Male or female, if you’re aged 32 or older you might want to take a moment to reflect on your bygone youth and exuberance – because, if a new study is correct, the best sex years of your life have been and gone.
In November, US-based research declared that women reach their sexual peak at the age of just 26. Men hit the same milestone at an only-slightly-less disheartening 32.
Reassuringly, however, famed sex adviser Tracey Cox disagrees: “Like most things, sex gets better the more you do it and the more practiced you are,” she says.
“Let’s not forget too that sex is fun,” Dublin-based sex therapist Teresa Bergin adds. “We need fun at every stage in life – you don’t stop wanting sex just because you’re 65.” Here, we examine sex through the ages – and reveal the sex idols that can inspire you to be at your most confident.
Pros: You’re young, probably in good shape, and more than likely you’re free of the major stresses – mortgages and child-rearing – that come with later life. You have more opportunity to keep your options open, travel and meet new people.
Cons: You’re still new to this game. Relationships also often have less stability – people move away to work in different countries or to study abroad. Plus, in a world that gives us digital access to every imaginable sexual scenario, the pressure to perform and live up to fantasy is immense.
Sex idol: Kate Upton (22). The curvy model and actress is famed for refusing to diet down to a “catwalk appropriate” size. “Sexy to me means someone who’s confident and happy,” she says.
Pros: You’ve got bags more self-belief. Statistically this is the time that most people settle down and get married. Those initial years of marital bliss – not to mention the opportunity to experiment with “the one” – can result in dynamite between the sheets.
Cons: This is also the time that children arrive; and being exhausted caring for toddlers and babies can zap your libido.
Sex idol: Holly Willoughby (33). The TV presenter is a mum-of-three and has been married to Dan Baldwin since 2007. While acknowledging that “it’s not easy for a working mum to look good”, Holly also reveals: “For a hot date night, I’d wear a coat with nothing on underneath.”
Pros: Now sex gets really good. In fact, one 2013 poll found that 46 was the very peak of sexual satisfaction for most people. It’s no surprise: after all, you’ve been together for long enough to know what makes each other tick.
Cons: If a couple is distant after spending much of their energy raising a young family, now can be the time that affairs and divorce proceedings kick-off. Also of concern for men is erectile dysfunction.
Sex idol: Cindy Crawford (47). The former supermodel is married to Rande Gerber and they have two teenage children. “You just need to make it a priority and say tonight is going to be the night. If you’re not in the mood, it’s easy enough to get into the mood,” she says.
Pros: Statistics show that close to half of couples in this age bracket who are married for a decade or more still have regular sex – once a week at least. You’ll also begin to view your life as being more carefree. Rediscovering the weekend mini-break is a sexual awakening in itself.
Cons: Women and men will see quite a few changes to their bodies. For women, their 50s also brings the menopause – which can cause a dip in desire.
Sex idol: Actress Julianne Moore (54) is married with two children. She says: “I do think the one thing ageing allows you is to go, ‘Well, I know what I like, I know what I don’t like.’ And I don’t think even 20 years ago I understood that.”
Pros: There is no reason why your sex life shouldn’t be as fulfilling as it was in younger years. Sex therapist Dr Bernie Zilbergeld has written a book, Better Than Ever: Time for Love and Sex, for couples of this age which promotes regular activity between the sheets.
Cons: You may not be able to perform the physical feats that you once did – though finding out what works, and what definitely doesn’t, will do both parties a world of good. Mismatched libidos can be resolved via sex therapy and Viagra.
Sex idol: Helen Mirren (69). She has been married to Taylor Hackford since 1997. “I’d be completely horrified if Taylor gave me a Valentine’s card,” she says, adding: “We try simply to be considerate to each other every day.”
Pros: The need for intimacy is ageless – not least because it’s been proven that an active sex life can prolong your life expectancy. Many couples remain close alternating penetrative sex with cuddles, hand-holding, and skin-on-skin contact. Refreshingly, there’s far less pressure on both parties to perform.
Cons: Being affected by illness or the loss of a partner can, understandably, impact sex lives hugely. Spouses can also find that their bodies don’t allow for the sort of sex that they desire. Some may decide that their sex lives are over.
Sex idol: Judi Dench (80) lost her husband of 30 years to cancer in 2001 but has found love with David Mills (72). “I wasn’t even prepared to be ready for it. It was very gradual and grown-up,” she has said of the romance, which began in 2011. “It’s just wonderful.”