One of the strongest drives in human beings is the sex drive, which can be problematic if it is excessive or absent. The sex drive is present in various forms from infancy, and then ebbs and flows drop the course of one’s lifespan. In adolescence, there is a surge of hormones as well as psychosocial variables that cause the sex drive to be at its most heightened. That energy declines during middle age and continues to subside in later years, although there is tremendous individual variance in sexual desire and sexual activity of older people.
This research paper from Ultius examines research on the topic, exploring physical and emotional causes affecting the level of desire and sexual activity. There are recommendations for increased research in this area because there are various treatments–pharmacological and emotional support–to help people maintain and/or restore sexual activity until the later years.
Development of the human sex drive
The sex drive is one of the strongest drives in human beings as well as animals, and it can cause both the very best and the very worst behaviors in people. When it is excessive, it can cause a wide range of problems including sex addiction, sex crimes, and addiction to pornography. On the other hand, repressing the sex drive may lead to psychological problems like depression or other neurotic disorders.
Human sex drive through aging
At times, the sex drive can also be directed and channeled into tremendous creative activity. From birth, human beings experience a sexual drive that persists at various levels throughout their lives. Sigmund Freud focused a great deal of attention on those drives, believing that they were the driving force behind personality development. In any event, the human sex drive ebbs and flows during various phases of human development, and translates into different behaviors. This psychology paper from Ultius will examine changes in human sex drives over the lifespan, and what impact the aging process has on these drives.
Over the years, there has been research about the impact of aging on sexual activity and desire. Some studies have found that sexual desire does not necessarily decrease with age, but that several other factors are instrumental in continuity of sexual desire. The factors that are significant in impacting ups and downs in libido include a partner who is skilled in matters concerning sexuality, good health, a history of active sexual behavior, and the duration of relationships (Kontul & Haavio-Mannila,, 2009, p.46). Other research, however, has indicated that indeed the sex drive increases and decreases according to lifespan status.
For example, in males, the sex drive reaches its peak in the teens and young adults in their 20s, and then subsides gradually into different degrees as the man ages. For females, the sex drive usually reaches its peak when a woman reaches her 30s or 40s, and gradually subsides as she enters the older years. These changes are influenced by puberty, pregnancy, and menopause although other individual factors can also have a significant impact.
Sexual responses actually begin at birth, and may include lubrication of the vagina in addition to erections. These events have even been observed in utero. When they are infants, many children experience pleasure when fondling their genitals; in addition, the attachments that infants have to their parents and the sensuality that they experience when they are rocked, held, and stroked by their caretakers appear to have a significant part in the development of positive sexual growth. During the early childhood phase, ages three to seven, growing numbers of children discover pleasurable feelings by engaging in masturbation. As they progress, they become more sociable, and many children become very interested in viewing the genitals of other children of the same or other sex.
Sexuality in later lifestages
In regard to developing sexuality, there is a wide range of variance in the timing of behavioral and physical changes, but for the majority of children, changes relating to puberty begin in later childhood, resulting in an increase in sexual interest. Adrenarche usually occurs at age 10 on the average, and causes some of the changes that occur during puberty, leading to sexual attractions (click here to learn how sexuality in the media affects adolescents). Typically, girls report that they first experience this type of attraction to another person around the age of 10. At this stage, experiencing sexual attraction may result in children giving thought to their sexual orientation.
Most late preadolescents exhibit interest in romance and relationships. In addition, many young people at this age have had an initial first experience of hugging and kissing a member of the same-or opposite-sex during this stage of preadolescence, in particular at ages 11 or 12. However, many gay teenagers do not date because they are afraid of being harassed. In any event, adolescents frequently engage in sexual exploration. Regardless of the sexual orientation of the preadolescent, often sexual exploration occurs with the young person’s own-or other sex (JOGC, 2012). Some preadolescents are engaging in with opposite-or same-sex peers, and some teenagers begin to engage in intercourse at that stage.
Generally, there is an increase in sex drive beginning in puberty, and continuing through adolescence. This occurrence is impacted by several factors, including levels of testosterone, social variables, and cognitive maturity, all of which have an impact on feelings and behaviors that are tinged by sexuality. Males and females at these ages are sorting out issues pertaining to their sexual identities. During adolescence, some teenagers advance from behaviors that are less intimate, including handholding and flirting, to more intensive sexual activities. At this stage of adolescent development, sexual exploration is considered to be a healthy and expected part of this phase.
