College parties, summer road trips, raucous all-nighters – the prevailing wisdom would say that your 20s are all about having lots and lots of sex, right? And if you’re not, well, then there must be something wrong with you. Of course, the reality is a lot more complicated and nuanced than that. In truth, there are a wide range of factors – hormonal, emotional and even societal – that can affect your sex drive, even in your 20s, and low libido at this age can be a lot more common than we realize.
“Most people think that when you’re young, libido is not an issue, but it actually can be for a lot of women,” says Rosy’s founder and CEO Dr. Lyndsey Harper, MD. Around 30 percent of women experience problems with low sex drive. Being in your 20s doesn’t make you immune – but, more importantly, if you are suffering, it’s important to remember you’re not alone. Below, we explore three big issues that can impact your pleasure and libido, and what you can do about them.
Your 20s are often a time of trying and testing different types of contraception and figuring out what works for you. “Though the majority of women don’t experience negative sexual side effects from birth control, a small percentage of women notice real changes” says Dr. Harper. “It also can happen that a type of contraception might be a good fit for a few years, and then all of a sudden, it isn’t the best choice anymore because of new side effects.” If you’ve changed contraception and feel it has had a negative impact on your sex life, speak to your doctor or gynecologist, they may be able to recommend alternatives.
You may think your sex ed days are long behind you, but for many women there is still a lot to learn. A lackluster sex education combined with a popular culture that frequently depicts women reaching orgasm almost instantly during sex scenes can leave you feeling like you’re not quite getting it right. Is everyone else orgasming except you?
If you can do one thing to help your sex life in your 20s, Dr. Harper suggests focusing on lubrication and pleasure. “Because of the cultural messaging we receive, there’s not enough time spent on women’s sexual pleasure, and specifically, adequate lubrication,” says Dr. Harper. “On average, it takes women 20 minutes to achieve adequate vaginal lubrication. A lot of times, in our 20s, we’re rushing into it, or we’re not placing enough emphasis on getting our bodies to a place where it’s ready for penetrative sex.” Feeling that you should somehow be ready to go right away can itself lead to anxiety, making it even harder for you to get in the mood.
Educating yourself, getting to know your body and how it really works (not how movies make it out to work) can help hugely. “It’s important to know where the clitoris is, and to know that most women have orgasms through clitoral stimulation and not through penis and vagina intercourse,” says Dr. Harper. “It’s about making sure women know their anatomy, what is called what, and that you’ve got a handle on feeling comfortable with your body.”
For many women, how they were raised can have a dramatic impact on how they approach sex once they reach adulthood. “In my experience, so much depends on what the messaging around sex was as you were growing up,” says Dr. Harper. “If you were raised with negative messaging, it can be a pretty large hurdle to overcome – to go from thinking about sex as being bad, dirty or unclean, to sex being pleasurable and fun and owning your desire can be tough.” There can be a lot of emotional unpacking to do, whether you’re in a relationship or not, and it can have a direct impact on the sex you’re having. “Not only can this cause anxiety around sex, but that anxiety can itself lead to dryness,” explains Dr. Harper.
Make your 20s about getting to know yourself and your body, figuring out what gives you pleasure and trying to not get sucked into misleading representations about what how much sex you “should” be having, and you’ll be on your way to creating a strong foundation for a long and happy sex life.