You may think sex stays the same until menopause, but shifts that start around your mid-30s can have a huge impact on what goes on in between the sheets — for better and for, well, not so good.
The “Dirty-30s” Aren’t Guaranteed
We’ve all heard that women hit their sexual peak starting in their late 30s and extending up to their early 40s, but that may not be true for everyone.
Why: “Many women are surprised to hear that their testosterone, the hormone of desire, starts to decline as early as in their 20s,” says Leah S. Millheiser, MD, director of the Female Sexual Medicine Program at Stanford Health Care. “But every woman experiences a drop of up to 50 percent in her testosterone levels between her 20s and 50s.” You know about the factor that’s coming next, but it’s worth a reminder: The stresses of life in your 30s (work, family, friends and when, exactly, are you supposed to fit in exercise again?) also interfere with this in-my-sexual-prime ideal. “Women are sexually plastic, meaning their desire is more impacted by outside factors than men’s,” says Millheiser. In other words, when life gets crazy, your sex drive goes to sleep.
There May Be an Unexpected Culprit Causing Your Dryness
It’s not just your naturally declining testosterone — it’s your choice of contraception.
Why: You’re more likely to use some form of birth control as you progress from your 20s to your 40s, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that 75.3 percent of women 40 to 44 years old were using contraception, compared with 69.7 percent of 30-to-34-year-olds and 58.3 percent of 20-to-24-year-olds. If it happens to be the pill (28 percent of all women using birth control opt for that method, found the same CDC report), your testosterone is taking another hit. “Birth control pills stop you from ovulating, which lowers testosterone, and also increase a protein that binds testosterone, meaning there’s less of it freely flowing in your blood stream,” says Alyssa Dweck, MD, assistant clinical professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive science at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “So you’ll feel dryer during sex, which can make it not-so-comfortable.” There’s a simple solution, though: add a lubricant to the mix. You can also talk to your gynecologist about switching to an IUD, which doesn’t have the same effect on testosterone levels.
The Magic Number Is Lower Than You Think
You can stop putting pressure on yourself to make time for twice- or thrice-weekly date nights.
Why: Couples reported peak happiness when they were having sex once per week, according to a recent study in Social Psychological and Personality Science. Researchers looked at data from more than 30,000 people and found that while having sex less frequently than that was linked to lower well-being, happiness leveled off at once a week — meaning twice-weekly sex didn’t make people twice as happy. So anytime you hear that sex gets less frequent as you get older and that that can put a strain on your relationship (hence the date nights), remember that once a week may be all you need.
That Thing You’re After Won’t Feel So Hard to Reach
Orgasms become easier for women as we age, according to results from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior.
Why: Because by this point, you’ll have learned how to do it. “Men orgasm when they ejaculate — it’s more of a mechanical process — but when women orgasm their brains have to get into it,” says Dweck. “So many women in their 20s are still focusing on intercourse as a key to orgasming; it can take until your mid-30s to realize what combination of touch and thought process will get you where you want to go.”