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THE ‘COUGAR’ PHENOMENON: thinking of middle-aged women's sexuality beyond the stereotypes Milaine Alarie, PhD(c)

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Presentation on theme: "THE ‘COUGAR’ PHENOMENON: thinking of middle-aged women's sexuality beyond the stereotypes Milaine Alarie, PhD(c)"— Presentation transcript:

1 THE ‘COUGAR’ PHENOMENON: thinking of middle-aged women's sexuality beyond the stereotypes
Milaine Alarie, PhD(c)

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

3 What is the ‘cougar’ phenomenon?

4 Creation of the term ‘cougar’
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 (2001)

5 New consumer market for older women dating younger men
Books Dating websites Boat cruises Cougar conventions


7 New consumer market for older women dating younger men

8 Media’s new interest for ‘cougars’
TV shows Cougar Town Extreme Cougar Wives Movies Something’s gotta give (2003) Adore (2013) Newspaper articles

9 What is a ‘cougar’? 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

10 Cultural representations of older women’s sexuality: when sexism meets ageism

11 Historical overview 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 1960s- Sexual Revolution 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 1960s- Sexual revolution 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 1990s- Generation X and the ‘Sexual Evolution’
“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 Women of generation X 2 major shifts since the 1970s :
Women of generation X’s sexual profiles are becoming remarkably similar to men’s age of first intercourse number of sexual partners Male-defined scripts/norms are being challenged

16 Sexual scripts and norms- Aging and sexuality
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 Sexual Double Standard
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 Cultural opposition between sexuality and motherhood
Gendered norm Fatherhood ≠ asexuality Motherhood= women should focus on their role as a mother Sexuality as secondary or no longer important Sexual expression = must now be reserved for private sphere

19 Cultural opposition between sexuality and motherhood
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 Gendered double standard of aging
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 Middle-aged women on TV
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 Importance of physical appearance
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

23 Beauty standards for women- a social control tool?

24 Beauty standards for women- a social control tool?
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 Culturally approved sexuality for women?
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 assumptions guide our practice?
How do our assumptions influence the way we treat aging women?

27 ‘Cougars’ as breaking norms
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

28 Women, aging, and sexuality: the facts

29 Menopause and sexuality
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 Menopause and sexuality
Importance of contextual and relational factors Past sexual dysfunction Being married/single Relationship length Level of intimacy with partner Feelings for partner

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

32 Aging and level of sexual activity
Decline in sexual activity for both men and women at middle age and beyond

33 Aging and level of sexual activity
Gender differences Example- Among 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 Middle-aged women and sexual activity
79% of middle-aged women (aged 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 and sexual activity
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 Middle-aged women and sexual activity
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% partners 7% -- 7 and more partners

37 Middle-aged women and sexual activity
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

38 Women dating younger men

39 Aging, singlehood and (re)marriage
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 Gender and age preferences in partners
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 Gender and age preferences in partners
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 in marriage
Age heterogamy- 2 types Hypergamy (older man) Hypogamy (older woman) Average age gap at 1st marriage: Today= 2 years (Canada and U.S.) Early 20th century= 3.5 years in Canada 4 years in the US

43 Trends in marriage 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 Trends in marriages Age-gap of minimum 10 years (Canada):
Hypergamy: 7% of marriage/common law Hypogamy: 1%

45 Women who choose younger man as sexual partners: MY STUDY (2014)
2 research questions: How prevalent are age-hypogamous sexual relationships in the United States? What are the socio-demographic characteristics associated with the middle-aged women who engage in these non-conventional relationships?

46 The variables 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 The sample and the outcome
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 My findings Age-hypogamy Age-hypergamy:
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 Who is the ‘cougar’ Women’s Income: Women’s race:
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 Who is the ‘cougar’ Conservative attitudes: Religion:
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 How serious are these relationships?
Longevity? Marrying their younger partner?

52 My next project- interviewing women
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 References 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), Buunk et al. (2001). Age preferences for mates as related to gender, own age, and involvement level. Evolution and Human Behavior, 22(4), 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), Davis & Fiona. (2011). Sex and Perimenopause. Australian Family Physician, 40(5), Dedobbeleer et al. (2005). Social Network Normative Influence and Sexual Risk-Taking Among Women Seeking a New Partner. Women and Health, 41(3), Dennerstein& Lehert (2004). Modeling Mid-Aged Women's Sexual Functioning: A Prospective, Population-Based Study. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 30(3), Friedman, Weinberg & Pines (1998). Sexuality and Motherhood: Mutually Exclusive in Perception of Women. Sex Roles, 38(9/10), Jagger (2005). Is Thirty the New Sixty? Dating, Age and Gender in a Postmodern, Consumer Society. Sociology, 39(1), 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), 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 My contact information Milaine Alarie PhD (c) Department of Sociology McGill University

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