Ask a group of ladies what they look for in a man, and buzzwords fly. Confidence. Independence. Humor. Kindness. Looks. It’s as if we women are all seeking the exact same guy. (Hot damn—lucky dude.)
But here’s the rub: We reorder these priorities depending on where we are in our lives.
“What a woman looks for in a partner changes as she ages,” says Helen Fisher, Ph.D., a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University and a relationship expert, whose most recent book is Why Him? Why Her?
So if you want a decent shot at success, you have to recognize what she values at this stage of her life—and know what to expect if you plan to stay with her. A woman who once prioritized, say, grinding to Lil’ Wayne on the dance floor will eventually start to prefer intimate conversation accompanied by a glass of Barolo and a plate of homemade Bolognese.
These changes extend into the bedroom, too. Very few women become set in their sexual ways. Quite the opposite: A Men’s Health exclusive survey of nearly 1,400 women found that sexual tastes shift with the passing years. To be specific (and the women we asked were very specific), two-thirds of the women in their 30s and almost half of the women in their 40s revealed that their sexual palates had evolved in the past decade. And change can be good.
For example, a woman who once avoided being on top because she worried about how her double D’s looked might eventually become sexually confident, knowing exactly what she wants, how she wants it, and how to guide you there. Sex becomes more of an adventure with age, it appears.
But that doesn’t mean you have to wait. Whether the woman you’re dating or living with is in her 20s, 30s, or 40s, here’s your guide to hitting her hot spots.
With youth comes beauty, ambition, and energy, but also inexperience (and its annoying sister, insecurity). Our survey revealed that trying to label women in this decade of discovery is about as easy as predicting what getup Lady Gaga will wear to her next awards show.
17% are up for sex on the first date if there’s chemistry
1 in 5 have had intercourse with only one partner
Kindness was the highest-ranked quality in a long-term partner
9 in 10 have talked dirty during sex
38% had two or more orgasms during their most recent sexual encounter
27% didn’t reach orgasm during their most recent sexual encounter
30% say they want more oral sex performed on them
33% keep their pubic area bare
What She Wants
Julianna Guill, 23, star of The Apparition and the TBS comedy Glory Daze, explains.
Talking to her boyfriend after a long day is essential. “I want to be able to talk about my life, what I do, the people I meet on a daily basis, the things that happen to me,” she says. “And I want someone who’s excited to hear about this stuff and share the same with me.”
“Women in their 20s are excited about life and everything that’s coming,” Guill says. “We want to do new things and explore. I want to travel and experience other cultures. I want to be politically and socially involved. Women in their 20s want partners who want to do all those things with them, and who also have dreams and goals of their own.”
A man should “care about other people and have empathy,” Guill says. “Without that, I would have a very difficult time relating to someone.” Devote a few extra hours a month to a cause.
A keeper is “genuinely interested in who you are and who your friends and family are,” Guill says. Show enthusiasm when she invites you to hang with her sisters.
Her Dating Profile
A woman in her 20s has three priorities, says Nina K. Thomas, Ph.D., a psychologist based in New York City. She wants a career, personal identity, and a relationship. There’s also a good shot that she’ll walk down the aisle: The average American woman marries when she’s 26, according to the U.S. Census. But whether she’s husband hunting or taking aim at the glass ceiling (or both), expect her to be a social butterfly. “Coming out of their teen years, they want excitement, they want to go to parties, they want an active lifestyle filled with adventure,” says Robert Axel, Ph.D., a New York City psychologist.
Win her over
Befriend her friends: The math minds behind the online dating site OkCupid analyzed 3.2 million user profiles and found that the most common phrase straight women use is “my girlfriends.” Also in the top 20: “close with my mother.” “More than any other adult age group,” Fisher says, “a woman in her 20s still has strong ties to her own family and strong ties to her girlfriends.” So if you date a younger woman, you’ll face the friend gauntlet. Be up for anything, especially if it offers a chance to bond with her besties—road trips, dance parties, brunches. Pay attention when she talks about her friends; remember names and stories. “She’s going to want you to fit in,” Fisher says.
Her Sexual Profile
In our survey, women in their 20s were least likely among all the age groups to achieve orgasm during their most recent sexual encounter. And the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior reports that they were also more likely to feel pain during that encounter than women in their 30s and 40s were.
One possible reason: They’re fairly new at sex and eager to please—sometimes before they’re fully lubricated. “Women in their 20s tend to be trying every move in the book, and some positions are not as comfortable as others,” says Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., the Men’s Health relationships advisor and coauthor of the study.
Ignite her lust
Let there be light, says Herbenick. During sex, even a little light—like a candle—is better than total darkness, and not just because you can take in more of her lithe form. “It allows you to see how she is reacting to what’s going on,” Herbenick explains. You’ll be better able to gauge her pleasure (or pain).
