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What You Should Know About "Sexual Peaks"

Men "naturally" peak at 18, women at 35? Not so much.
 
 
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Whirling around our collective imaginations is the idea that men reach their sexual peak around 18 and women around 35.  The man on the brink of adolescence and adulthood, we’re told, will have sex with anything that moves. Meanwhile, the woman on the brink of losing her looks, so it goes, is prone to buying skin-tight jeans and prowling bars filled with much younger men.

Nature, it is often  argued, is the driving force behind these sexual peaks (though their very existence is  debatable). Here I’d like to offer five alternative cultural reasons why we mightthink that men are at the top of their game at 18 and women at 35.

1. We’re obsessed with penises.

When we say that men hit their sexual peak in early adolescence, we are assuming some measures of “peak” that deserve to be made explicit.   Kinsey used the number of orgasms per week as a proxy for the strength of sexual desire. The rigidity and performance of an erection may be another commonly assumed measure.

These, though, are based on value judgments about what good sex looks like. As Bernie Zilbergeld  writes, male sexuality is expected to include a perfectly hard erection that functions automatically and predictably: 

No matter if you’re sick or well, tired or fresh, preoocupied or fully present, if you like your partner or not, if you’re angry or not, if you’re anxious or relaxed, or if you’ve gotten any stimulation or not—your penis should immediately come to full attention and do its manly thing.

But penile performance isn’t all there is to sex.  Here are some things we’re probably not considering when we estimate men’s sexual peak: comfort with being intimate with another person’s body, skill at giving another person an orgasm, the ability to bring on or delay one’s own orgasms as wanted, and an encompassing appreciation for sensuality as well as sexual acts.

In other words, when we say that men reach their sexual peak at 18, it’s worth asking: “peak for who!?”  A man with a few more decades may be a much better sexual partner than one on the brink of adolescence and adulthood.

2. Our penis obsession might make men lose sight of the benefits that come with age.

Unfortunately, as men age, the conflation of good sex with a super-penis may inhibit their ability to enjoy their maturing sexualities. Most men, at some point in their lives, will have difficulty getting erections at least sometimes.  So imperfect penile performance is part of sex and should be embraced as such.  In fact, I propose that it is part of the beauty of human sexuality: Penises are temperamental, unpredictable, vulnerable, sensitive and prone to tantrums.  This is kind of sweet, when you think about it. Sometimes they need to be tickled and coddled, convinced or inspired to come out and play. This is OK.

But because we define a robust male sexuality in terms of penile performance, when they don’t perform perfectly, men often feel embarrassed, even humiliated. Since this happens more as men get older, they may be less comfortable with their sexuality out of fear that their bodies will betray them. They  report having “conversations with their penises.” Michael S. Kimmel and Jeffrey Fracher write:

[They] cajole, plead with, or demand that they become and remain erect. The penis can become the man’s enemy, ready to engage in the most shameful conspiracy possible: performance failure.

Some men, then, avoid sexual situations out of fear of “failure.”  Other men enjoy the sex they do have less than they otherwise would, because they’re worried about what their bodies will do.  Sadly, they may be so busy being wistful for their younger selves that they miss all the wonderful things that come with age and maturity, yearning for a supposed “sexual peak” that happened long ago.

 
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