I once read somewhere that a woman’s libido peaks in her 30s. Which, given how intensely busy this period is for so many women, seems like some kind of cruel joke. Maybe you’ve hit your stride career wise, welcomed a new baby, perhaps bought your first home – where amongst all this living is there time for sex?
Hopefully by this stage, you’ve found what works for you, what you enjoy and how to communicate that to your partner. But just as many of us are getting into our groove, sexually speaking, comes epic levels of disruption.
If you’re not having as much sex as you once had or wish you were having more, you’re not alone. We explore some of the common factors that can affect your libido in your 30s.
And baby makes three
One of the biggest life changes that happen to many women in their late 20s and into their 30s is childbearing. From the very start, the whole journey of bringing life into the world is rife with things that may have a huge impact on your relationship and libido, and top of this list is fertility. “If you’re having sex on a really regimented basis, expecting an outcome – which is a pregnancy – and that’s not happening over and over and over, it can really affect how you view sex,” says Dr. Harper. “It can affect your partner, your relationship and can have a lot of really dramatic effects on libido.” Additionally, miscarriage and infant loss can be big looming issues that have often undiscussed effects on sexual desire. Dr. Harper adds, “It is difficult to untangle the pleasure and connection of sex from the pain and loneliness of loss. This takes time, communication, and sometimes counseling to work through.”
During pregnancy, your body undergoes some of the most dramatic changes you’re likely ever to experience. “We definitely want women to gain weight while they’re pregnant to support the fetus (usually 25-35 pounds is healthy), but that sometimes makes us feel less desirable or maybe increases our discomfort with our body,” says Dr. Harper. “A lot of times, women are in pain. During the third trimester specifically, the vagina becomes engorged because of all the pressure in the pelvis. That can lead to more dryness and discomfort with sex.”
Sexuality after childbirth
And then comes postpartum, which is a whole new ballgame. Your body has just had a child come out of it, one way or another, and there are so many things related to that that can affect your libido. “For example, things like urinary incontinence, changes in body appearance, and lactation” explains Dr. Harper. “Also, often, many women have lacerations or tears from childbirth that need time to heal. Not to mention the crazy emotional changes that happen to us after we’ve just had a child.”
Add the months of little to no sleep that follow, as well getting used to your changed body, and you’re basically primed for low sexual desire. “It’s a really hard time in life,” says Dr. Harper. “Women need a lot of support, especially as we often don’t ask for what we need or are maybe not even aware of what we need.”
Dr. Harper stresses the importance of giving yourself a lot of room and grace and time to heal, but to also not lose touch with that part of yourself. “If you’re trying to get back to yourself, remember that sexuality is a part of that,” she says. “Part of coming back after the tornado that is becoming a mom is regaining that sense of connection with your sexuality as well. I encourage women to incorporate date nights and activities just for themselves as soon as possible after birth. The longer we wait to do these things, the harder they are to reincorporate back into our lives.”
Stress and fatigue
Whether or not babies are part of the picture in your 30s, for many of us work and life stress certainly is. “If you’re going through a major life stressor, that can definitely have an effect on libido,” explains Dr. Harper. “For many women, stress decreases the desire for sex – it is often the first thing to go.”
“If we’re putting all our eggs in one basket (work) and not tending to ourselves or to our relationship we can lose touch with how important sexuality is to us as people and as partners,” says Dr. Harper. “When we sit down and we realize that being connected with ourselves and with our partners is a really important part of who we are, we can better prioritize it.”
For Dr. Harper, this all comes back to truly understanding what is important to us, and viewing libido as a core part of living a happy, healthy life . “When I talk to women, and ask them to name their top three priorities, their relationship with their significant other is in the top three, 100 percent of the time,” she explains. “And usually, things like keeping the house clean or doing the dishes is not on that list, right? But so often we don’t act according to those priorities day-to-day.”
The number of huge life changes your 30s often bring can mean you need to explore new ways to making sex a part of your life. So maybe instead of putting the kids to bed and then doing an epic clean up before turning in, exhausted, at 10pm or 11pm you both decide to skip that for an evening and have a bath, relax and just be together. “And if the dishes don’t get done one night, it’s not the end of the world, right?” says Dr. Harper. “You have to act according to your priorities. And sometimes it’s about naming those priorities, and then refocusing where and how you’re spending your time.”
There you have it – official permission to skip the dishes and go have sex instead. You’re welcome.