- Christie Cobb, MD, Arkansas-based gynecologist, intimacy expert, and sexual wellness doctor
- Laurie Mintz, PhD, sex therapist, professor, and speaker
- Lyndsey Harper, MD, MD, FACOG, board-certified OB/GYN, founder and CEO of women’s sexual wellness app Rosy, and clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M School of Medicine.
- Susan Hardwick-Smith, MD, obstetrician-gynecologist and founder of the Complete Midlife Wellness Center in Houston, TX
To be clear, no matter what age you are, there’s no “normal” level of libido that you should be experiencing. “Libido is as dynamic as each person who experiences it,” says gynecologist and sexual-medicine specialist Christie Cobb, MD. While society tends to overvalue the kind of spontaneous desire portrayed in movies, there’s “nothing wrong with your libido if you don’t naturally wake up every day wanting to seek out a sexual experience,” she says. On the flip side, if you do tend to feel the spontaneous desire to have sex on the regular, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that either.
“Libido is still not fully understood by sexual scientists, though we do know that it has relational, health-related, hormonal, and psychological components driving it.” —Laurie Mintz, PhD, sex therapist and psychologist
Largely, that’s because of the complexity of libido, says sex therapist and psychologist Laurie Mintz, PhD, sex expert at sex-toy retailer Lelo and author of Becoming Cliterate. “Libido is still not fully understood by sexual scientists, though we do know that it has relational, health-related, hormonal, and psychological components driving it,” she says. And many of these components are in our control. For example, things like chronic stress and lack of sleep have been shown to diminish libido, while masturbating and exercising regularly may increase it. (And those associations could apply to folks of any age.)
But because some of the key factors driving libido do tend to look similar in people of the same age (say, the libido-diminishing, child-rearing tasks typical for a person in their 30s or 40s, or the menopausal dip in hormones after that), libido often changes similarly by age, too. Below, experts share some of the scenarios that can influence libido at each decade of adulthood for people with uteruses, with the essential caveat that everyone’s sexual experience is unique and personal.
“Certain aspects of life could get you going, sexually, while other elements could pump your brakes, and this dual-control model of sexuality applies at any age or stage,” says Dr. Cobb. As a result, the following progression of libido by age mostly reflects generalized guideposts, within which there’s a lot of wiggle room for more or less sexual desire.
Here’s how libido may change by age for people with a uterus
In your 20’s:
Because this decade typically offers ample opportunities for sexual exploration, it’s often a time of heightened libido, says gynecologist Lyndsey Harper, MD, co-founder and chief medical officer at sexual wellness platform Rosy. “Thanks to higher levels of hormones and lower levels of responsibility, relatively speaking, many people experience a lot of sexual discovery, excitement, and desire in their 20s.”
That’s only amplified by the fact that in your 20s, you may have more sexual partners prior to potentially committing to one or a few. And the sparks-flying energy of new relationships can increase spontaneous desire, says Dr. Cobb.
It’s also the case that ovulation may boost libido, which could further contribute to a higher sex drive during these super biologically fertile years, says gynecologist Susan Hardwick-Smith, MD. For the same reason, being on hormonal contraception during this time could have the opposite effect on some people (although research is mixed on the subject). “When you’re on birth-control pills, you don’t ovulate or experience that spike in testosterone, which could, in turn, reduce libido,” says Dr. Hardwick-Smith.
Psychologically speaking, says Dr. Mintz, being anxious about getting pregnant or worried about your performance or appearance during sex acts—which could happen at any age, but may be more prevalent in your 20’s—could also lower your libido.
In your 30’s:
A bunch of life stressors typically come into play during this decade, from additional career pressures to child-bearing and -rearing demands. This mix just doesn’t typically mesh with a high libido, says Dr. Mintz. “Having a new baby or a young child on its own can be very emotionally and physically demanding, leaving you sleep-deprived or constantly caretaking, both of which create little opportunity for spontaneous desire,” she says.
To follow that baby thread one step further, it’s also possible that the hormonal changes of breastfeeding may reduce libido, too. “Typically, people who are breastfeeding have low levels of estrogen, which can create vaginal dryness and make sex painful,” says Dr. Hardwick-Smith. And that could, understandably, decrease a person's interest in having it, in the first place.
“Sexual desire may become more responsive during this time, meaning that desire for sex may only be there after getting started in a sexual act.” —Lyndsey Harper, MD, gynecologist
Even if you don’t have kids during this decade, you might be having sex with a longer-term partner—which can make things feel less novel (and therefore less likely to spark spontaneous desire), says Dr. Harper. “As a result, sexual desire may become more responsive during this time, meaning that desire for sex may only be there after getting started in a sexual act or reading a sexy story, for example,” she says.
In your 40’s:
This decade typically coincides with perimenopause (and in some cases, menopause). As a result, hormone shifts can play a big role in diminishing libido by this age and stage, says Dr. Mintz. “Specifically, hormones like estrogen and progesterone begin to drop, which can lead to menopause symptoms like hot flashes, insomnia, and mood swings—all of which can shrink desire.” These hormonal changes often lead to vaginal dryness, which can cause pain with sex and lower libido, as noted above. (In this case, vaginal estrogen or hormone replacement therapy could be major game-changers.)
That said, your 40’s can also bring more time and resources to devote to yourself, says Dr. Cobb, particularly if you have children who are now leaving the nest and/or a more established career. The extra time available for personal sex-ploration could also reduce stress levels and improve body image—all of which can dial up spontaneous desire, too.
There’s also something to be said about becoming more comfortable in your own skin simply as a result of having lived in it for a while by this point in time. “With age often comes increased confidence in one’s self, a keener knowledge and comfort with what turns you on, and the ability to tell your partner what you need for pleasure and orgasm,” says Dr. Mintz.
In your 50’s and beyond:
Following the perimenopausal stage, people with uteruses usually hit menopause by their early 50's—bringing with it a potential drop in libido. “By the time you’re in menopause, you’re no longer producing any estrogen or progesterone, and your testosterone levels are very, very low, all of which can dramatically affect sexual desire,” says Dr. Hardwick-Smith. “At the same time, as you age, you lose some blood flow to the clitoris, which may result in decreased sexual sensation and decreased ability to have an orgasm.” And without orgasm as easily in the picture, libido can diminish, too.
Around this phase of life, chronic health issues tend to be more prevalent, as well, says Dr. Cobb—the stress and management of which can potentially dampen libido, too. In this vein, if you’re having sex with a person who has a penis, you may also need to contend with their erectile dysfunction during this decade. “This can be a particular challenge if you experience mainly responsive desire [and tend to feel mentally aroused or interested in sex only after beginning a physical sex act],” says Dr. Cobb.
Even so, some folks also experience a feeling of sexual liberation during menopause, says Dr. Cobb. After all, this decade brings freedom from menstruation and the risk of pregnancy, which can boost spontaneous desire. As noted above, it’s also the case that you could feel even more comfortable in your own body and more confident communicating what you want during sex as you reach your 50’s, adds Dr. Mintz: “At this age, sex can become less goal-focused on intercourse and orgasm, and more focused on pleasure and connection and fun.”
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