Our survey backs this up. In response to the question, “What makes a man good in bed?” Courtney, 20, says, “If he can pick up on subtle hints, changes in body movement or sounds, he’s amazing. The more he makes it about me, the more I can make it about him.” And when we asked for best-sex-ever stories, Jen, 22, said, “He kept telling me how sexy I was and how tight I felt.” So pay attention, and speak up about your desires so she’ll feel comfortable speaking up about hers.
She’s bound to like variety: The NSSHB study found that the more acts you engage in during a sexual experience (manual, oral, and vaginal sex), the more likely she is to have an orgasm. So stretch out foreplay and mix it up. And keep in mind that in our survey, a plurality (45 percent) of the women in their 20s said the ideal time for penile-vaginal sex was 15 minutes or less.
Obsessions with socializing and fitting in are on the wane. Women in their 30s are more interested in being happy. She may have a lot on her plate—career, friends, a home—but she’s independent and ready to indulge her desires. Our survey revealed a sexual awakening: Women at this stage have learned to enjoy themselves.
28% are up for sex on the first date if there’s chemistry
Sense of Humor was the highest-ranked quality in a long-term partner
48% had one orgasm during their most recent sexual encounter
22% had two orgasms during their most recent sexual encounter
2 in 3 have used pornography during sex
60% have had more than five sex partners
33% want more oral sex performed on them
19% want more kissing
14% used a vibrator during their last sexual encounter
26% keep their pubic area mostly shaved or waxed
What She Wants
Nadine Velazquez, 32, star of the FX show The League, dishes.
“I didn’t care for sex in my 20s. But now I understand songs and movies about sex and why people are so sex-driven. It’s like I turned 30 and suddenly, overnight, I became hungry!”
“My husband has had to adapt,” Velazquez admits. The pair married 5 years ago, when she was 26 and he was 38. “Men who’ve dated women in their 20s and 30s have told me that women in their 20s are babies, just like I was. They are bratty, selfish, the whole nine yards. And women in their 30s are more balanced, more grounded, and better partners.”
Velazquez says she and her husband are more honest with each other than any other couple she knows. That has helped her develop into the woman she is today because she’s not afraid to be herself. “It takes a lot of courage for a man to be that open,” she says. “It’s such a gem to be able to have a man who can both tell me what he’s thinking and accept what I’m thinking.”
When she was younger, Velazquez would go out because that’s what everyone else was doing. “Now my attitude is, if it’s interesting and there’s a reason for me to be there, I’ll be there.” Her suggestion for a fun date night: “Spend a Friday night playing games—charades, Mafia, Words with Friends on my iPhone,” she says. “I would never have wanted to do that in my 20s.”
Her Dating Profile
Many women at this age are starting to see themselves as mothers, says Thomas, the New York psychologist. “Their selection process is much more guided by the idea of settling down and having children.” That’s good news! All you men who complain that women date only jerks, rejoice: The more serious a woman becomes about finding a life partner, the more likely she is to reconsider the nice guy she might have once overlooked. You’ll enjoy a more fully formed individual, too, Fisher says. “She’ll be more economically stable and therefore able to express more of who she really is.”
Win her over
A date with a woman in her 30s tends to be more intellectual and less social: visiting museums, cooking dinner together, with a lot more one-on-one time. Ask about her passions and tailor your date accordingly. Check out the lecture lineup at the local university, for instance. If any of her favorite authors are slated to speak, take her. Come up with ideas that’ll give her something to witness, to think about, and to talk about afterward.
Warning from Axel: Women in this age bracket are “quick to break up with a man who isn’t ‘the one.'” To improve your odds, Fisher, an anthropologist, endorses online dating, where both parties can find exactly the kind of person they’re looking for. Try Match.com or eHarmony (or other paying sites) to find women who are serious about finding a long-term partner.
Her Sexual Profile
There’s another upside to all that buzz-killing biological-clock talk: Women in their 30s are having a lot of sex. And they want more—tonight! Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin surveyed 827 women between the ages of 18 and 65 about their sexual thoughts, fantasies, and behaviors. As expected, women with declining fertility (from 27 to 45) acted in ways that increased their odds of having babies (not necessarily consciously). These women thought more about sex, had more frequent sexual fantasies, had more instances of sexual intercourse, and were more likely to want to have sex with someone they’d known only a short time. However, Fisher believes that the reproduction-expediting explanation might be too simplistic: “It could be that women in their 30s simply know their bodies better than women in their 20s do. They’ve figured out what they like, and they’ve figured out how to tell men what they like.” Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Listen to her!
