When Are Women and Men at Their Sexual Peak?
You’ve probably heard that most men hit their sexual peak in their late teens, while women reach their sexual prime in their mid-30s. But the reality is that trying to pinpoint human beings’ sexual peak is a complex undertaking. For one, what is the definition of the sexual peak? Is it the point at which a human being is having the most sex, or is it when they’re having the most satisfying sex? And how should we define “satisfying sex”?
Learn more about the research that’s influenced our ideas about peak sexual performance and what we really know about sexual health of men and women through the years.
Societal Beliefs About Sexual Peak
In the 1950s, Alfred Kinsey’s research drastically advanced our collective understanding of human sexuality. His studies of male and female sexual behavior helped us better understand what was really going on in the privacy of the bedroom. For instance, his data revealed that 95% of men had experienced an orgasm by the time they were in their late teens, compared to just 20% of women of the same age.
That early data heavily influenced our belief that males reach their sexual prime before women. (After all, Kinsey’s data also showed women were more likely to experience orgasm in their 30s than in their teens and early 20s.) But consider the cultural context: By their late teens, most males, even in the 1950s, had likely experimented with masturbation. Females, on the other hand, were strongly influenced by the idea that women must remain sexually pure, and neither males nor females received much sexual education. In a time when sexual pleasure for females was not discussed and often actively discouraged, is it surprising that most women didn’t experience orgasm until later in life?
More recent research proves both males and females are capable of sexual activity and response in their teenage years. According to a 2010 study, most Americans engage in oral or vaginal sex by their early 20s. Data from 2015 shows that nearly half of women under the age of 35 reached orgasm via masturbation by age 15.
However, the idea that females reach their sexual peak later than males persists—although there’s some evidence to suggest this myth is losing power. Older women and men are much more likely to believe there’s a decade-wide gap between peak sexual performance of males and females. Younger adults don’t believe there’s a big gap.
Male Sexual Peak Performance
Most males experience their first ejaculation between the ages of 12 to 14. Young males can usually get an erection more quickly than older men, and their refractory period—the time they need after orgasm before being physically able to engage in sexual activity again—is shorter. But youth is no guarantee of sexual performance. According to The National Health and Social Life Survey, 31% of men between the ages of 18 and 59 experience sexual dysfunction.
To date, most people have associated the male sexual peak with high libido, not necessarily sexual satisfaction. That’s an important distinction because research has shown that many men enjoy satisfactory sex throughout their lifespan, even though they face additional physical challenges as they age. By age 40, approximately 40% of men experience some erectile dysfunction (ED); by age 70, that percentage jumps to 67%. Yet 74% of sexually active men over the age of 60 say their sex life is as satisfying (or more satisfying) than it was in their 40s.
Women’s Sexual Peak Age Range
Women (and men) in their 20s typically have sex more frequently than people in their 40s and beyond. But for women, “sexual peak” is often associated with sexual satisfaction, which tends to increase with age as people (and their partners) become more familiar with their bodies and confident in their desires.
Interestingly, sexual dysfunction in women tends to decline as they age. And once the fear of unintended pregnancy is gone (thank you, menopause!) some women enjoy sex in a way they didn’t when they were younger.
Psychologist and sex therapist David Schnarch says we should make a distinction between “genital prime” and “sexual prime.” Our bodies change as we get older, but typically our capacity for intimacy increases. Men and women of all ages can have exciting, satisfying sex lives.