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1) What is the ‘cougar’ phenomenon? 2) Cultural representations of older women’s sexuality 3) Women, aging, and sexuality 4) Women dating younger men.

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Presentation on theme: "1) What is the ‘cougar’ phenomenon? 2) Cultural representations of older women’s sexuality 3) Women, aging, and sexuality 4) Women dating younger men."— Presentation transcript:

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2 1) What is the ‘cougar’ phenomenon? 2) Cultural representations of older women’s sexuality 3) Women, aging, and sexuality 4) Women dating younger men

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4  Term coined in early 1990s › Used by Vancouver hockey players  Early 2000s- became popularized › Publication of the self-help book “Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men” (2001) › Creation of cougardate.com (2001)

5  Books  Dating websites  Boat cruises  Cougar conventions

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8  TV shows › Cougar Town › Extreme Cougar Wives  Movies › Something’s gotta give (2003) › Adore (2013)  Newspaper articles

9  No official definition › Women in their 30s and above › Also used to describe any woman who is dating a younger man › Age gap varies from minimum of 3 to 10 years › In MY research, I focus on  Women 35 or older  Age gap of minimum 5 years

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11  Changes in the norms › Sexual ‘Repression’ 1940s-1950s  Post-WWII: Ideology of the housewife › Sexual Revolution 1960s  Quebec– ‘Révolution Tranquille’ › Backlash late 1970s-early1980s in the US › Sexual Evolution 1990s - today

12  Influenced by: › Changes in gender roles › The birth control movement:  started in the 1st decade of the 20th century; › Family planning  By 1960s, it was already an acceptable practice › Quebecer’s rejection of the Church › Socio-economic context of the 1960s:  Economy booming  Early 1960s: anything seemed possible

13  Influenced by: › Increasing availability of erotic material  Early scholars working on sexuality › Kinsey (1948; 1953) › Masters & Johnson (1966)  Gay bars and bathhouses › existed long before they became visible to the public

14  “Sexual Evolution” of the 1990s › ≠ sexual revolution of the 1960s  Women of generation X › Born between early 1960s to the early 1980s › Women of generation X are taking charge of their sex lives

15  2 major shifts since the 1970s : 1) Women of generation X’s sexual profiles are becoming remarkably similar to men’s 1)age of first intercourse 2)number of sexual partners 2) Male-defined scripts/norms are being challenged

16  Men and women: different norms and expectations › Sexual double standard › Gendered double standard of aging › Importance of physical appearance › Cultural opposition between motherhood and sexuality

17  Very old norm › Middle-ages: chastity belts for women; › 16th-17th century women were burned at the stake as witches; › 19th century and the Victorian Era  Requiring women to profess a total lack of sexual feeling  Sex = only for reproduction

18  Gendered norm › Fatherhood ≠ asexuality  Motherhood= women should focus on their role as a mother › Sexuality assecondary or no longer important › Sexual expression = must now be reserved for private sphere

19  2/3 of women think that when a woman becomes a mother, she should change her sexual expression (Montemurro & Siefken, 2012) › E.g. the way she dresses; flirting; etc.  The more sexual a woman is perceived to be, the worse she is seen as a mother (Friedman et al. 1998)

20  Definition: › in terms of perceived attractiveness and of normative sexual behavior, as they age, women are judge more harshly than men.  Aging women: thought of as unattractive and (preferably) asexual  Aging men: attractiveness in both the romance and job markets holds steady or even increases with age

21  Media’s depiction of older men/ women › Fewer older women than men › Older women’s sexuality=  Often muted (e.g. older women as asexual mothers)  Destabilising the nuclear family  Funny  Dangerous  BUT– increasing number of middle-aged women on TV › Which women are presented on TV?

