True or false: Men peak sexually at age 18, and women peak in their 30s.
While it is true sex is more frequent at a younger age, the idea of a sexual peak is mostly, and thankfully, false. The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior from Indiana University found that most adults continue on to have active, pleasurable sex lives. Better yet, women orgasm more easily as they age.
And the myths don’t end there (especially if we're just talking about orgasms). A person’s sex drive is easily influenced — just not in the ways you’ve been led to believe. Here’s what you need to know.
What’s In A Name?
Low sex drive. Lackluster libido. "Not in the mood." Whichever way you describe it, it’s something one in three women experiences, according to the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA). Symptoms can include a decreased desire to have sex, fewer sexual thoughts and fantasies, as well as sexual responsiveness. Worse yet, the effects ripple from the bedroom into your personal relationships, including the one you have with yourself.
Leading causes, as reported by the ASHA, are depression, existing medical conditions, side effects from medications (like antidepressants), personal and job stress, low self-esteem and disrupted hormone levels.
For some women – one in 10 to be exact — sexual function is caused by the brain. This is known as hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). It’s a result of an imbalance in the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. And 43 percent of women experience a form of this sexual dysfunction compared to only 31 percent of men. Not that a woman would tell you that.
A 2011 study on low sexual desire found that most women don’t volunteer this kind of information out of fear or embarrassment to themselves or their physician, resulting in undiagnosed symptoms. To Iris Krasnow, best-selling author of relationship books and a women's studies professor at American University, that’s a mistake.
Krasnow told Medical Daily in an email that for as open as our society has gotten in regard to the once-forbidden subject of sex, we’re still not willing to share our own hurtful experiences. But when we do, we help others avoid making similar mistakes.
Of course, it’s not a patient’s fault for being hesitant to open up to their doctor, especially when that same study reported a whopping 90 percent of primary physicians didn’t confident in diagnosing HSDD. Sexual problems, it turns out, is out their realm of expertise.
This is problematic not only because low sex drives are so commonplace, for a variety of reasons, but also because there are simple solutions to getting things up and running again.
Re-cultivating non-physical intimacy (think kissing), being patient with your partner, communicating about the issue and coming up with a plan are all ways Dr. Ian Kerner, the sex expert behind Goodinbed.com, recommends to balance out mismatched libidos — a problem he believes anyone who’s been in a relationship will face at one time or another.
Reboot Sex Drive Myths
Knowing that a low sex drive, or sexual dysfunction, is normal is the first step into finding relief. Nothing is “wrong with you” and “you’re not broken.” Sometimes, it’s totally out of your control.
But something that is in your control? Feeding into these myths surrounding sex drives.
MYTH: You can eat for a better sex drive.
It certainly would be sweet if a chocolate-covered strawberry was a cure-all for a low sex drive, but Dr. Debby Herbenick, author of Sex Made Easy and a sex researcher at Indiana University-Bloomington, disagrees. She told Shape that there isn’t any hard evidence to suggest that aphrodisiacs, like chocolate, oysters, red wine, and avocado do anything for desire. In fact, many of these suggested foods wound up on Medical Daily’s list of foods that kill your sex drive.
REBOOT: If you do want to see how your diet affects your sex drive, there is science that backs veganism. One 2006 study found a vegan diet that is high in fruits and vegetables can literally make you taste and smell good.
MYTH: Menopause means no more sex.
Remember when we said age is but a sexual number? Krasnow doesn’t just agree it’s a myth — it’s an idea she can shatter. “I found in my research that many of the hottest, most confident, most experimental women were those over the ages of 60 and 70!” she said. “One 72-year-old woman had just returned from a Tantric Sex workshop with her husband; another 82-year-old widow with a new octogenarian boyfriend was having new peaks of sexual fulfillment that she never had throughout her 55-year marriage. People care about sex and their sexual identities until the day they die.”
REBOOT: Don’t look to your age but your hormones. A study from the North American Menopause Society found the libido in women who received doses of testosterone significantly improved.
MYTH: Everyone is having more sex than you.
Perhaps the worst thing you can do for yourself and your sex drive is to compare yourself to others. That girlfriend who is always boasting she has sex five times a week? Highly unlikely, Krasnow said. The only people who know what goes on behind closed doors are the two people actually in the room.
“Here's the straight truth that I know speaking to 150 women ages 30 through ninety about their intimate relationships when researching [my book] Sex After...Women Share How Intimacy Changes As Life Changes," Krasnow said. "There is no normal when it comes to sex, and no one should compare themselves to anyone else,” Krasnow said. There is no gold standard when it comes to intimacy, no rules on how often is normal to have sex or how little is abnormal. Normal for you is what suits you and your mate emotionally and physically.”
REBOOT: Talk about sex. Krasnow urges people not to be afraid of telling their partner what they need, what they’re missing and what needs to change. It may not be easy, but it's a necessary and worthwhile step toward the sex life you want.