“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 but there was also a hefty wedge of truth to what she said.
Plenty of studies and research have suggested that sex does get better with age, and that it’s a habit that only improves with experience and understanding of self. So contrary to common myth, you’re unlikely to be having the best sex of your life in your 20s. That particular accolade kicks in a few years later. Here’s why…
With age comes that crucial confidence of knowing yourself
Sex often feels best when the mind and body come together. So, good communication is key. Whether you’re having a one-night stand or having sex with someone a billionth time over in a long-term relationship, you need to be able to articulate what it is that you like, dislike and would like to experiment with.
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 at expressing what we want from sex – 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 as we navigate more of life and lean into our fully developed brains.
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 about sex. Yet with age comes that crucial confidence of knowing yourself and being unapologetic about it.
Happiness with body image booms from the 40s onwards
Poor body image can have a knock-on effect on your sex life. Studies show that if you’re largely concerned about 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 can happen to 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 typically become a lot more body confident with age. One study indicates that women feel happiest with their figures aged 50, echoing other findings that show happiness with body image booms from the 40s onwards in both men and women.
As you get older, you grow into your body and start accepting it for what it is, and 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.
You can talk frankly about one another’s hopes and desires
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 share your expectations more easily. But you’ve also had enough life experience to be resilient. Having an amazing time with sex is an open channel where you can talk frankly about one another’s hopes and desires. And the more you do this, the better it will typically be.
But another major difference is that generation X and millennials have skipped the advent of online pornography. Yes, we can access porn (including newer companies that centre around ethical porn, open communication and a more balanced gender lens) but we didn’t grow up with it, so we have none of the toxic assumptions that can come from watching it without experience. Studies show that most youngsters believe porn offers a realistic picture of sex; they think that’s how it should feel, look and be. That in itself can be massively problematic when it comes to expectation versus truth.
It’s said that 36 is the prime age to experience the perfect orgasm
The biggest difference of all with sex in your 30s and 40s usually comes with quality over quantity. Research shows that more 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 and think, “Hmm, was it really?”
One study 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 practiced 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 but quality.”
You’re more confident, less self-conscious and you know what you want
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 your 30s and 40s is 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 your third decade, but it does herald in an age of sensuality and self-belief, paving the path to better and more empowered sex.
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