If there was no partner present, I took matters into my own more than able hands. Since I hit my forties, my sex drive has been up and down and all around the block. But mostly down.
However, when I was 41, I thought I had turned into a nymphomaniac. My libido went through the roof! Unfortunately, I had a partner who couldn't keep up and who had both sex drive and erectile dysfunction issues. So, I had a lot of DIY sex.
For the last year or so, my sex drive has taken a vacation and left me at home. I am now 45 and in the throes of perimenopause. It seems my libido, once a hardy perennial, is wilting. And I miss the damn thing. I still get aroused fairly easily and orgasms continue to be plentiful, but I feel blunted sexually - like a bride with a snooch full of Novocaine. Maybe that isn't a good analogy. It's not so much physical sensation that's lacking; it's that tired, old, female cliche - I just don't feel "in the mood".
I do still (occasionally) feel horny, but there's a rawness that's missing. A hunger.
I used to have moments when I would read or see something - it could have been just a scene in a Hollywood movie or a passage in a book - and boom that's all it took. Or someone might do something as innocuous as brush their hand along my lower back, and I was in a sexual thrall. I would feel alive, butterflies in the tummy, heart racing - and that exquisite sweetness in the groin...There is a bullshit stereotype that women take a long time to get aroused. That might be true for some women but certainly not for all of us. If the conditions were right, I could get instantly horny. Back then, desire was an itch that demanded to be scratched.
Now, not so much. However, when I think about my sex drive over the years, I notice that it has always been somewhat up and down. In my teens, my desire was very high. But in my 20s my drive dropped. I frequently had problems negotiating how often to have sex with my partner in those years. Most of the men I dated wanted sex more than I did. That changed in my 30s and my early 40s when lust became a frequent bed-mate.
I think my own experience with the ups and downs of desire has given me a better perspective on the research I am reading for my dissertation. It gives me a context for understanding some of these problems. There is a huge interest among sex researchers in finding a "pink Viagra" - which in some ways is a misnomer. Viagra works by increasing blood flow to the genitals and enhances physical arousal. That's not the problem that most women complain about. For most women, the problem is low sex drive - not an inability to get aroused. In other words, we don't need a "pink Viagra" flooding our clits with blood. We need something to jumpstart our lust. There is a condition called sexual arousal disorder in women, which corresponds to erectile dysfunction in men, but it is rather uncommon.
Sex drive for most people (male and female) is variable and changes over the years. Just as sexual response in general changes. I admit I don't like the term "female sexual dysfunction" because I believe that it medicalizes changes that could be attributed to normal life events. This isn't always true, but many times it is when you are dealing with desire issues. For instance, many women lose interest in sex when they are nursing an infant due elevated prolactin levels brought on by breastfeeding (I'm sure exhaustion plays a role in this too). And for most us, the major hormone associated with desire, testosterone, drops over the years. However, this isn't always a bad thing.
When you're looking at hormones and female sex drive, one important factor is the issue of balance - that is the ratio of androgens to estrogens in a woman's "hormonal soup". I mentioned that my sex drive decreased in my 20s. Well, testosterone production starts to decline in the 20s. At the same time, twenty-something women have very high estrogen levels relative to testosterone. All of this means, that they're at their most fertile stage of life, but not their sexiest.
At some point in the early thirties, estrogen begins to drop slightly "unmasking" testosterone, and the proportion of androgens, relative to estrogens, increases. Evolutionary psychologist David Buss recently reported that there is some basis for the "cougar" phenomenon. According to an article in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences, women from the ages of 27 and 45 tend to be friskier than their more youthful (and fertile) sisters.
Buss surveyed over 827 women and found that older women had more sexual fantasies, more flings, and more sexual interest. Of course, the reason for this is reproductive. It is fairly easy for a woman in her twenties to get pregnant, but once a woman hits her thirties she needs to work at it a little more. So, a higher sex drive motivating more sexual activity could be nature's way of ensuring conception once fertility wanes. As I mentioned in my article 12 Interesting Facts about Female Sexuality, early thirties is also prime cheatin' time for women.
Some menopausal and postmenopausal women also display an increase in desire due to the restructuring of their hormonal make-up. Estrogen may drop more than testosterone. In some cases, desire increases - in other cases, desire goes bye bye.
Age doesn't have to mean the end of your sex life. I have friend in her early 60s who is a wonderful role model of an active, sexually robust woman. She is a yoga instructor and maintains a healthy, youthful body and mind. And she has a lot hotter sex life than many women I know who are younger - including me. And of course, veteran sexologist Betty Dodson is also a great role model of a sexually vital older woman. Dodson had one of her most passionate affairs in her 70s with a man young enough to be her grandson. You go girl!
Right now, I'm using natural methods to manage my wayward libido. I have found fish oil (elevates dopamine levels, which can increase sex drive), exercise, and simply tuning into my body with yoga all beneficial. I particularly like yoga since I often find myself a little horny after a good session. There are also herbs like damiana, and horny goat weed that some cultures have sworn by. I am still looking into herbal remedies. Eventually, I may decide to try hormone therapy, but not yet. Anyway, I will continue to post on this very important topic. Right now, I'm going to do my yoga. Namaste.
For more information on hormones and desire check out:
November 15, 2010 at 6:08 PM
I am 51 and have been on the patch (vivelle dot) for 3 years with wonderful results. I have always liked sex, but lately, the hunger is back!
Good luck with your studies. I really LOVE your blog!
November 15, 2010 at 7:31 PM
Thanks, for commenting, in my case I don't think vivelle dot(an estrogen patch)would be useful because I'm not menopausal. I'm perimenopausal, which is the period before menopause. Perimenopause can start anytime from the mid-thirties on. I am glad you have had luck with vivelle, and I'm sure some reader could benefit from your suggestion. I'm at the awkward age where I'm probably still high on estrogen, but my testosterone is going down. Ain't mid-life grand? Anyway, I am glad you enjoy my blog. I will have to check out yours. It looks interesting!