You may have heard of the orgasm gap, but have you heard of the confidence gap? Research by Zenger Folkman in 2018 found that on average, women’s confidence in their mid 20s and 30s is lower than men’s. The good news? As women get old their confidence grows until it is equal to a man’s in their mid 40s and 50s – and actually surpasses men when they reach 60.
Does this apply to people’s sex lives? Hana® recently ran a Big Sex Survey of over 2,000 women, trans men and non-binary people to discover how this demographic feels about sex, sexual confidence and body positivity. Some of the questions we asked were around how often our respondents orgasmed from penetrative and non penetrative sex and if they felt self conscious about their bodies during sex.
When it came to orgasms, we found that 21% of 18-24 year olds orgasmed every time or regularly from penetrative sex compared to 29% of 45-54 year olds. When it came to non-penetrative sex, 52% of 18-24 year olds orgasmed every time or regularly compared to 64% of 45-54 year olds. Older women were also less likely to feel self conscious about their bodies during sex (50% of 45-54 year olds vs 58% of 18-24 year olds).
Whilst a drop in oestrogen as you approach menopause and the vaginal dryness that can come with it may decrease your libido, our findings suggest that sexual confidence and fulfilment may actually increase as we get older. We wanted to find out more, so we spoke to a range of women in their 40s and beyond to discover whether sex over 40 is functional or fantastic.
Does Sex Get Better In Your 40s?
Data from the American Medical Association in 2014 found that 85% of women over 40 are still having sex and the majority of them consider sex to be important. But what about the quality of the sex? Does sex get better with age?
“Sex can and does get better with age because you discover what works for you, try new sexual activities and sensations,” says Samantha Evans, a sexual health and pleasure expert and founder of Jo Divine. “This boosts your confidence and acceptance of your changing body shape, especially post childbirth and in menopause; your sexual needs and desires may change but you can enjoy even more pleasurable sex.”
“Sex definitely has the potential to get better as we get older,” says Mangala Holland, a women’s sexuality coach, “but it does require making an effort and not getting complacent. As we get older we have the opportunity to know our bodies better, and also our needs and desires. There’s less focus on external appearance and seeking validation from others – unlike in our 20s, perhaps.”
Despite the idea that younger people are wilder in bed, in reality it’s older people with more life experience who have done the work on their internalised shame who are more likely to be throwing inhibition to the wind and having the best sex of their life – because they’re not held back by worrying about being judged for or embarrassed by their desires. Everyone is different and people are naturally going to enjoy and feel comfortable with different things, but it may well be time to throw away the idea that older people are less likely to experiment and explore – because that seems to be based on unfounded stereotypes rather than real lived experience.
“In my 40s I’d say I’m having the best sex ever,” says Angela Karanja, a psychologist, author and trauma coach. “I think it’s because of self-confidence, self-awareness and I’m not trying to impress anyone. I’m in the moment. Also because of intentionality, when trying and introducing new stuff I ask myself – or we ask ourselves, how will this enhance our sexual experience.”
Love The Skin You’re In
As a society, we tend to pedestal youth and try to sell people products like moisturisers and makeup that can appear to prolong it. That being said, it’s entirely possible to continue to feel confident – or perhaps even more confident – in your body as you age. A 2023 study of 1,000 British women found that two thirds of women in their 60s and 70s feel confident in their appearance compared to around half of those in their 20s.
“I’m more confident about my body now than when I was younger,” says Karanja. “When I came to understand how magnificent each one of us is, I embraced myself, and that psychological weight of other people’s opinions fell off. I learnt the heaviest weight anyone can carry is the weight of other people’s opinions – and this can manifest either psychologically and/or physically. Now this does in no way excuse us from looking after ourselves and making healthy choices for our bodies and lives. It means accepting that we are all different shapes and sizes and that’s ok. Being body positive to me means embracing yourself as you were meant to be, and looking after your body and mind to your best ability.”
“My relationship with my body has gotten so much better over the years, despite being in perimenopause and navigating physical symptoms,” says Holland. “I now eat for health and pleasure, whereas in my early 40s I struggled with orthorexia, punishing my body with extreme fasting to maintain my weight, which made me miserable, ungrounded and perpetuated my insecurity and anxiety. Loving my continually ageing body is an active, ongoing process. I hid my silver hair from my mid 20s onwards, but discovered so much more power and energy when I grew it out. It feels incredibly liberating to love the skin I’m in.”
What Advice Would You Give To People In Their 20s and 30s?
It’s been said that youth is wasted on the young, but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to wait to feel confident in your body and have a fulfilling sex life: you have the power to shape your reality. If you’re looking for some guidance from people with more life experience then you’re in the right place: we asked our interviewees what advice they would give someone in their 20s or 30s about sex and body confidence.
“Know you and love you wholly,” says Karanja. “Discuss what you really want in your sexual life. Discuss contraception and if there’s any doubt of who’s in charge, do take charge of your contraception. Know and adore yourself so much because in that way you are more likely to enjoy sex. If you are not confident with your body, it’s unlikely you’ll be confident in the activity and unlikely to enjoy the experience. Embrace yourself as a wholesome and holistic person as well as a sexual being. Have safe sex and enjoy your moments. If you make mistakes, don’t beat yourself up. Also, don’t allow yourself to be defined by societal standards of beauty and what is perfect – be you! And do not be afraid to speak to your GP about your sexual health.”
“My advice to younger women,” says Evans, “is to look after your intimate health, discover your body by regular masturbation, enjoy regular orgasms, show partners how to play with you, be honest when you’re not enjoying sex, don’t be forced into any sexual activity you don’t like and always stop if it feels painful or uncomfortable. Painful sex is not pleasurable sex unless you’re enjoying consensual BDSM. Never fake orgasms, it helps no one. Having an orgasm isn’t the be all and end all, it’s about enjoying sex that feels pleasurable for you. Seek medical advice if you notice any abnormalities.”
What Do You Want People To Know About Sex In And After Midlife?
We wanted to find out what women in their 40s and beyond want younger people to know about sex at this time in their lives. In short: is sex after 40 fantastic or functional?
“I want people to know that midlife can be the start of truly satisfying sex and intimacy, not the end!” says Holland. “Don’t buy into the narrative that says you’re ‘over the hill’. I have clients in their 70s who are discovering G-spot and cervix orgasms for the first time – it’s never too late!”
“I want younger women to know sex doesn’t stop after childbirth and menopause,” Evans adds. “Often you have more freedom and privacy because children have hopefully left home. At Jo Divine, we sell sex toys and lube to many older people, our oldest customer being 93 – I really want to be like her if I reach that age!”
Hana® 75µg film-coated tablets contains desogestrel and is an oral contraception for women of child bearing age to prevent pregnancy. Always read the instructions on the package leaflet carefully.