At the same time, this is a point in the lifespan when adolescents should be learning to make sound decisions including avoiding harmful behaviors and other activities for which they are not developmentally equipped to manage; teen pregnancy is a preventable problem facing young adults today. When considering the period of puberty and adolescents, no other point in the lifespan is viewed as so transformative regarding sexuality (Fortenberry, 2013 Although sexual interest has been observed in younger children, several factors combine to create this profound increase in sex drive experience in adolescents: the anatomical, neuropsychological and hormonal changes occurring during this phase are substantial.
The human sex drive begins to decline during middle age
Many changes occur in one’s sexual drive during adulthood and middle age. In general, people in their 20s and 30s and beyond typically experience an active sex drive although it does not necessarily resemble the intensity of the adolescent years. Nevertheless, when people reach their middle age, estrogen and testosterone, the hormones that have the most substantial impact on physiology, typically subside during this phase of life in both genders.
This decline in hormone levels usually manifests itself by a decreased sex drive as well as changes in response to sexual behavior. In addition, during the middle years peoples’ relationships and the roles that they play in their lives often change, resulting in differences in one’s mental, physical, and emotional states. At this lifestage, there are four aspects of sexuality that may be threatened or altered significantly during midlife.
These include one’s self perception, because during the middle years, people frequently experience shifts in fitness, weight, appearance, and mood, and these factors may have an impact on a person’s sense of desirability, and often leads to decreased interest in sex. Gender role behaviors are frequently transformed when someone enters middle-age because often couples who are married find that they no longer have things in common with each other. At the same time, they may be experiencing dramatic changes in their mental states and psychological well-being, and as a result they change their priorities.
Loss of libido
Another aspect of sexuality that changes during midlife is libido, or sexual desire. Many women experience a decrease or loss of libido because of going through perimenopause and transitioning into menopause. It is common for women in this lifestage to stop thinking about sex completely, cease initiating it, and exhibit an apathetic attitude towards the whole topic. Some women feel surprised at the suddenness of this change, while others become aroused much more quickly at earlier points in physical contact.
This is caused by a significant drop in testosterone levels while at the same time, other sex hormones are reduced. Males may experience a decrease in libido because their testosterone level gradually declines. Other people have a dramatic increase in their libido, which may cause difficulties in relationships if the partner involved is unavailable or uninterested; it can also be a problem if the person who has had an increasing desire does not have any partner because of the loss of a spouse or significant other.
Typically in midlife, women complain of being slow to become aroused as well as having trouble reaching orgasm. Still others may be completely unable to have an orgasm, or may experience climaxes that are not satisfying anymore. Simultaneously, men in their middle years frequently have difficulty with sexual response that is often attributable to experiencing erectile dysfunction. This can be an early symptom of heart disease.
There is a great deal of research that supports the idea that as people age, their sexual desire decreases. This is considered to be a diagnosable disorder if it causes a problem that involves a complete absence or a decrease in sexual fantasies as well as a wish to have sexual activity, or the opposite problem, i.e., an excessive degree of sexual desire that results in physical and emotional problems.
It is considered a psychiatric disorder if it is accompanied by significant interpersonal problems as well as a substantial amount of distress. It is regarded as pathological, however, only if the apathy about sex goes “beyond the normal lessening with increasing age and relationship duration” (Beutel, Stöbel-Richter, & Brähler, 2008, p. 76).
Other factors of the human sex drive during later lifestages
One of the difficult issues associated with research about lack of sex drive due to age is that there have been relatively few studies concerning this subject; in addition, there have been different definitions of “reduced sexual desire” and the lack of uniformity makes it difficult to universalize the study results. However, the majority of studies have evaluated men and women as separate populations. One study compared various samples of women based on their menopausal status, premenopausal, and surgically postmenopausal. It was found that among these populations, all of which were past middle-age, there was a combination of low sexual desire as well as emotional distress (Beutel et al., 2008, 77).
This study also found that men older than 40 years of age had a significantly reduced level of sexual desire, as compared with their prior interest in sex. For example, a study group of men ages 53-90 years of age reported that their desire to have sex was “very poor” or “poor”; as the age of men increased, the number of respondents who reported the least interest in sex increased as well (Beutel et al., 2008, 77).
This study also explored a range of medical and psychosocial conditions that were believed to have possibly adversely impacted sexual desire in men and women. For example, in addition to age, the variables that potentially impacted sexual desire included hormonal factors such as low testosterone, conflicts in their relationships, emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety disorders, medical conditions, and being on medication.
