The Truth About Sex in Age-Gap Relationships

Photo Illustration by Aly Lim
Getty | ShotPrime Lourdes Balduque
Photo Illustration by Aly Lim
Getty | ShotPrime Lourdes Balduque

I'm married to a man 16 years my senior, so trust me, I've heard it all: He's too old for you. How would you have anything in common? I'm sure it won't last. What does a 28-year-old woman want with a man in his 40s — other than his money? After that, though, comes the question I inevitably get asked most of all: What's the sex like?

Of course, the question comes as no surprise to me; it's natural to wonder how sex plays into the equation. When it comes to age-gap relationships, a dynamic widely debated as of late, the curiosity around sex makes sense. Plus, according to a 2022 Ipsos poll, nearly four in ten Americans have previously dated someone with a large age gap, and 57 percent of singles say they would be open to dating someone 10-plus years older or younger.

In a time when different relationship dynamics are being more openly talked about, and folks can take ownership of their pleasure and sexuality in ways that have never existed before, finding what works for you may come to mean partnering up with someone 15 years older (or younger) than you.

Justin Lehmiller, a psychologist and sex researcher at the Kinsey Institute who's studied the impact of age gaps on sex, says that it can be hard to paint broad strokes because dynamics between couples can vary based on factors like the size of the age gap or the baseline level of desire for sex.

"People tend to project a lot of assumptions onto age-gap relationships, such as assuming that older partners are going to have lower libidos or that age differences necessarily create a dominant-submissive dynamic," Dr. Lehmiller tells POPSUGAR, "However, the reality is that there's vast individual variability and different age-gap relationships might have very different sexual dynamics."

Although there is a stereotype that the older partner in an age-gap relationship calls the shots sexually, the same Ipsos study found this to be more myth than fact, showing that 59 percent of couples said they initiate sex equally. In my marriage, one might naturally assume that I am the one with the higher sex drive because I'm in my 20s, but in actuality, we're pretty equal there. That said, that might not be true for every age-gapper.

Aside from dealing with the assumptions and stereotypes that come with an age gap, there are real benefits to sex outside of your age demographic. A new Ipsos study from this year found that among women who have dated younger men and men who have dated older women, sexual satisfaction and fulfillment, as well as fun and enjoyment in the relationship, were rated good to excellent.

"I have heard from many people in age-gap relationships who say they're having the best sex of their lives," Dr. Lehmiller says. "Sometimes it's the younger person saying that being with an older, more experienced partner is great because they're sexually confident, good at sex, and invested in providing pleasure. Other times, it's an older partner with a high libido who appreciates being with a younger partner who can 'keep up.'"

Drew, 45, is in a relationship with a 31-year-old woman. He says he enjoys being with his younger partner because she is more in tune with her sexuality and pleasure — a big jump from his experiences with women of his age. For him, choosing a younger partner wasn't just about the novelty, but more about being with someone with intimate knowledge of their desires and how to communicate them.

For Caitlin, 25, who is seriously dating a 38-year-old, having sex with someone older has given her the ability to reap the rewards of an experienced partner, while also learning more about her own sexual expression. Instead of having to tip-toe around her partner sexually, like in her past relationships with men her age, being in an age-gap relationship has given her a new sense of confidence.

These stories aren't unlike mine. Before meeting my now-husband, I had never been with a male partner with whom I could openly share my desires or let myself surrender sexually. I was always so uptight, and rather than exploring what made me feel good, I worried about putting on a show. The first time we hooked up was the first time I felt seen and cared for sexually, and I attribute a big part of that to his age and life experiences.

Of course, no relationship is perfect, and there can be some downsides to sex in a large age-gap relationship, too. Tara Suwinyattichaiporn, a Kinsey-certified sexologist and relationship coach, says differences in sexual experiences can lead to disconnection, where one partner may desire fast-paced, exciting sex while the other craves deep, passionate, sensual, and slow encounters.

The age of both partners can also influence how open they are to different types of sexual exploration — and that may not always line up.

"The main downsides to sex in age-gap relationships that I sometimes hear about are when a health issue arises that make sex difficult or impossible or when desire lacks," Dr. Lehmiller says, "These issues can, of course, emerge in any relationship, whether there's an age-gap or not. But when one partner is substantially older than the other, these issues may be more likely to emerge or they may happen with greater frequency."

Olivia, 42, once dated a man who was 28. When it came to their sex life, the only downside was that she began to experience pain during sex, and ultimately, it made her feel like she couldn't match his desire.

It's important to remember, however, that sex will ebb and flow in any relationship. The trick, it seems, is to be willing to ebb and flow with it, allowing yourself to learn more about yourself and your partner.

"I grew a lot as a sexual being during our relationship."

"I was in a sexual relationship with someone in their fifties when I was in my twenties and I would say I appreciated what my older sexual partner brought to our relationship and my life," Dr. Suwinyattichaiporn says. "I was able to learn to feel more confident in bed. He was comfortable giving me feedback so I felt like I grew a lot as a sexual being during our relationship."

Though there's room for growth, conversations around pleasure and sex — and not just penetrative – are taking place more frequently thanks to access to other perspectives via social media, more resources widely available online, and more inclusive language and terms to describe sex that exist now that didn't even just 15 years ago. It feels as though there is much more room to expand, no matter what age you or your partner are.

For myself, as someone who speaks openly about and has been in an age-gap relationship for over five years, it seems clear that I (and my partner) are continually learning more about ourselves, sexually and beyond, no matter our ages. Being with someone outside of our respective age brackets only amplifies that.

So, what's the sex like? Brilliant, beautiful, sexy, fun, expanding, and growing.

Hayley Folk (she/her) is a freelance writer, editor, and podcast host based in New York City. She is the host of the "Naked Folk" podcast — a sexual wellness and relationships podcast — and she writes for major publications about the LGBTQ+ community, travel, lifestyle, sex, and wellness. In 2022, she received her master of fine arts in creative writing from The New School.