Do women hit their sexual peak in their 30s?

Do women hit their sexual peak in their 30s?

Three women read a review of Alfred Kinsey's report on women.
Three women read a review of Alfred Kinsey’s report on women.
© Bettmann/CORBIS

There’s a widespread notion that women reach their sexual peak in their 30s, and while many people chalk this up to vaguely referenced studies on hormone production, the belief probably stems from something else entirely: a book published in 1953.

In the 1940s, Alfred Kinsey, an American biologist, researched the sexual histories of women. Kinsey polled the students taking his college-level course on marriage, requiring private meetings in which he recorded detailed sexual histories. He interviewed people across the U.S. about their sexual habits and, after receiving a grant from the National Research Council and the Rockefeller Foundation, hired research assistants to do the same. By 1947, he had formed the Institute of Sex Research at Indiana State University and, one year later, published "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male." It became a best seller, despite its scientific tone.

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He followed the book with another, published in 1953. "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female" included research findings that were groundbreaking at the time. After taking nearly 6,000 sexual histories, Kinsey identified the differences in social attitudes toward sex and women’s actual sexual practices. The book, although popular, resulted in a congressional investigation into the Institute’s funding, resulting in a withdrawal of financial support by the Rockefeller Foundation [source: Brown and Fee].

One of the most enduring findings to come out of the book remains an oft-repeated refrain: Women reach their sexual peak in their 30s, a full decade after men are at their sexual prime. Kinsey came to this conclusion after noting women reported more orgasms during their 30s [source: Kinsey].

In the decades following the groundwork Kinsey laid for human sexuality research, libido is viewed on a spectrum, not as a specific point on an age scale. Scientists know there are a host of other factors that contribute or detract from a woman’s sexual desire and activity, including their physical and emotional state. Communication is another important element, as women in their 30s may be more prone to talk with their partners about their wants and needs. In addition, it has been suggested that women in their 30s may feel more comfortable with their own bodies, allowing a greater level of freedom and satisfaction.

While hormone levels for women can fluctuate throughout their adult years because of pregnancy, menstruation, menopause and other variables, in general, men’s testosterone levels taper off gradually. Instead of experiencing a rather sudden drop in desire because of low testosterone levels, most women experience a steady sex drive throughout their 30s, well into their 40s and beyond [source: Columbia University].