March 2, 2012 at 1:04 PM ET
By Genevieve Field
Your hormones have a tremendous effect on your libido. We've created this simple guide to understanding how these little chemical messengers can make you feel anywhere from ho-hum to hot, hot, hot.
A sparkling sex life is something we'd all like to have, regardless of age. When sex is less than satisfying, it's easy to point the finger at work, money, family, and a million other factors that combine to make it less important and, thus, less fulfilling. But as today's leading physicians and sex researchers are discovering, the link between female libido and the constantly fluctuating hormones produced by the ovaries is profound. Find out how controlling your body's unique balance can make the difference between a sex life that's so-so and one that soars.
In Your 20s
A dazzling time to do it: "At this age, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are at their highest levels," says Laura Berman, PhD, the author of Loving Sex: The Book of Joy and Passion. This biological bounce is an opportunity for lots of great loving--and babies too. Because hormones surge just before ovulation, women are more likely to fantasize about and initiate sex during this 2-to 4-day window, according to studies.
A need for more roar-gasms: According to the 2010 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, 20-somethings are less orgasmic than older women. "Despite the hormone swirl, women in their twenties may not yet have the confidence to ask for what they want in bed, so they're less satisfied," says Christiane Northrup, MD, the author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom.
A sex-drive stopper: A recent study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine confirms that the Pill, a 20-something birth control favorite, actually causes a decrease in sex hormones, especially testosterone (p. 88).
In Your 30s
Prime time: "A woman in her thirties may well find herself at an emotional sexual peak," says Dr. Berman. "She's clear about what she wants, even though estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone begin to fluctuate and drop off during this decade."
More good news: Studies have shown that as women age, they become less anxious about their physical "flaws," which helps when one is baring all in the bedroom. "The key," says Dr. Northrup, "is to think of yourself as a sexy, attractive woman, regardless of hormone tempo."
Mommy madness: After childbirth, testosterone falls to extremely low levels, and in nursing mothers, the hormone prolactin can suppress ovulation, as well as the production of estrogen and progesterone. All of that combines to make the thought of sex a big fat snore. One suggestion? Masturbation. Regardless of age, just using your equipment will turn on your equipment, which will in turn improve circulation and help balance your hormones.
In Your 40s
Call of the cougar: As a new study conducted at the University of Texas at
The perils of perimenopause: "By forty," says Glenn D. Braunstein, MD, an endocrinologist and chair of the department of medicine at Cedars-SinaiMedicalCenter in
In Your 50s
With maturity, expertise: As author Gail Sheehy wrote in her classic book on aging, Sex and the Seasoned Woman: "The middle years, between fifty and sixty-five, constitute the apex of adult life…For women, the passage to be made is from pleasing to mastery." Indeed, the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior found that 71% of 50-somethings surveyed--more than any other age group--said their last sexual experience resulted in an orgasm.
Manipulating menopause: Because of dramatically reduced testosterone and virtually nonexistent estrogen, sex drive drops after menopause. But the options are plentiful if you want to rev things up:
Testosterone therapy using creams, gels, or patches has not been approved by the FDA and can only be prescribed off-label, but a growing number of women vexed by low sex drive swear by it. Physicians often prescribe very small off-label doses of testosterone along with menopausal hormonal therapy, or MHT.
Many women try MHT (formerly called hormone replacement therapy, or HRT), which involves taking estrogen and progestin to relieve vaginal dryness and hot flashes and reduce bone loss. MHT is controversial, not only because studies show it can increase women's risk of strokes, heart attacks, and breast cancer, but also because some forms can sap testosterone, causing libido to wane even more.
Pesky pounds: The more body fat you have, the less libido-boosting "free-floating" testosterone you have. If you're obese, losing 10% of your total weight can do wonders for your sex drive, found researchers at