How Your Sex Drives Changes From Your 20s to Your 50s

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The 30s: Married with children

By the time women have hit their 30s, most have acquired some level of self-understanding. They're also likely to have established a stable relationship. Having a husband can be an aphrodisiac for women; the libido flourishes in the security of a committed relationship. But the stresses of child rearing and a career can diminish desire.

Practice makes perfect. Women get better at achieving orgasm in their 30s, which may stimulate desire--hence the popular notion that women reach their sexual peak in their 30s. "During the first few years of marriage, before children, women have, on average, the fewest sexual complaints of their lives," says Louann Brizendine, M.D., co-director of the program in sexual health at the University of California, San Francisco. That testosterone levels begin to decline at around 35 is not necessarily meaningful.

The power of pregnancy

For many women, the 30s are the reproductive years. During the second trimester of pregnancy, when you are no longer struggling with nausea but are not yet so big that sex feels like an elaborate game of Twister, many women find they have a surge in desire. This can be attributed, in part, to a sense of connection to your partner, but hormones also play a role. During pregnancy, there is a thousandfold increase in progesterone and a hundredfold increase in estrogen, which causes the vaginal lips to engorge and become more lubricated. The pressure of the growing baby on the genitals may also be a turn-on. In their book, For Women Only: A Revolutionary Guide to Overcoming Sexual Dysfunction and Reclaiming Your Sex Life (Henry Holt, 2001), sex therapist Laura Berman and her sister, Jennifer Berman, M.D., a urologist, say that during the second trimester, "Some women feel they are constantly in a state of mild sexual arousal." Being pregnant with a boy can further heighten desire; during the second trimester, the male fetus starts producing testosterone, which may boost Mom's libido.

Post-baby burnout

Many women find that after the baby comes, sex has all the appeal of a root canal. This falloff in desire can be attributed, in part, to exhaustion, but hormones are also implicated. Testosterone levels drop by about half after childbirth, though they quickly return to normal. "It's common for couples to have only one or two sexual encounters up to four months after the baby is born," says Brizendine. For Margo, a 33-year-old mother of one, those few encounters were memorable if only because of the pain, a problem that affects 70 percent of women in the first six months postpartum. "We kept trying, but it took a few months--and a bottle of Astroglide," she recalls.

Nursing mothers may be particularly uninterested in sex. Breastfeeding causes the release of the hormone prolactin, which can suppress ovulation and estrogen production, as well as testosterone. "Nursing mothers are experiencing the equivalent of menopause," says Mary Lake Polan, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of the department of gynecology and obstetrics at Stanford University School of Medicine, in Palo Alto, California.

But you don't have to be nursing to find your interest in sex waning. The Berman sisters observe that about 60 percent of the women in their practice have low levels of testosterone--a key to desire--after the birth of their second or third child. While the reason is unclear, Jennifer Berman believes this may be due to decreased production of testosterone by the ovaries or an acquired enzyme deficiency that hinders testosterone production.

Stressed to the max

Even if your hormone levels are normal, the advent of parenthood can throw a bucket of ice water on desire. Between the demands of work, young children and housekeeping, women in their 30s are under tremendous pressure. Often, they're angry at their husbands, who don't seem to take on an equal share of the new demands. "Women hit their stress peak in their thirties," says Peter Kanaris, Ph.D., a psychologist and sex therapist in Smithtown, New York. "And stress is a killer of desire."

Continued on page 3:  The (mostly) fabulous 40s

 

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