pain deep inside your pelvis during sex
  • feeling like something is being bumped inside you

Possible causes of dyspareunia are numerous and include:

  • infection
  • vaginal injury
  • a poorly fitting cervical cap or diaphragm
  • inflammation
  • vaginal dryness
  • vaginal muscle spasms
  • past surgery
  • anomalies in the uterus
  • certain infections or conditions of the ovaries
  • endometriosis
  • pelvic inflammatory disease
  • being unable to become aroused or being tense during sex

The treatment options for dyspareunia depend on what is causing your pain. Talk with your doctor to find the best treatment option for your situation.

Vaginismus

When your body has an automatic tightening reaction out of the fear of any kind of vaginal penetration, it is known as vaginismus.

Typically, vaginismus is not something you have control over. You can even experience vaginismus if you have previously enjoyed penetrative sex without any pain or issues.

Contact your doctor if you experience any of these common symptoms of vaginismus:

  • struggling with penetration during sex
  • having difficulty inserting a tampon
  • feeling a stinging or burning sensation during sex

Your doctor will perform an exam to rule out any other possible causes, such as an infection. They will also be able to discuss treatment options with you.

Causes of vaginismus are not always straightforward but can include:

  • an unpleasant first sexual experience
  • a fear of your vagina being too small
  • a belief that sex is wrong or shameful
  • a medical condition that causes pain, such as thrush
  • a bad experience with a medical examination

To learn more about your sexual health, visit our hub.

Societal beliefs about women’s sexual peak and sexuality

The belief that women’s sexual peak comes later than men’s could have less to do with hormones and more to do with how society has historically viewed sexuality in women.

The sexual double standard (SDS) is the judgment of heterosexual men and women differently for the same sexual behaviors. The SDS often leads to a more negative judgment of women than of men when they behave exactly the same way sexually.

Research suggests that the SDS has led to numerous sexual issues in women. These include:

  • sexual assaults
  • sexual victimization
  • an attitude of victim blaming
  • a higher risk of sexually transmitted infections
  • a low rate of sexual satisfaction

Although society may look negatively on women when they behave in the same way as men sexually, there is also a trend of objectification toward them.

The objectification of women is prevalent in social settings as well as in the media. This occurs when society separates women’s bodies or body parts from the rest of them. These parts are then seen as instruments or objects or seen as the representation of their entire self.

Society may view women as sexual objects but does not wish them to behave as sexually as men do. It is possible that this is one of the reasons people believe that women’s sexual peak does not happen until they are in their 30s. Sometimes, women feel that they do not have the freedom to find sexual satisfaction until they are married or in a long-term relationship.

Peaks and valleys of sexual desire

There are many factors that can affect your sexual desire, including:

  • hormones
  • body image
  • medications
  • relationship issues
  • medical conditions
  • anxiety or depression
  • overall health
  • stress
  • recent pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding
  • menopause
  • other effects of aging

It is possible that women’s sexual peak is not one time period in their life. Instead, they may experience many peaks, along with valleys, when it comes to their sexual frequency, desire, and satisfaction.

It is common to have periods in life when you feel a decreased drive for sex. If you feel that this is affecting your life or relationship, you can speak with your doctor about it.

How to come out of the valley

There is no “normal” amount of sex to have. Everyone is different, and people’s sexual frequency can change based on different factors.

Factors that can affect sexual frequency include:

  • sex drive
  • relationship status
  • stress
  • mental health
  • physical health

How often you have sex greatly depends on what is going on in your life at the time.

Intimacy is usually a big part of almost any sexual relationship. In long-term relationships, there are times when it may feel that this intimacy is waning. This can cause you to feel as though you have a decreased desire for sex.

Ways to improve the intimacy in your relationship and possibly find your way out of the valley include the following:

  • Communicate clearly.
  • Be honest with yourself and your partner.
  • Build trust.
  • Touch more outside of the bedroom.
  • Talk more about life and sex.
  • Enhance your own self-image.
  • Read books or articles with tips.

Honesty and communication are the two key factors to take away from this list. If you are honest with yourself about your needs and communicate them clearly to your partner, you may find yourself in a peak rather than a valley.

Summary

It has long been a common belief that women’s sexual peak happens in their 30s. This may be true for some people, but research suggests that a sexual peak may not be defined by any one thing.

A woman’s sexual desire can decrease or increase for many reasons. Throughout your life, circumstances, hormones, and relationship statuses will change, as will your desire for sex and the frequency with which you have it.

There is more to a sexual peak than age. You will most likely experience many peaks and valleys in your lifetime.

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Medical Reviewer: Jennifer Litner, PhD, LMFT, CST
Last Review Date: 2022 Apr 20
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