This article originally appeared on VICE France
When I mentioned to some male friends that I was working on an article about what happens to the male libido after the age of 30, all of them assured me that they weren't having any problems at all. They had no idea what I was talking about. None at all. But when we got further into it, it turned out things were a little more complicated than that.
I initially wanted to explore the subject and talk to my male heterosexual friends about it because I noticed a shift in the way they talked about sex – and in how and how often they did it, too. I found that men tend to gradually produce less testosterone after 30, which in extreme cases can lead to a decreased sex drive or even erectile dysfunction. Of course, there are more factors determining why a man's testosterone levels can decrease after 30 – like his lifestyle, weight or mental health – but given that we're a generation of eternal adult children, I was wondering if a declining sex drive is a thing now that we're getting older, and how we're dealing with that. And is it a biological thing, or are there other, sociological reasons?
I spoke to Yvon Dallaire, a French-Canadian psychologist and author specialised in relationship issues, who doesn't think it's a testosterone thing per se: "Thirty is a little too young to talk about a significantly decreased libido. In general, men's testosterone levels are at their peak between 14 and 40 years old approximately – when it starts to slowly but steadily decline over time. But men in their thirties tend to have sexually experimented more, which makes them better at managing their libido. They're not as dependant on it." To put it bluntly: Boys think less with their dicks as they grow older.
I used to be the person asking for sex all the time. My balls would often ache, because I constantly needed to masturbate. I don't miss those days at all.
Julien* is 32. He has been my friend since university, which is also as long as him and his girlfriend have been together. "I'm truly relieved to think less with and about my dick," he explains. "I used to be the person asking for sex all the time in the relationship, and when she wasn't in the mood it would really frustrate me. These days, she's often the one who takes the initiative – and I really like that. Puberty was a particularly difficult time: My balls would often ache, because I constantly needed to masturbate. I don't miss those days at all."
As expected, the change in his behaviour affected his girlfriend, Solange. "I kinda freaked out – I'd gotten so used to him always wanting sex," she says. "It's better this way – saying no to him because I wasn't in the mood could make both of us uncomfortable. For a while, I thought he'd lost interest in me or that he was cheating on me, even. But he wasn't – I think."
Eliot is 32, and used to be my boss. He says he doesn't feel less like having sex, but blames any change in how often it happens for him in having "less time". He adds: "Fifteen is the worst age; your hormones explode and the women you like are only interested in older men." I'm having a great time picturing him as a severely confused and hopelessly horny teenager.
Louis is 38, married and recently had his first child. He agrees with Yvon Dallaire. "I'm less obsessed with sex than I used to be. It feels like I've gotten enough experience to take it a little bit easier," he tells me. He used to watch a lot of porn when he was younger but that has changed over the years too. "I don't feel like watching porn and I don't need it anymore. I've gotten a bit harder to please; if I do watch porn, I need the kind that is a bit more suggestive."
"I watch way less porn than a couple of years ago," 30-year-old George agrees. His most defining feature, to me, is the fact that he always wears a beanie that his mum knitted for him. "I used to watch porn every day – I needed it. I just had the urge. But I'd feel a bit hopeless and guilty about it – especially when after, you end up feeling like a sad sack with your dick in your hand and the video still running. I still watch porn but only two or three times a week. The kind in which a woman seems to enjoy herself too, if possible."
Because of their expanding sexual experiences, girls apparently become less of a mystery for guys by the time they've reached their thirties, and vice versa. "With time and age, I think relationships between men and women become more honest, which opens up our sex life and makes it more interesting," says Eliot.
A lot of the guys I talked to wholeheartedly agree that they're a lot less selfish in bed than they used to be, but if I'm honest, I think some were bullshitting me. Mostly because one of them stood very closely next to me in a club at 04:00, trying to sexily yell in my ear while resting his hand on my shoulder as he did so. But in general, it makes sense – less urgency, less pressure and a better connection should make for better sex. Most of the guys I talked to basically came to the same conclusion, which Eliot summed up perfectly: "I largely prefer my sexual life at 32 to what I had at 22."
That's all lovely, but what about women? Well, heterosexual women's sexuality tends to evolve in a different way: Some might need a moment to get over their insecurities, accept or understand the fact that they themselves are more bothered about their mismatched underwear and droopy asses than their partners. But once they get over themselves, great things can happen. As Yvon Dallaire told me: "For a lot of young women, sex is at first about the potential. Once a woman has learned what gives her pleasure, her sexual desire increases, up until she's about 45. A woman can be at the peak of her abilities at that age."
Or, according to my friend Zoé: "I have the impression that you spend years trying to get rid of those complexes and moral constraints so you can finally just enjoy yourself." So maybe, we could generally say that heterosexual men and women follow a different path but end up at roughly the same place in the end: less obsessed with ourselves and better suited for some festive fornication. Isn't that what life is about in the end?
* The names in this article have been changed.