When is Your Sexual Peak? It Depends on How You Ask the Question
At what age does a man hit peak physical performance? It’s a tough question to answer, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying. One popular method uses data taken from professional sports. For example, an analysis of ATP tour results suggests tennis players peak around the age of 24. But somebody apparently forgot to tell Roger Federer, who won his 20th grand slam title, and third grand slam in 12 months, earlier this year at the age of 36.
Studies of other sports also tend to gloss over the many exceptions to theories about peak performance age. Baseball players allegedly have their best seasons around 28 years old, but Nolan Ryan dominated enough batters in their supposed prime to take home an American league strikeout title at the age of 43. Conventional wisdom says boxers’ skills decline beginning in their late twenties, but that didn’t stop Bernard Hopkins from hoisting a world light heavyweight title belt at 49.
Despite the many exceptions, our culture continues to be obsessed with determining the age of a man’s peak performance. The concept has even crept out of the stadium and into the bedroom, with people regularly referring to a man’s “sexual peak.”
For that we can blame Alfred Kinsey. Back in the 1950s the pioneering sex researcher subjected men of various ages to a battery of tests, including measuring their testosterone levels, the amount of time it took them to reach arousal and the number of orgasms they had a week. Based on the data he collected, he concluded a man hits his sexual peak at the age of 18.
Kinsey’s status as a legend in the field of sex research helped spread the idea that men’s sexual abilities begin to decline starting in their late teens, and it eventually became something of a truism in popular culture. However, subsequent researchers have chipped away at this myth, noting that we need to consider more than hormone levels and the number of weekly orgasms if we want to determine when a man reaches the pinnacle of his sexual life.
Writing 60 years after Kinsey first published his ideas about male sexual peak, the sociologist Lisa Wade argued that if we were going to keep the concept, we need to update how we measure it. “Here are some things we’re probably not considering when we estimate men’s sexual peak,” she writes. “Comfort with being intimate with another person’s body, skill at giving another person an orgasm, the ability to bring on or delay one’s own orgasms as wanted, and an encompassing appreciation for sensuality as well as sexual acts.”
Not coincidentally, none of the elements Wade mentions are typically associated with the sexual performance of the average 18-year-old male. But, notwithstanding her subtle dig at teenagers, she has a point. When defining a man’s sexual peak, Kinsey left out quite a few factors that men use to rate a sexual experience. Kinsey’s idea of a man’s sexual peak had more to do with what Kinsey thought was important and less to do with what a man (and, just as importantly, their partners) considered part of a good sex life.Of course, that’s not to say Kinsey was completely wrong. After all, there are undeniably physical changes that happen as we age. But those changes don’t necessarily mean you’re no longer at your peak. Just ask someone like Roger Federer. He’s certainly not the tennis player he was 15 years ago. In many ways, he’s better.