For women, there were also many risk factors that were found to potentially impact a lack of sexual desire. These included emotional issues or anxiety, changes in income in the household, history of sexual assault by men, prior STDs, and other physical health problems. For both genders, decreased sexual desire was also linked to “lower sexual and partnership satisfaction and higher distress” (Beutel et al., 2008, 77).
The above-mentioned study, conducted in Germany, concluded that the intensity of sexual desire and activity were clearly identifiable as associated with age as well as gender. The population studied ranged from 18-90 years of age, and the results indicated that, not surprisingly, younger people, especially men, reported more intense and constant sexual desire than the older population in general, especially older women.
A lack of sexual desire was more common in women than in men, and while sexual desire decreased with age for both sexes it was more pronounced in women (Beutel et al., 2008, p. 81). In the younger populations, below the age of 30, the desire for sexual activity was strong and continuous. Although these findings were impacted by a range of factors such as health and relationship issues, the consistency of a wish for sexual intimacy was noted. The greatest discrepancy regarding a sex drive between the genders occurs after the age of 70, when most men continue to have at least sporadic desire for sex, while the vast majority of female respondents expressed no sex drive at all.
An Australian study examines the common myth that “older age is often associated with asexuality” (Fileborn, Thorpe, Hawkes, Minichiello, Pitts, & Dune, 2014). The common view is that older people are not seen as having a sex drive, nor are they viewed as sexually desirable according to broad cultural norms. This study sought to understand whether or not this widespread stereotype indeed is accurate in reflecting the sexual behaviors, desires, and capacity to experience orgasm of older women.
The research examined the sexual drive of women as well as their experiences in a group of Australians from 55 to 81 years of age. The findings of the research indicated that actually, the experiences of sex and sexual desire held by older women are quite varied as well as fluid. There are a range of factors that have an impact on the population studied and their sexual behaviors. In addition, there are a range of factors that have an impact on sexual desire and behavior that affect the way women negotiate sexual behaviors with their significant others (Fileborn et al., 2014, p 117).
Ultimately, it research concludes that although older women frequently demonstrate a decrease in sexual desire, that has a great deal to do with the type of relationship that the respondent does or does not have at the time of the research, as well as a lack of information and education about sexual behaviors and practices that might be more physically satisfying for an older population.
The latter issue is addressed in research conducted by Nappi, who examines the role of medication for women who are experiencing a decrease in or absence of sexual desire. Hormonal imbalances and a drop-off in androgen raise the issue about whether or not women should be treated with testosterone or other pharmacological remedies later in life. Nappi explore the notion that it is difficult to ascertain whether or not biosocial factors influence the decrease in desire experienced by women in later years, and recommends that the field of research be expanded in regard to physical versus emotional changes affecting women in midlife and beyond (Nappi, 2015).
This research concluded that it is vital to evaluate glandular and hormonal aspects of a change in sexual response by women during the lifespan in order to develop an individualized plan for treatment of diminished sexual desire or response.
Sex drive in human beings changes during the lifespan, ranging from extremely active and ever-present during adolescence until diminishing in middle-age and substantially decreasing in older years. There are physical and psychological bases to this phenomenon: changes in hormone levels and the effects of health problems may combine with life stage developments such as losses and changes in circumstances. All of these factors potentially impact the sex drive of both genders.
When people experience absence of or loss of sexual desire, it is vital for social scientists and medical professionals to understand the source of this change in order to adequately address and remedy the causes. Relationship issues frequently have an impact on the intensity of one’s sex drive, so it has been established that besides pharmacological treatment to address the physical reasons for loss of sex drive, emotional support and education are other vital components of the remedies.
Like what you read? Check out writing services from Ultius if you need help with a psychology paper like this sample essay.
Beutel, M. E., Stöbel-Richter, Y., & Brähler, E. (2008). Sexual desire and sexual activity of men and women across their lifespans: results from a representative German community survey. BIU International, 76-82.
Fileborn, B., Thorpe, R., Hawkes, G., Minichiello, V., Pitts , M., & Dune, T. (2014). Sex, desire and pleasure: considering the experiences of older Australian women. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 117-130.
Fortenberry, J. D. (2013). Puberty and adolescent sexuality. Hormones and Behavior, 280-287.
Kontula O1, & Haavio-Mannila, (2009). The impact of aging on human sexual activity and sexual desire. Journal of Sex Research, 46-56.
Nappi, R. E. (2015). To be or not to be in sexual desire: the androgen dilemma. Climacteric: The Journal of the International Menopause Society, 672-674.