Feeling frisky, confident, and ready for a roll in the hay? You might just be hitting a sexual peak — a common term for a period of sexual maturity, competence, and desire. What’s the deal with these spikes? Are they even real? Read on for info on why this biological phenomenon is actually a myth, and how it affects how we think about gender and sexuality.
Peaks and Valleys — Why It Matters
Conventional wisdom (and plenty of women’s magazines) claims that men reach their sexual peaks as young teenage whippersnappers (18, to be exact), while late-blooming ladies don’t hit this milestone until their 30s. It’s easy to see why this myth has stuck around — early sexpert Alfred Kinsey himself proposed the theory on sexual peaks in his groundbreaking work “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female,” published way back in 1953. Since Kinsey first reported on male and female sexuality, the idea that men and women mature and think about sex differently has remained the prevailing theory about sexual peaks.
But as shocking as Kinsey’s work was at the time, it didn’t encompass much of what we now understand about doin’ the deed. If Kinsey were looking at hormonal levels alone, he’d be largely correct about sexual peaks. In men, testosterone levels reach their apex around age 18, while women’s estrogen (and fertility) hits a high-water mark during the mid- to late-20s. This hot-and-heavy stage of sexual maturity is known as the genital prime, because it’s when the body responds most quickly to arousal (it also explains all those stereotypes about high school boys…).
But a person’s genital or hormonal peak isn’t the same as his or her sexual prime. In fact, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to predict or claim that a certain age comprises a sexual peak, because it’s different for every adult. Being at the top of one’s sexual game is much more complicated than the number of sperm in the tank or the ease with which one can get pregnant — sex is also psychological. Mental factors like body confidence, personal sexuality, feelings of intimacy and trust with a partner, libido, and knowledge of sexual preferences take time and experience to develop.
Mountains Majesty — The Answer/Debate
Unsurprisingly, the idea that men and women have specific, but different, sexual peaks is pretty outdated. Regardless of hormonal maturity or concentrations, both men and women reach their sexual peak when they’re most comfortable with their own bodies and sexuality. And because hormones and relationships change throughout life, a so-called sexual peak can come at any time or age. Also, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can have a significant impact on sexual pleasure and performance Exercise is associated with better erectile function in men under 40 as evaluated by the International Index of Erectile Function. Hsiao W, Shrewsberry AB, Moses KA, Johnson TV, Cai AW, Stuhldreher P, Dusseault B, Ritenour CW. Department of Urology, Emory University, Men's Health Center, Atlanta, GA, USA. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. 2012 February; 9 (2): 524-30.. According to Greatist Expert Dr. James Hardeman, regular exercise, a balanced diet, and not smoking can make psychological and physiological sexual peaks last longer.
But before we dismiss the idea of different sexual peaks once and for all, it’s important to consider the social repercussions of Kinsey’s theory. Kinsey’s report was so shocking because back in the 1950s, women often weren’t considered sexual beings at all. Even in the present day, sexuality presents different social pressures and stigmas for different genders. Many sources point out that women may embrace their sexuality later than men because they are pressured to appear “innocent” and “inexperienced” in comparison to men. (Cue the plot of most major romance novels.) The perception that women across the board have lower sex drives than men, and that females are consequently less interested in sex, is both old-fashioned and potentially harmful. Expecting women to stay sexually inexperienced (via social pressures such as “slut shaming”) makes it difficult for them to control their own sexual development and become sexually fulfilled adults.
Sexual stereotypes pose difficulties and pressures across the board, for men as well as women. Because men supposedly peak at age 18, many young male adults are expected to be “experienced”, which can create a culture of peer pressure for men to have sex before they’re ready. For both men and women, buying into the idea of “sexual peaks” is a waste of time, if not outright damaging. The best way for a person of any gender to develop their sexuality (and reach that confusing “sexual peak”) is to cultivate a positive relationship with their body, their sexuality, and their partner(s) — at any age.
Whether you call it a sexual peak, prime, or gold-star-worthy performance, everybody hits his or her stride in the bedroom department at some point. Exactly when this golden age happens is less certain — while our bodies may be more physiologically primed for baby-making at certain points in our lives, sexual peaks are more dependent on confidence and being comfortable in one’s body than on hormonal timetables.
Do you think there’s such a thing as a “sexual peak”? Share your thoughts in the comments below or tweet the author @SophBreene.