Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Is There an Early-30s Peak in Female Sexual Desire? Cross-Sectional Evidence from the United States and Canada

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Is There an Early-30s Peak in Female Sexual Desire? Cross-Sectional Evidence from the United States and Canada

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This research explored whether women experience a "sexual peak" during their early 30s and, if so, whether such a peak might have an evolved function. In Study 1, results from a cross-sectional sample of college students from the United States (N = 803 women, 415 men) revealed that women between 30 and 34, relative to older and younger women, described themselves as more lustful, seductive, and sexually active. In contrast, men did not experience a sexual peak between 30 and 34. In a second study (N = 611 women, 329 men), findings of an early-30s peak in women were replicated among married and single individuals from Canada. Using new measures of human sexual strategies (Schmitt & Buss; 2000), the authors were able to test 2 hypotheses about the possible functions of an early-30s peak in female sexual desire. One hypothesis is that an early-30s peak increases reproduction in monogamous, long-term relationships. A second hypothesis is that women's early-30s peak in sexual desire increases reproduction through promiscuous or extra-pair copulations. Overall, the hypothesis that the peak is desired to increase women's reproduction in monogamous, long-term relationships received the most support. Discussion focuses on limitations and alternative explanations of the current findings and on areas for future investigation.

Keywords: Female sexual desire Sexual desire peak Evolutionary function


A common assumption in the United States is that men reach a "sexual peak" before age 20, whereas women's sexuality peaks after the age of 30 (Barr, Bryan, & Kenrick, 2002; Wiederman, 2001). This belief may stem from the seminal work of Kinsey and his colleagues, who used total orgasm frequency from all sexual "outlets," including masturbation, as an index of sexual peak (Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948; Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin, & Gebhard, 1953). Total orgasm frequency, however, is only one way to operationalize the sexual peak of a gender. Other important indicators may include the capacity for sexual performance and the ease with which one becomes sexually aroused (Mosher, Barton-Henry, and Green, 1988; Whalen, 1966). Perhaps most central to people's everyday conceptions of male and female sexual potency, however, is the psychological construct of sexual desire (Regan & Berscheid, 1999).

Modern sexologists tend to view sexual desire as a subjective feeling or motivational slate that most would call the experience of "lust" (Levine, 1988; Regan, 1999). Although it may seem logical that sexual desire should directly relate to Kinsey's "total sexual outlets," across a wide range of studies sexual desire has proven largely independent of sexual behaviour, including behavioural orgasm rates, sexual arousability, and measures of sexual performance (Bancroft, 1983; Beck, Bozman, & Qualtrough, 1991; Hill, 1997; Kaplan, 1979; Regan, 1996; Wallen, 1995). Fisher (1998) has postulated that sexual desire, what she refers to as "lust motivation," is a unique biochemical system in humans, distinct from other more behavioural forms of sexual expression. Many sex researchers have also insisted that sexual desire may not be adequately operationalized as the simple summation of behavioural sex acts (see Spector, Carey, & Steinberg, 1996). Thus, it is questionable whether changes in sexual desire--changes most relevant to popular conceptions of sexual peaks--actually coincide with the peaks in orgasm behaviour frequency originally reported by Kinsey and his colleagues. Indeed, it remains largely unknown whether peaks in sexual desire exist at all.

Several studies have suggested that women may experience changes in their sexual desire over time (Adams & Turner, 1985; Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983; Hunt, 1974; Rubin, 1982; Tavris & Sadd, 1977). However, these studies usually portray sexual desire as in steady and continuous decline across adulthood. …

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