22  Men’s value= › Associated with their occupational status and their wealth  Men are valued for their intelligence, their sports abilities, their leadership  Men gain value as they age  Women’s value= › Primarily determined by their physical appearance and their ability to attract the attention of men › Beauty= youth  Women loose value as they age

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24  Some feminists argue that beauty standards= › a tool to prevent women from getting power, from destabilizing the patriarchal system where men are at the top  The argument: › Women’s value= first and foremost determined by their beauty/youth › As women become older, they become smarter, wealthier, therefore potentially more powerful  so their beauty is said to decrease  Goal: limit women’s power, by affecting their self- esteem, and others’ perception of older women’s credibility › Result= women cannot destabilize patriarchy

25  In other words, for women, sexual activity is generally thought as being acceptable only for: › the childless pretty young adult woman in a serious monogamous long-term relationship

26  How do our assumptions influence the way we treat aging women?

27  Older women choosing younger men as sexual partners break many norms and challenge many assumptions regarding women’s sexuality › Women are, like men, interested in sexuality  even ‘flings’ or ‘one-night-stands’ › Women can be assertive › Aging women are attractive › Aging women are sexual being › Being a mother does not mean asexuality

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29  Effect of menopause on women’s sexuality: inconsistencies in scientific literature › Some experience decline in sexual desires, and/or pain during intercourse › Others report increased sexual desire, and/or increased sexual activity › Some report no change at all

30  Importance of contextual and relational factors › Past sexual dysfunction › Being married/single › Relationship length › Level of intimacy with partner › Feelings for partner

31  Issue= reducing women’s sexuality to their reproductive functions › Gendered representations of parenthood and sexuality:  women = mothers  Women’s sexuality= reproduction

32  Decline in sexual activity for both men and women at middle age and beyond

33  Gender differences  Example- Among 40-59 year olds: › Larger proportion of women report having no sexual partners › Women: tend to have limited or no sexual activity at a younger age than men › Men = 3 times more likely than women of the same age to report having multiple sexual partners at a given point in time.

34  79% of middle-aged women (aged 42-52 years old) had engaged in sex with a partner in the last 6 months (Cain 2003)  Common reasons for no sex (Cain 2003) : › were lack of partner (67%) › lack of interest (33%) › fatigue (16%)

35  Middle-aged women in U.S. (Alarie & Carmichael 2014) › 86% of women had had sex in last 12 months › Among sexually active women, in last 12 months  Number of sex partners:  90% --one partner  7 % -- 2 partners  3 %-- 3 or more partners  Marital status of those who had 2 or more sex partners in the last 12 months  3% of married women  18% of single never-married women  28% of previously married women

36  Single middle-aged women in Quebec › Sexually active women: # of partners in last 5 years  21% --had 1 partner  45%-- 2 or 3 partners  27%-- 4-6 partners  7% -- 7 and more partners

37  Condom use among single middle- aged women in QC (last 2 partners) › Vaginal intercourse  33% used condoms all the time  43% reported never having used condoms › Anal intercourse  21% used condoms all the time  77% never used a condom

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39  From age 35 and on, the ratio of single women versus single men begin to increase › unbalanced pool of potential opposite-sex partners › Sex differences in mortality rates= play a limited role, and it does so only passed age 45 › Aging and the age-gap between partners  The older a man is when he gets married, the younger is bride will likely be  Men marrying in their 20s: 1 year age-gap  Men marrying in their 60s: 9 to12 years age-gap

40  Personal ads (Jagger 2005)  35-44 age-group  Advertising for a partner who is 34 or younger:  47%of men vs  8 %of women  Ideal partner (Montenegro 2003) : › 40-69 age-group  majority of men (26%) prefer a female partner who is 4 to 9 years younger  majority of women (33%) prefer a male partner who is 1 to 4 years older  Reporting wanting a partner who is at least 5 years younger:  64% of men vs  17% of women

41  Differentiating between different commitment level (Buunk et al. 2001) › Men:  the less committed (casual sex), the younger the ideal woman is › Women:  regardless of the commitment level, women want men of a similar age

42  Age heterogamy- 2 types › Hypergamy (older man) › Hypogamy (older woman)  Average age gap at 1 st marriage: › Today=  2 years (Canada and U.S.) › Early 20 th century=  3.5 years in Canada  4 years in the US

43  Man at least 4 years older : › Canada: 36% of marriage/common law unions › US: 32.3% of marriages  Woman at least 4 years older: › Canada: 6% of marriage/common law unions › US: wife is at least 4 years older in 7.6% of marriages

44  Age-gap of minimum 10 years (Canada): › Hypergamy: 7% of marriage/common law › Hypogamy: 1%

45  2 research questions: a) How prevalent are age-hypogamous sexual relationships in the United States? b) What are the socio-demographic characteristics associated with the middle- aged women who engage in these non- conventional relationships?

