The following is a re-blog from the archives of the (unfortunately) defunct aggregate blog The Spearhead. I want to archive this on my own blog because I think it was a fantastic exposé for its time and Chuck Ross deserves props for it too.
byon NOVEMBER 16, 2009
A common myth is that men hit their sexual peak at the age of 18 while women hit theirs at 30-35. Despite literally no scientific support for this theory, this meme has become “common knowledge” in our society.
The myth never sat well with me. And to be clear, this myth is no straw-man concocted by this writer. It has entrenched itself in our culture to the point that most believe it is true without considering the implications or reasons for such an illogical development.
“Well we all know…” is a precursor heard before recitation of the myth. I worked with three 30-something women as a bank teller. Their excuse for their child-like antics, raunchy sex-talk, and monthly vibrator parties was that they were at their sexual peak. They said it as if they had a moral obligation to live up to their billing as sex-crazed mynx. While I’m not proud of it, when I was 20 or 21 I had a year-long sexual relationship with a 30 year-old woman whose fiance couldn’t keep up with her horniness. She justified her behavior by saying she was at her sexual peak and had a right to satiate her hunger. I got into an argument the other day with a female Bulgarian friend of mine who off-handedly recited this meme. The myth has infiltrated the Eastern bloc. I’ve had many encounters with the myth; I’m sure most readers have too.
I’ve never understood why our creator – natural selection – would put men and women at their sexual peaks at such different points in their lives. More importantly, why would women be at their peaks and more horny when they were less fertile? Every thing we know about evolution and sexual behavior indicates that natural selection has made it easy peasy for our genes to be passed on through sexual reproduction – why throw a wrench in the system by making horniness levels – or “desire to copulate” levels – incongruent between the sexes and less conducive to reproduction? Since women are most fertile from the ages of 20-24, it would make sense that they would desire sex more than when they were a decade older and half as fertile.
Those purveyors of the myth don’t account for Dr. David Schnarch’s dichotomy between genital prime and sexual prime. As spouted by the masses, the myth advocates the notion that these women want sex more rather than the more plausible argument that they are more experienced and comfortable with sex. If the myth is fully perpetuated, it grants 30-something women sexual liberation while offering nothing to men of the same age.
From Dr. Schnarch’s book Passionate marriage:
“Most textbooks on human sexuality, adolescent development, and family life teach that men reach their sexual prime before they even hit their twenties. Women supposedly reach their prime several years later…and therein lies our problem. Health-care providers make the same mistake as the rest of us: We’ve confused genital prime with sexual prime.
Genital prime occurs when a person has fully developed sexual organs and are most fertile. This occurs during adolescence and shortly after for both men and women. The myth holds men to the genital prime model while holding women to the other; it doesn’t compare apples to apples. This has the effect of making 30-something female sex some sort of animalistic expression rather than a more mature concept of sex that men of the same age achieve. The widely-accepted meme of late female sexual peak is a false dichotomy.
So why has this meme succeeded in entrenching itself so deeply in our collective mythology? First, it prevents us from being able to call 30-something sexually-peaking women sluts. Saying that a 30-something woman is at her peak is a PC way of saying she’s a slut. But given that “slut” implies something bad (and we know that a woman doing what she wants with her body can never be bad) those myth-sustainers prefer to say she is peaking. A peak implies something grandiose and wonderful. Peaks are achievements of milestones deserving rewards and ticker-tape parades. When the sexual prime myth is used to encourage and support these womens’ shady sexual behavior, it violates Schnarch’s dichotomy. Myth-purveyors seek to use the genital peak behavior of men at the age of 18 to condone womens’ slutiness at later ages by citing the need for equality of opportunity to express sexuality.
Second, older women HATE HATE HATE younger women. Sex is power. Younger women have held it in spades over their elders. Being that everyone desires to wrench power out of the hands of people who hold it, older women and those soon to be of that demographic have an incentive to glamorize the twilight years.
“The bottom line for me: The evolution of the cougar concept is good for every woman and her partner. It keeps sexual possibilities and eroticism alive. And that continued capacity for passion creates lifelong desirability to younger men, older men, or anyone who can recognize a vital spirit when meeting one.”
The myth has sustained because it gives women hope as they venture into the twilight of their ability to be incubators of seed and the commensurate degradation of their looks. Sex is power, and attaching that power to women of ever-increasing ages allows women to hang on to it longer. Older women have declared war on younger women. Through wishful thinking they seek to destroy every benefit and short cut that younger, prettier women have even though they benefited from the same attitudes at an earlier point in their lives. We see this by observing the attitudes towards female celebrities who act in sexual ways. When Madonna was younger, she was considered a slut. Her book Sex was considered raunchy and disgusting. Now that she’s old and in her “sexual prime” she is given a free pass to perform in sexually-suggestive ways. Her behavior today, while not as risque as that when she was younger, is lauded as empowering and even artistic.
Young starlets are hazed by a certain segment of the population for capitalizing on their sexiness, but that same segment glorifies Demi Moore, Susan Sarandon, Madonna, Cher, Jennifer Aniston, and Halle Berry for rocking it at older ages.
