Young women typically experience their peak sexual activity, with the greatest number of different partners, in their 20s. Thus it is during this period that the risk for contracting STIs is highest, and the need to practise safe sex paramount.
Although sexual identity is usually well established by early adulthood, some young women only start to express it in their 20s. This is particularly true of homosexual women, who may delay ‘coming out’ because of fear of societal prejudice.
As women move further into adulthood, more permanent relationships, in the form of living with a partner or marriage, become prevalent. Young adults in long-term monogamous relationships may in fact engage in sexual activity more frequently than those with several partners. It is not unusual for some new couples to have sexual intercourse almost every day, but in general, the frequency of sexual intercourse tends to decline the longer two people live together. Commitments and responsibilities such as forging a career and child-rearing can also mean that a couple has less time and energy for sex.
Having children can pose new challenges to a couple’s sexual relationship. An important aspect of this is pregnancy: many expectant parents worry that sex can be harmful to the mother or baby, but, unless the doctor has advised otherwise, sex during this time is normal – although it requires some inventiveness and care to find positions that are comfortable and pleasurable. Some women find that their sex drive increases during pregnancy, while others lose interest in sex completely. It may take some time after the birth before a woman has the energy or inclination to resume having sex, and partners need to respect this.
Unlike men, who undergo a gradual decline in sexual functioning and desire from late adolescence onwards, women generally experience undiminished sexual desire until menopause. Indeed, many women find that they enjoy sex more as they move through their 20s and into their 30s: they are less anxious about the sexual act than in younger years, and are more knowledgeable about their own needs and have the confidence to tell their partners what works for them sexually.