46  The socio-demographic factors analysed: › Woman’s age › Her race › Her education › Her income › Her marital status › Her religious faith and level of religiosity › Her attitudes towards sexuality/gender roles › Her number of sexual partners in last 12 months (control)

47  Focus= sexual relationships › Sample=  U.S. Women aged 35-44  Sexually active women only › Looked at all sexual partners in the last 12 months › The outcome: women engaging in age- hypogamous sexual relationships (‘cougars’)  Having slept with at least 1 man who is a minimum of 5 years her junior in the last 12 months

48  Age-hypogamy › 13% of women have slept with a man who is at least 5 years younger › 4.5% of women have slept with a man at least 10 years younger  Age-hypergamy: › 34% of women have slept with at least one man who was 5 years older or more › 14% of women have slept with a man at least 10 years older or more

49  Women’s Income: › lower income women are more likely than affluent women to have sex with younger men  Women’s race: › Women who identify as either White or Black are less likely than those of ‘other racial groups’.  Women’s marital status: › Previously married women are more likely than married/cohabiting women to engage in age- hypogamous sexual relationships › No difference between never married women and married women › Majority of older woman/younger man sexual relationships actually involve married/cohabiting women

50  Conservative attitudes: › Agreeing with the statement that “any sexual acts between consenting adults is all right”– increases the likelihood of sleeping with a younger man  Religion: › Women who never go to Church are more likely than those who go regularly to sleep with a younger man  Women’s level of education: › Not significant

51  Longevity?  Marrying their younger partner?

52  Looking for Canadian women  Aged 35-55  Goal= Understand women’s experience of age-hypogamy in the heterosexual dating context › a) motivations for challenging the age hypergamy norm and expectations with regards to the future of the relationship; › b) perceived benefits, disadvantages and risks associated with age hypogamy; › c) feelings towards cultural representations of older women and ‘cougars’, and stigma management; › d) identity choices/negotiations and gender performances

53  Alarie & Carmichael (2014). The cougar phenomenon: Examining the factors influencing age-hypogamous sexual relationships among middle-aged women. Manuscript submitted for publication.  Birnbaum et al.(2007). Is it all about intimacy? Age, menopausal status, and women’s sexuality. Personal Relationships, 14(1), 167-185.  Buunk et al. (2001). Age preferences for mates as related to gender, own age, and involvement level. Evolution and Human Behavior, 22(4), 241-250.  Cain et al. (2003). Sexual Functioning and Practices in a Multi-Ethnic Study of Midlife Women: Baseline Results From SWAN. Journal of Sex Research, 40(3), 266-276.  Davis & Fiona. (2011). Sex and Perimenopause. Australian Family Physician, 40(5), 274-278.  Dedobbeleer et al. (2005). Social Network Normative Influence and Sexual Risk-Taking Among Women Seeking a New Partner. Women and Health, 41(3), 63-82.  Dennerstein& Lehert (2004). Modeling Mid-Aged Women's Sexual Functioning: A Prospective, Population- Based Study. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 30(3), 173-183.  Friedman, Weinberg & Pines (1998). Sexuality and Motherhood: Mutually Exclusive in Perception of Women. Sex Roles, 38(9/10), 781-800.  Jagger (2005). Is Thirty the New Sixty? Dating, Age and Gender in a Postmodern, Consumer Society. Sociology, 39(1), 89-106.  Gannon (1999). Women and aging : transcending the myths. London; New York: Routledge.  Gibson (2002). Cougar: a guide for older women dating younger men. New York, NY: Firely Books.  Kamen (2000). Her way : young women remake the sexual revolution. New York: New York University.  Montemurro & Siefken (2012). MILFS and Matrons: Images and Realities of Mothers' Sexuality. Sexuality & Culture, 16(4), 366-388.  Mansfield et al. (1995). Predictors of Sexual Response Changes in Heterosexual Midlife Women. Health values., 19(1), 10.  Montenegro. (2003). Lifestyles, Dating and Romance: A Study of Midlife Singles. Washington, DC: American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).  Wolf (1991). The beauty myth : how images of beauty are used against women. New York: W. Morrow.

54 Milaine Alarie PhD (c) Department of Sociology McGill University milaine.alarie@mail.mcgill.ca


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