Ignite her lust
Among the age groups we surveyed, we found that women in their 30s are most open to using toys in bed. For instance, 14 percent indicated that they’d used a vibrator during their last sexual experience with a man, and 42 percent said they wished they’d used restraints (like handcuffs) the last time they had sex. For a set of restraints that won’t hurt her wrists (or yours), try the Lelo Etherea Silk Cuffs ($50, lelo.com). Not sure if she’s open to the idea? “Baby steps,” says Gloria Brame, author of Come Hither: A Commonsense Guide to Kinky Sex. “First pin your girlfriend’s wrists over her head while you fool around, and judge her reaction. If it makes her really hot, chances are you’re with the kind of person who’d be interested in being restrained.” Then casually ask her about it at another time—not while you’re naked.
Another tip our survey fairly shouted: Be more vocal. When we asked women what they wanted to hear in bed, women in their 30s said they wanted to hear how good it feels. “I like any sounds—I like to know he’s into it as much as I am,” says Miranda, 31. “I love to hear anything about how I make him feel, how I’m doing, or how I look, any dirty talk,” says Tiffany, 30. And, “You are so sexy, I can’t get enough of you,” always works for Karla, 36.
So for this great new enlightenment we added some hot over 40’s for you below!
The Fun 40s
These women know what they want, and they’re not afraid to ask for it. Maybe it’s because they’ve done the marriage-and-kids thing, or maybe they’re just successful, self-assured, and feel no pressure to settle down. Our survey revealed that a woman in her 40s might be demanding, but that has its upside: more adventure between the sheets.
29% are up for sex on the first date if there’s chemistry
Kindness was the highestranked quality in a long-term partner
86% had one or more orgasms during their most recent sexual encounter
68% reached orgasm before their partner did during their most recent sexual encounter
28% want more oral sex
38% have used a blindfold during sex
69% have masturbated in front of a partner
1 in 4 have had intercourse with 20 or more partners
30% keep their pubic area mostly shaved or waxed
What She Wants
Elizabeth Mitchell, 40, star of the ABC hit show V, shares.
Mitchell has played both lesbian and straight characters. She jokes, “When I play a straight woman, I flatter, and when I play a gay woman, I listen.” Take note: “Listen to what she’s talking about—if she mentions something once, she’s probably interested in it. Bring it up again later. She’ll be so impressed!”
“My husband [of 7 years] tells me daily that he thinks I’m beautiful,” Mitchell says. “As a result, I feel comfortable walking around naked in front of him. I feel that when he looks at me, he’s unconditionally thinking I’m hot. I’m all for it.”
“There’s nothing sexier than really taking someone in—looking at everything, and not in a critical way,” Mitchell says. Pay attention to all sensory details: “What do her lips taste like? What does she smell like? How does her hair feel? Take the time to pay attention to these details, and a woman is going to notice your effort.”
Mitchell is not a fan of neediness. She’s independent and strong, and pleased to be married to a man who’s her match. “A man needs to know himself, have his own passions, likes, and interests, and he should want to talk about those passions with me,” she says.
Her Dating Profile
Expect 40ish women to be bold—in their relationships, in their careers, and in their approach to having fun. It’s hormones, Fisher says: In their early 40s, estrogen and testosterone levels drop, but testosterone doesn’t go down as much. “And so you see more expression of the testosterone system as women grow older,” she says. What this means: “A woman in her 40s is going to be more direct, more decisive, more tough-minded, perhaps more daring and independent.”
Win her over
Bring enough energy to match hers. “When she wants to go off and do something,” Fisher says, “she’ll want a man who’s eager to jump up and do it with her.” This can mean anything from hiking to gallery hopping. “They’re not calling up their girlfriends to meet in the bar anymore,” Fisher says. Don’t worry—she isn’t going to expect you to replace her girlfriends. Instead, she’ll want someone who’s able to enjoy the world with her. To impress her, check out some luxury bargains on jetsetter.com and sweep her off for a weekend getaway.
Her Sexual Profile
Women in their 40s love sex. In our survey, this was the age group most open to considering sex on a first date (58 percent). These women were also the most likely to have had an orgasm during their most recent sexual encounter (86 percent). “A woman in her 40s is, for the most part, relieved of the worry of having babies, so she can be more relaxed about sex and have it more often,” Fisher says.
Ignite her lust
When we asked women in their 40s how their attitudes had changed in the past 10 years, this was the refrain: “I want sex more often!” Said Norma, 42, “I’ve become bolder in expressing what I want and in suggesting new things for us to try.” That’s your cue!
Women of all ages in our survey said they want more oral sex performed on them. Some of their tips: “Use your fingers as well as your tongue,” advises Rose, 41. Laina, 40, wants a delicate touch. “Nibble my thighs and be gentle on the clitoris.” Larisa, 41, adds, “Clearly enjoy what you’re doing. Being hesitant is a turnoff, a rejection of the most intimate part of me.”