Sex in Your 40s: 13 Things You Should Know
Think your sex life has to dwindle after 40? Hardly—just like other areas in your life, experts say it's just getting good.
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Nice to see our society has started to put a new spin on the ways we used to think about “middle age.” In fact, we might argue it’s time we think about tossing that phrase altogether. After all, as a lot of us move through our forties, we’re observing ourselves at the top of our game, having learned and overcome the earlier challenges in areas of life like our careers, finances, and relationships.
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So, as you sustain this powerful peak in life, maybe it’s finally time to shed the played-out beliefs about sexual health that were the popular thinking of decades past—like that sex has to turn boring, or it’s harder to get turned on as you age. In fact, American Medical Association data from the past decade has suggested 85 percent of women over age 40 are still getting it on—and the majority of those women still consider sex important.
With that in mind, there are totally new ways physical intimacy can grow better than ever, especially as more Americans are actively engaging in healthy eating, exercise, and other self-care practices. If you happen to be one of them, here’s how psychologists and clinical sex therapists say that could benefit you in the bedroom.
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Sex in your 40s: The truth about getting turned on
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Let’s start here: yes, we know some hormone levels can decline around this age. Shannon Chavez, a licensed psychologist and certified sex therapist in Los Angeles, CA, says, “Both men and women deal with hormone changes in their forties that can cause changes in sexual arousal, desire and general physical comfort during sexual activity.” She continues: “Changes in hormones may require an increase in stimulation during sexual activity or increased focus on sensual pleasuring in order to get aroused.”
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You may be wilder in the sack
Think you’re in for the same old, same old if you’re in a long-term relationship? Think again—that’s just one of the 8 popular myths about aging. “Couples in their 40s are having some of the best sex of their lives—they have more permission and motivation to explore different aspects of sexuality,” Chavez says. “Couples are more open to exploring at this age due to sexual confidence, a stronger sense of sexual self, desire to make sex more playful, or feeling deeper emotional bonding for more meaningful and passionate sex.”
You’ll need to start paying attention to your heart health
Turns out, your cardiovascular system is key to a thriving sex life. “A healthy cardiovascular system is essential to sexual functioning,” says Gracie Landes, a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sexual therapist in New York, NY. “Maintaining good physical health is important.”
That means keeping up with your cardio, but don’t skimp on the strength training, either. You’ll have more energy…and the confidence that comes with feeling fit is definitely sexy.
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You may go through a lull—and that’s OK
Sexual desire may fluctuate—and you might be starting to head into the slow decline that comes for many couples as they age. “A lull in your sex life, no matter what age, is inevitable,” says Chavez. “People in long-term relationships get comfortable and may lose the routines around sex that worked in earlier phases of the relationship like getting ready for sex, taking each other out on dates, flirting, and being playful with one another.”
A critical observation from Chavez? “Couples are not always talking about sex in healthy ways that enhance desire for connection. The important part is being able to talk about it with your partner or a professional.”
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If you’re trying to conceive, know the “down” moments aren’t unusual
The quantity and quality of a woman’s eggs decreases as she ages—and this can make conception after 40 more challenging.
So if you’re looking to start or expand your family, have open conversations with your partner so you’re both prepared to understand that at times, sex might feel a little like going through the motions. “For those struggling to conceive later in life, sex can become a chore,” Landes notes.
That doesn’t mean you don’t love each other—after all, you’re on a joint mission to make your family together bigger.
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Women may be more orgasmic
You may see myths that claim that older women lose their ability to orgasm, but experts say that women over 40 may find more pleasure in sex than they ever did before. “For some women, orgasm becomes easier with experience, self-confidence, and comfort,” Landes says. In fact, many women may find discover a second phase to their sexual experience: They know what it takes to get there and aren’t shy about making it happen.
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Guys can hold out longer
There’s an upside to the decline in hormone levels over this decade: Men over 40 find themselves lasting longer than they did in the past. “As men age, they are often better able to delay orgasm,” Landes says. “They can slow down and enjoy the experience more fully in a more connected way.” They also tend to make fewer of the 25 little sex mistakes you don’t even know you’re making.
You may want to break out the lube or a fun CBD oil
Blame hormones for the fact that sex gets a whole lot drier after 40. “Fluctuating estrogen levels and irregular menstrual periods can bring discomfort,” Landes says. “The vaginal walls start to become thinner, more easily irritated, more likely to bleed or tear.” The cure? Invest in lube. Some great CBD oils with botanical aphrodisiacs are also available—be sure to choose one with all-natural ingredients specially designed for the intimate area.
You may be at greater risk for STDs
Real talk: sexually transmitted infections (STIs) may seem like a worry for 20-somethings, but data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that the numbers of people over 40 who develop STIs continues to rise.
Experts say that’s due in part to the prevalence of erectile dysfunction drugs, the reduced need for birth control, and the thinning of the vaginal tissues, which can make women more susceptible to infection. So even if the chances of pregnancy are slim to none, using condoms with a new partner is key for your health.
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Men may want to take action to address erectile dysfunction
During the 40s, men may start to have erectile issues. “Men may start to find their erections less firm, or less reliable, and the time between erections may be longer,” Landes says.
It may be worth looking at lifestyle changes that can improve sexual health. Research points to exercise or flavonoid-rich diets (featuring blueberries, red wine, cherries, and radishes) to help decrease the risk of erectile dysfunction. Remaining wedded to your gym routine will also do wonders for your equipment, guys.
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You may start to focus on other forms of intimacy
Getting close physically is awesome, but you may find yourself exploring other routes to pleasure. “Too much focus on intercourse can make sex mundane and unsatisfying if it doesn’t go as planned,” Landes says. “Learn to focus on pleasure and connection with your partner. Learn more about what you like, now that you have less of a sense of urgency. Sex can be like enjoying a gourmet meal in midlife compared to the fast-food version some people have when they are younger.”
You’ll be refocused on your relationship
Many 40-somethings are past the other stages of their lives that put a ton of attention on obligations, and now they have more time to spend with their partners. “They have the emotional energy to focus on their partner as they aren’t zapped from caring for the kids or trying to establish a career,” says Laura Berman, PhD, a sex and relationship therapist in Chicago, IL. “They can take couples trips or meet up for a lunch date during a workday.”
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Sex is still really important to you
The key to keeping the home fires burning? Tending to them. “Great sex isn’t ‘supposed’ to just happen,” Berman says. “It’s the result of a loving, committed couple tending to their relationship. That means everything from romantic getaways to date nights to daily kisses to making sure that you take ownership of the energy you bring into the relationship. It means that you realize that you are helping to create your relationship and your reality and that if you don’t like something in your marriage, you have the power to change it.” No matter your age, these are 12 things sex therapists secretly wish you knew.
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- Shannon Chavez, PsyD, CST, licensed psychologist and certified sex therapist in Los Angeles, CA.
- Gracie Landes, licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sexual therapist, New York, NY.
- Centers For Disease Control and Prevention: “Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2017.”
- Laura Berman, LCSW, PhD, sex and relationship therapist, Chicago, IL.
- JAMA Internal Medicine: “Sexual Activity in Midlife Women and Beyond.”