If you were to look at the history and culture of dating and marriage in the United States, it would not be uncommon or shocking to see patterns in which older men were dating and marrying much younger women. Older men marrying younger women has gone on throughout history and rarely causes anyone to experience any shock or awe, but there is a cultural dynamic shift happening in recent decades that does seem to garner those kinds of reactions… when older women date younger men. Because of the relatively misogynistic culture that has been adopted throughout American history, the idea that an older woman would want to be with a younger man often gets misrepresented or seen in derogatory of exploitative ways. It is not uncommon for our culture to praise a younger man for his conquest of wrangling a “cougar” when with an older woman or identifying an older woman with other objectifying nomenclature indicating that older women are sexual objects to be used by men.
So, if all of this objectification is happening in the culture around us, why would an older woman want to be with a younger man? Researchers set out to determine what some women value in their relationships with younger men and they came to some interesting conclusions! One particular study found that older women, when comparing sexual encounters with men their own age, found that sex with their younger counterparts allowed them to more freely experience and express their desires sexually, to be assertive and ask for what they wanted in intimate experiences, and to focus more on their own pleasure and not just the pleasure of the man they are with.
These study reported older women being attracted to their younger sexual partner’s increased sexual stamina and ability to offer more sexually than their same-aged counterparts. Women who were with younger men reported noticing that younger men were more physically able to perform and could last longer than men their age. For women who experience a high sex drive, they reported this being an incredibly appealing part of their connections with younger men. In addition to this, the reliability and consistency of the younger men having erections was another facet that was appealing to these women. All of these things (stamina, longevity, erectile functioning) all become more of a problem for men as they age, and women experience less of these drawbacks as they themselves age. As a result, this can lead to some sexual frustration with same age partners if their partner is not working to meet their female partner’s sexual needs.
Speaking of sexual needs, these women also reported an increased ability to communicate their sexual needs to their partners and that their partners were more likely to address their sexual needs. With same age couples, there are inherent gender roles that have persevered through society that can often cause women to feel less comfortable speaking up and getting their sexual needs addressed. Older women report being more comfortable guiding a younger man through the sexual experience in a way that is pleasurable for her, as they believe that the younger men are more likely to listen and comply with their requests. Younger men also report enjoying that an older woman knows what she wants and is able to ask for it! While it is not the case that every same-age male partner ignores or refuses to focus on their female partners needs in bed, the study indicates that women typically feel more free to focus on their pleasure during interactions with younger men which increases the attraction they are experiencing with their partner.
While there are lots of reasons why an older woman may be attracted to a younger man, it seems like the main reasons involve the physical assets that younger men have and their willingness to prioritize the woman’s sexual pleasure. While this study is not representative of the entire American culture, these could be strong indicators of reasons why some women (particularly women who are confident in their sexuality and want to have a partner to explore that with) prefer younger men.
Dr. Shannon McHugh is a Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults who have developmental and social delays, behavioral difficulties, and those who have experienced traumatic events