How do you feel about Valentine’s Day? The answer may depend on your age and the state of your hormones.
First, some fun facts: Estrogen and testosterone are the libido-enhancers in both women, and men, and when they’re perfectly balanced, you’re primed for blissful trysts and burning passion for that right match.
What optimizes them? Aphrodisiacs? Try again. Increasing your circulation with foods rich in anti-oxidants like salmon and strawberries, though, can increase a night of enchantment. But only one to two drinks a date. Otherwise alcohol impedes, let’s say, those functioning desires; ovulation—a double-edged sword which increases sex drive but also chance of pregnancy.
Estrogen, progesterone and testosterone are at their peak levels, and, in women, such hormonal levels are at their lustiest just before ovulation which increases sex drive astronomically during that two to four-day period. Anthropologically, this makes great sense, since procreation is what makes human existence continue. This elicited sex drive in women and men works in favor of baby-making when the uterus is ready—and the male and female participants are at their optimal interest levels.
The only problem during this decade? A 2010 national survey of Sexual Health and Behavior found that women are “less ‘orgasmic’ because they don’t know what to ask for in bed.”
While women have some hormonal drop-off and fluctuation, it is the decade often identified as our sexual peak, perhaps because we know what we want and how to ask for it. Our emotional confidence may make up for the slight hormonal dip.
There can be exceptions, however. For instance, after childbirth, when testosterone in women decreases or while nursing, when a mother’s estrogen and progesterone are suppressed—along with the urge to start having sex again.
Women’s testosterone levels are half what they were at 25, with estrogen and progesterone fluctuating with the elusive flutters of female perimenopause. No real surprises here. Men simply have larger amounts of testosterone throughout their life while, in women, it begins to dwindle during this time— decreasing sex drive. Even worse, cortisol, the stress hormone can grow dominant, edging out the other hormonal essentials for the libido to not only “want” it but to “function.”
And what is the concept of the “sexual peak?” Is it a physiological certainty or a social ideology? Perhaps a little bit of both. A woman in perimenopause can still be aroused, especially just before ovulation, but stress, or the fatigue and moodiness that come with modern life can wipe out the desire to perform. Our sexual peak may not come with bodily readiness but with the emotional and physical experience of what we want.
In their forties, hormonal fluctuation in men is less, although still physically impacted by stressors of life, since male menopause (often called “andropause”) has a longer onset and duration. But men can experience their own issues due to hormonal imbalance. In their 30s and 40s, testosterone levels may begin to drop off causing fatigue, weakness, even depression, and a reduction in sex drive, hence your bounty of commercials trying to address the quiet confidence booster of “erectile dysfunction.”
FIFTY TO SIXTY-FIVE PLUS
The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior found that 71 percent of 50-something women said their last experience resulted in an orgasm. That’s not bad considering that sex drive declines after menopause with reduced testosterone and very low estrogen levels. Declining hormonal levels can also increase vaginal dryness and vaginal wall thinning, making sex uncomfortable.
But there is good news. And there are antidotes to low libido. According to a Duke Study, losing 10 percent of total weight can do wonders for your sex drive and exercise increases blood flow, lubrication and better orgasms.
A new mindset toward sex, grown children, meditation, and new relationships can also spark one’s sex drive. Creams, the right foods, sleep—- there are things you can do to get it back. Something must be working: Eight thousand adults were involved in a Trinity College Dublin study which found 59 percent of those over 50 have regular sex— with one-third of them having it one to two times per week.
And it’s good for you too. Midlife sex helps the heart, lowers blood pressure, decreases stress and releases endorphins, and can even help you look younger. So, if this is where you are, do not yield to societal norms or stereotypes. Search within, make life adjustments, do more research, get out of bed, exercise, and get back into bed with the one you love.