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Tick, tock ... ROWR? Biological clock may ring women's libido

Are older women sexually adventurous because they, perhaps unconsciously, are desperate for a baby?

In a study released this week, a team of University of Texas graduate students led by Judith Easton wanted to know what happened to sexual feelings and action after peak fertility, but while women are still fertile. What would evolution have programmed women to do?

Well, if you follow the study’s conclusions, evolution has programmed women to act a lot like "The Real Housewives" of Orange County/New York/D.C.: horny and willing because they want to take that waning fertility for a workout.

The team based that conclusion on an online survey of 827 women. They divided those women into three groups of “high fertility” (18-26), “low fertility” (27-45) and “menopausal” (46 and older).

“We found that women in the 27-45 age group were much more willing to have sex after knowing somebody one evening, one week and one month, than younger women,” Easton told me.

This group was also more likely to have frequent and more intense sexual fantasies, and a more active sex life overall.

Interestingly, it didn’t matter if women in the low fertility group already had children or not. “It was strictly age-based,” Easton said. “That was pretty surprising.”

Easton and her colleagues found that the older women got, the more sexually willing they were until they hit menopause, at which point it started heading south.

Hmm. As msnbc.com's sex columnist, this made me skeptical. Was this about evolution, or experience? The study did not ask about sexual experience. Isn’t it possible that with more experience, women demystify sex, are more confident, and become more willing to have it on flimsier pretexts (like, say, because it’s fun), not to unconsciously take their fertility out for a jog? Easton agreed that was a potential confounding notion.

But, she pointed out, the menopausal women had fewer sexual fantasies and were less willing to bed a near-stranger so it’s not just experience. Yes, I countered, but as any man who has lived with a menopausal woman can tell you, all sorts of behavior changes, not just sexuality, thanks to our friends the hormones. The group did not test for hormone levels.

Another possibility, Easton agreed, is that our culture has finally decided that it’s O.K. – and some might say there’s even pressure -- for older women to be hot, act hot, feel hot. But whether it’s fertility, or culture or experience, Easton said, the study “sort of does support the idea of the cougar.”

Are women more confident? Experienced? Want a baby? Why do you think women are more sexually willing as they get older? Tell us in the comments.