We can easily see that the sexual peak meme is widely touted for the empowerment it gives to older women. Rather than being a quirky feature of our sexuality, the myth that 35 year-old women are on the same level as 18 year-old boys attempts to allow women to hold more leverage over men. As feminism achieves its goal of female economic empowerment, we begin to observe “peak inflation”. The peak shifts upward as women delay marriage and children and seek to have fun of the sexual variety at increasing ages. Cougars are a case in point. These women are over 40. Even though the myth hasn’t explicitly increased the age range of women at their peak, the cougar phenomenon idolizes women’s sexual power at these late ages and glorifies their sexuality as empowering.
You see, the sexuality-as-power lobby wants to shift the reins of control from men to women and from younger women to older ones. Younger women are fulfilling their biological imperative thereby submitting themselves to men or to a scheme that plays into men’s strategies. Older women expressing their sexuality is a way for them to hold sway over the purse strings to power. They are having sex on their own terms rather than due to some ingrained chore or obligation. The sex peak myth is a catalyst for creating sexual autonomy.
In terms of species propagation, men and women are most horny whenever they are most fertile; their genital peak occurs at a young age. Both men and women reach their “sexual peak” – their mental maturity – at later ages. The key here is that each maturity occurs at similar ages for both sexes; the myth loses its power when we realize this. The first maturity is biological while the second is social. The myth of the late female peak says that women are hornier in their thirties by trying to equate the 30 year old’s behaviors and urges to that of an 18 year old man. This is simply a perversion of Dr. Schnarch’s dichotomy. Both sexes have had many years of sexual experience and they have had more time to rid themselves of debilitating sexual hang-ups and phobias. They aren’t hornier at later ages, they’re just more relaxed with the ideas of sexuality and have thus reached “sexual prime”. The late sexual prime myth is a convenient tool that excuses perverse sexual behavior in older women. Sex is power, and it is used as a weapon to pry control from those that have traditionally held it; men and young, beautiful women. By ratcheting up the expectations of older females’ sexual inhibition, they wrangle pawns to line their battlefield.
While I feel this is one of the better outlines of the Myth of Sexual Peak, there’s a few thing I think Bob didn’t touch upon. What prompted me to dig this article up from Wayback Machine was a Twitter exchange I had about the recent New York Times article outlining a study on the ages of peak desirability for men and women. This article raised the hackles of online women in precisely the same way that this myth has always triggered women. The Myth of Sexual peak for women is a social convention that refuses to die since it was created in the free-love era to now. Even Bob’s piece here is almost a decade old. And yet, in spite of the statistical evidence that damns the myth, the next generation of women don’t even realize they are parroting back the same tropes their mothers did in their day.
Michelle Drouin, a developmental psychologist who focuses on technology and relationships, was not surprised by the new study — in part because they “align with evolutionary theories of mating” in which youth suggests fertility, she said.
Dr. Drouin pointed out, though, that there are also theories that suggest that “men are just less interested in earning potential or power, and more interested in physical attractiveness.”
When I first published my now infamous SMV Graph in 2012 I took a lot of heat for allegedly not being thorough enough in my estimation process. Honesty and hindsight, I was a lot more intuitive than informational then, but I knew I had it right; at least from the visceral physicality of it from an evolutionary perspective. Since 2012, I’ve had study after study and correlation after correlation sent to me by readers, or simply fall into my lap, that corroborated the bell graphs, time lines and circumstances I had a basic inkling of. While I think that women peaking at 18 and men peaking at 50, as per this study, might be somewhat exaggerated for outrageousness, it still, once again, confirms the basic form I set out in my original graph.
One issue I think Bob didn’t touch upon is the evolutionary logistics of why this myth is timed conveniently at the stage in life that women’s sexual market value (SMV) is in decline. He’s correct about about older women wanting to compete with younger women, but there’s a hindbrain understanding that women’s only real agency in this life is their sexuality. The Myth of Sexual Peak is a tool in this competition, but it is squarely directed at shaming men for their evolved preference for youth and fertility in women. In a raw, evolutionary reality, men only really need women to reproduce, thus, the most desirable age for this in women stays relatively the same. Conversely, women need men with different qualities for different, and opportunistic, reasons at various stages of their lives and how their necessity dictates. Thus, women can find men desirable to fulfill those purposes at ages from 15-50. And before you give me a ration of shit about including 15 year old boys in that mix I’ll point you to the rash of mid twenties female teachers on trial for banging their high school students.
All women (yes, all) have an innate understanding of their sexual agency, and all understand its perishable nature. However, there’s a trade-off inherent in balancing this agency with optimizing Hypergamy. The longer a woman waits the more that agency declines, but the longer she has to consolidate on a man (or men) who represents her Hypergamous ideal. The reason the social convention of women’s “sexual peak” is set at the age of 30-35 is because it attempts to create an artificial sexual value for men. It pretends that their later age makes them better sexual experiences than women 22-24 years old. It’s a disqualification of those women for men’s long term provisioning considerations, but it also plays on male-shame while simultaneously (artificially) inflating women’s self-image. This is why the myth is so pervasive – it satisfies a lot of insecurities. It’s ’empowering’ for women to believe that men are too infantile to appreciate the better sexual experience they believe they represent.
Furthermore, it’s difficult to argue against because it seems plausible and it’s almost entirely based on how women feel about themselves sexually. What a tragic joke that evolution should make women’s sexual peak occur when she least able to make it work for her, right? Wrong. In fact it’s comical when you see how a study that finds women’s peak age of desirability is 18 and mens should be 50 – almost the inverse of what the myth wants us to believe; that 18 year old men and 30 year old women are at their sexual peaks.