The Friday Sex Blog [Sexual Peaks]

Hola mi Gente…

Today is the last day of what has turned out to be a marathon prison monitoring visit. We are headed to Southport to conduct a series of one-on-one interviews. I. Am. Tired.

 

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 the_graduate

Sexual Peaks: Men and Women

 

Today’s post has to be a quickie (pun intended).

I think that by now most of us are familiar with the cliché that knowledge is power. Clichés are clichés because for the most part they are true. I would like to spin that cliché a little and add that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. What I mean by that is that incomplete knowledge is dangerous because it leads to erroneous conclusions and assumptions.

The folk wisdom that women reach their sexual peak after age thirty; men during adolescence is one of those assumptions.

Mind you, after reading some of the literature, I can’t say I have come to a definitive conclusion. However, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t question this assumption. In fact, there are more reasons than not to be suspicious about this often-cited “fact.”

I started where everyone should start: I explored the origin of this piece of accepted wisdom. I was able to trace it to the famous Kinsey surveys of more than a half century ago. Kinsey, I discovered, came to his conclusion simply by polling people on the frequency of various sexual behaviors. Based on the number of times the interviewees reported they had masturbated, had intercourse, or erotic dreams, Kinsey and his crew surmised that women reached their peaks in their mid-to-late thirties — long after men who peaked in late adolescence.

Sexual peak is not a clear-cut term, however. For example, the number of sexual experiences per year may be qualitatively different from how much one enjoys them, and this in turn may be different from how often one thinks about sex, or how much enjoyment one brings to one’s partner. Who is to say which one these is most relevant to the idea of a “sexual peak” period?

Even if we were to decide to narrowly define sexual peak to one of mere frequency, the problem with using the Kinsey-style method is that it is unclear whether women are said to peak later in life for physiological, psychological, or social reasons. One possible reason, according to studies on human sexuality, is that giving birth may help women to become more sexually responsive because they develop more capillaries (and therefore more “feeling” the reasoning goes) around the genital area. However, another researcher observed that a crying baby in the next room may do far more to cool sexual desire than a few more blood vessels could do to stoke it. In fact, a good number of women report a loss of sexual desire immediately after giving birth.

One of the better-known researchers of sexual hormones and their effect on behavior (and with whom I disagree with in other areas) is John Money. He insists that how we are conditioned to think about sex is more relevant than how much estrogen or testosterone we secrete. He observes that while we need a little amount of hormone to get the system going, additional hormone do not add to the dynamic. If women enjoy sex more, or simply do it more, at forty than at twenty, this is probably more a reflection of the time required to break free from early social conditioning about sexual desire. According to Money, much of what we see as biological in women is intertwined with the concepts of how girls are educated sexually (i.e., the “Madonna/ Whore” dichotomy).

Women are taught to repress their sexuality. They are conditioned to think that if they experience sexual arousal that they are sluts. Women peaking later may be a consequence of the time it takes to get over the more than twenty years of early socialization before they can learn sex can be fun. An even better case against a biological reason for a later sexual peak is that from an evolutionary point of view, it makes no sense for women to become interested in sex just as they’re nearing the end of their childbearing years.

If the issue is socialization, then the gap between men’s and women’s sexual peak should narrow (become more alike) as the impact of sexual double standards lessen. Sure enough, studies since the Kinsey Report are consistently showing that “women are reaching high levels of sexual arousal at earlier ages.” There seems to be a leveling out between the sexes these days in terms of enjoyability and frequency of sex. On the other hand, women are less likely to report a lusty motive (“I was horny”) until they are in their late thirties.

What all this points to is that there is a great need for a large national study that can shed more light on this subject, but politicians are naturally nervous about such a project and are resistant to allow government agencies to explore human sexuality. In fact, there are very few large-scale sexual studies these days.

There is a more important question regarding the claim that women reach their sexual peak at a later stage of the life cycle: a peak implies that something drops off after that milestone. The opposite seems to be true. Women tend to develop a greater ease and frequency of orgasm with more sexual experience. There is no evidence of a decline after the so-called peak.

Physiological changes in men are easier to predict than in women. Most forty year-olds ejaculate less than fifteen-year-olds, for example. However, the context in which the arousal takes place counts for much more here. How can one speak meaningfully about levels of sexual excitement without knowing who is on the other side of the bed?

More importantly, the idea that men have passed their sexual peak before their 20s should raise the question whether a state of a perpetual erection means someone is at their sexual “peak” in any real sense. The middle-aged man may win the race in terms of the sexual satisfaction he gives and receives. In fact, a study of healthy middle-aged to elderly men indicated that while sexual arousal and activity were indeed lower for older men, sexual enjoyment and satisfaction did not show a decline with increasing age. Furthermore, masturbation accounts for the majority of the huge surge early in life for men. That led Kinsey to talk about men reaching their sexual peak in late adolescence. Is that the measure of the kind of sexual peak we should be really interested in?

This much is clear from my own explorations and from personal experience: most men and women can enjoy sex at any time from puberty until death. Some researchers have found that some people don’t reach their peak until they’re in their late 80s! It would appear to me that there is no evidence suggesting that biology is dominant over social conditioning, psychological conditions, and individual situations. Which to me means there are no fixed sexual prime years or sexual peak.

Yes, sometimes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

 

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