Happy Birthday!” read a text from a friend as I turned 35. “Welcome to the most sexually liberated era of your life!”
She was half-joking, of course, but there was also a hefty dollop of truth to what she said.
Because the reality is, sex is a habit that only gets better with experience.
And, contrary to common myth, you’re unlikely to be having the best nookie of your life in your 20s. That particular accolade kicks in a few years later – here’s why:
Knowing what you want
Sex is one of those elusive acts that happens best when the mind and body come together. So, good communication is key.
Whether you’re having a one-night stand or making love to someone a billionth time over in a long-term relationship, you need to be able to articulate what it is that you:
c.) Wouldn’t mind experimenting with
And naturally, this can change the whole time, depending on your mood, hormone levels and a host of other factors.
Research shows that we’re surprisingly bad about expressing what we want from a romp: even people who’ve been married for decades may struggle to share what turns them on.
But undoubtedly, this is a skill that gets better with age. Teens find it difficult to even talk about contraception, and the 20s are marked by the crises of “pretend adulthood” (in order words, just working out who the hell you are; let alone talking about it).
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But by the time you hit 30 and beyond, you begin to recognise your emotions like old friends, and act on them accordingly.
Fear of rejection and worrying what your partner thinks play a major role in people’s reluctance to speak out about sex: yet with age comes that crucial confidence of knowing yourself, and being unapologetic about it.
Just like the Salt-N-Pepa lyrics, you can talk freely about all the good things and the bad things that can be. Hello, empowerment.
Greater body confidence
There’s no doubt that poor body image can have a knock-on effect on your sex life.
Studies show that if you’re too hung up on how you look during sex, you can’t focus on sensation to the same degree: it’s a blocker, both emotionally and physically.
On top of that, self-consciousness about your body can easily translate into awkwardness about your sex life. And this is a hit for everyone involved: your partner might start questioning their performance, and the whole thing becomes loaded and tense.
Body image is such a sensitive issue, and talking together does a lot to get around it (it’s one of the many issues addressed by sex therapists). But the good news is, we become a lot more body confident with age.
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As you get older, you grow into your body and start accepting it for what it is; you give less of a damn what people think.
On top of this, generation X is less susceptible to celebrity culture and impossible beauty standards that fuel negative self-image.
In your 30s and 40s, you give yourself licence to just go ahead and enjoy sex, with less hang-ups lurking in the way.
Your partner can’t read your mind, so understanding each other’s expectations is central when it comes to great sex. Equally, science suggests that unrealistic beliefs are damaging; for example, assuming that your partner should intuitively know what you want.
In part, this again comes down to communication. When you’re in your 30s and 40s, you understand yourself better, so you can more easily share your expectations. But you’ve also had enough life experience to be resilient.
You know that an amazing time in the sack doesn’t just magically happen: it’s a two-way channel where you can talk frankly about one another’s hopes and desires. And the more you do this, the better it will be.
But another major difference here is that generation X and millennials have (happily) skipped the advent of online pornography.
Yes, we can access porn but we didn’t grow up with it: so we have none of the toxic assumptions that come from watching it without experience.
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Studies show that most youngsters believe porn offers a realistic picture of sex: they think that’s how it should feel, look and be. And that in itself is massively problematic when it comes to expectation versus truth.
Quality not quantity
The biggest difference of all with sex and age comes with quality over quantity.
The research is clear that people in their 20s have more sex than any other age group. But do you remember sex in your 20s? Could you hand on heart say it was the best?
More often than not, it was riddled with awkwardness or a raft of insecurities that defined the decade at large.
Or it seemed good at the time, but then you look back from a point where you’re a whole lot more self-possessed and think, “Hmm, was it really?”
One study last year revealed 36 to be the prime age for women experiencing the perfect orgasm, with those in their mid-30s or above enjoying more frequent and better climaxes.
Equally, for men it’s about having faith in what you do: a quality that develops with age.
“Like most things, sex gets better the more you do it and the more practised you are at it,” says sex and relationships expert Tracey Cox.
“I suspect when they say ‘best sex,’ a lot of men mean it’s when they felt most confident as lovers. This reinforces what we’ve always known: It’s not about quantity, it is about quality.”
The perfect elixir
Great sex seems like a simple concept but there are a lot of things happening beneath the surface to help it become a thing.
And the 30s and 40s are a time when these nuances come into their own.
You’re more confident, less self-conscious and you know what you want. At the same time, you grasp the power of communication, and the importance of balancing expectations.
That’s not to say that all sex will be amazing the moment you hit the big 3-0.
But it does herald in an age of sensuality and self-belief, paving the path to better, more empowered sex.
Images: Shutterstock, Unsplash