A recent online survey explored how sexual desire changes with age and found that it is the highest between 30 and 40 in both men and women. It was noticeably lower only in respondents over 60 years of age. Men reported higher levels of sexual desire than women on average. The study was published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Sexual desire is the experience of sexual thoughts, fantasies, and the motivation to engage in sexual activities. It is positively associated with well-being. Previous studies have suggested that sexual desire decreases with age, but assumptions about the specific age when sexual desire is highest differ. Studies have also shown substantial individual variability in the level of sexual desire.
Due to this, the study of factors predicting sexual desire has attracted a lot of research interest. Sexual desire can be dyadic (desire for sexual activity with a partner) or solitary (desire for solitary sexual activity such a masturbation).
For their study, Larissa L. Wierczorek from the University of Hamburg and her colleagues analyzed a part of the data from an online survey of social attitudes and personality in order to examine the relationship between sexual desire, age, masculinity, and attractiveness. The study sample consisted of 8,150 participants between 15 and 80 years of age, but predominantly very young, who were recruited via a number of social media platforms in the eleven-year period between 2007 and 2018.
Participants were predominantly females (67.88%) and 72.17% identified as heterosexual. Data analyzed in this study included self-assessments of two types of dyadic sexual desire – towards one’s partner, towards an “attractive person” and towards themselves (Sexual Desire Inventory-2, SDI-2) as well as an overall assessment of sexual desire and self-ratings of own masculinity, attractiveness and health (participants rated how masculine/attractive/healthy they believe they are on a 7-point scale).
The results showed that the association between age and sexual desire is not that straightforward. While the averages of all types of sexual desire peaked roughly between 30 and 40 years of age, individual differences were quite pronounced. Average values of sexual desire towards an “attractive person” were visibly lower only in participants over 60 years of age. The same was the case for sexual desire towards the partner for females, but not for males.
In males, the average sexual desire towards their partner was quite stable in all age groups. Solitary sexual desire looked pronouncedly stable in both men and women. However, individual differences in sexual desire strongly increase in participants above 60 years of age, with many reporting only slight decrease or even an increase and others reporting strong decrease.
Men, on average, reported stronger sexual desire than women. Higher levels of masculinity showed a very weak association with higher overall sexuality and the two types of dyadic sexual desire, but only in men. Higher levels of self-rated attractiveness were associated with higher dyadic sexual desire in both man and women, but the associations were very weak.
The study highlights important differences between types of sexual desire, but authors note that “the cross-sectional design of the study cannot address age effects on sexual desire” as “age effects on sexual desire found in this study might reflect that participants in the mid-age range show higher sexual desire than those born before or after independent from age.”
Additionally, the study is based on self-reports and “women are known to underreport sexual motivation, thoughts, and behavior more frequently than men.” This might be the explanation for at least some of the gender differences obtained in this study.
The study, “Age Effects on Women’s and Men’s Dyadic and Solitary Sexual Desire”, was authored by Larissa L. Wieczorek, Meredith Chivers, Monica A. Koehn, Lisa M. DeBruine, and Benedict C. Jones.