4Creation of the term ‘cougar’ Term coined in early 1990sUsed by Vancouver hockey playersEarly 2000s- became popularizedPublication of the self-help book “Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men” (2001)Creation of cougardate.com (2001)
5New consumer market for older women dating younger men BooksDating websitesBoat cruisesCougar conventions
7New consumer market for older women dating younger men
8Media’s new interest for ‘cougars’ TV showsCougar TownExtreme Cougar WivesMoviesSomething’s gotta give (2003)Adore (2013)Newspaper articles
9What is a ‘cougar’? No official definition Women in their 30s and aboveAlso used to describe any woman who is dating a younger manAge gap varies from minimum of 3 to 10 yearsIn MY research, I focus onWomen 35 or olderAge gap of minimum 5 years
10Cultural representations of older women’s sexuality: when sexism meets ageism
11Historical overview Changes in the norms Sexual ‘Repression’ 1940s-1950sPost-WWII: Ideology of the housewifeSexual Revolution 1960sQuebec– ‘Révolution Tranquille’Backlash late 1970s-early1980s in the USSexual Evolution 1990s - today
121960s- Sexual Revolution Influenced by: Changes in gender roles The birth control movement:started in the 1st decade of the 20th century;Family planningBy 1960s, it was already an acceptable practiceQuebecer’s rejection of the ChurchSocio-economic context of the 1960s:Economy boomingEarly 1960s: anything seemed possible
131960s- Sexual revolution Influenced by: Increasing availability of erotic materialEarly scholars working on sexualityKinsey (1948; 1953)Masters & Johnson (1966)Gay bars and bathhousesexisted long before they became visible to the public
141990s- Generation X and the ‘Sexual Evolution’ “Sexual Evolution” of the 1990s≠ sexual revolution of the 1960sWomen of generation XBorn between early 1960s to the early 1980sWomen of generation X are taking charge of their sex lives
15Women of generation X 2 major shifts since the 1970s : Women of generation X’s sexual profiles are becoming remarkably similar to men’sage of first intercoursenumber of sexual partnersMale-defined scripts/norms are being challenged
16Sexual scripts and norms- Aging and sexuality Men and women: different norms and expectationsSexual double standardGendered double standard of agingImportance of physical appearanceCultural opposition between motherhood and sexuality
17Sexual Double Standard Very old normMiddle-ages: chastity belts for women;16th-17th century women were burned at the stake as witches;19th century and the Victorian EraRequiring women to profess a total lack of sexual feelingSex = only for reproduction
18Cultural opposition between sexuality and motherhood Gendered normFatherhood ≠ asexualityMotherhood= women should focus on their role as a motherSexuality as secondary or no longer importantSexual expression = must now be reserved forprivate sphere
19Cultural 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 womanis perceived to be,the worse she is seenas a mother (Friedman et al. 1998)
20Gendered 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) asexualAging men: attractiveness in both the romance and job markets holds steady or even increases with age
21Middle-aged women on TV Media’s depiction of older men/ womenFewer older women than menOlder women’s sexuality=Often muted (e.g. older women as asexual mothers)Destabilising the nuclear familyFunnyDangerousBUT– increasing number of middle-aged women on TVWhich women are presented on TV?
22Importance of physical appearance Men’s value=Associated with their occupational status and their wealthMen are valued for their intelligence, their sports abilities, their leadershipMen gain value as they ageWomen’s value=Primarily determined by their physical appearance and their ability to attract the attention of menBeauty= youthWomen loose value as they age
23Beauty standards for women- a social control tool?
24Beauty 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 topThe argument:Women’s value= first and foremost determined by their beauty/youthAs women become older, they become smarter, wealthier, therefore potentially more powerfulso their beauty is said to decreaseGoal: limit women’s power, by affecting their self-esteem, and others’ perception of older women’s credibilityResult= women cannot destabilize patriarchy
25Culturally 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
26How 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 sexualityWomen are, like men, interested in sexualityeven ‘flings’ or ‘one-night-stands’Women can be assertiveAging women are attractiveAging women are sexual beingBeing a mother does not mean asexuality
29Menopause and sexuality Effect of menopause on women’s sexuality: inconsistencies in scientific literatureSome experience decline in sexual desires, and/or pain during intercourseOthers report increased sexual desire, and/or increased sexual activitySome report no change at all
30Menopause and sexuality Importance of contextual and relational factorsPast sexual dysfunctionBeing married/singleRelationship lengthLevel of intimacywith partnerFeelings for partner
31Menopause and sexuality Issue= reducing women’s sexuality to their reproductive functionsGendered representations of parenthood and sexuality:women = mothersWomen’s sexuality= reproduction
32Aging and level of sexual activity Decline in sexual activity for both men and women at middle age and beyond
33Aging and level of sexual activity Gender differencesExample- Among year olds:Larger proportion of women report having no sexual partnersWomen: tend to have limited or no sexual activity at a younger age than menMen = 3 times more likely than women of the same age to report having multiple sexual partners at a given point in time.
34Middle-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%)
35Middle-aged women and sexual activity Middle-aged women in U.S. (Alarie & Carmichael 2014)86% of women had had sex in last 12 monthsAmong sexually active women, in last 12 monthsNumber of sex partners:90% --one partner7 % -- 2 partners3 %-- 3 or more partnersMarital status of those who had 2 or more sex partners in the last 12 months3% of married women18% of single never-married women28% of previously married women
36Middle-aged women and sexual activity Single middle-aged women in QuebecSexually active women: # of partners in last 5 years21% --had 1 partner45%-- 2 or 3 partners27% partners7% -- 7 and more partners
37Middle-aged women and sexual activity Condom use among single middle-aged women in QC (last 2 partners)Vaginal intercourse33% used condoms all the time43% reported never having used condomsAnal intercourse21% used condoms all the time77% never used a condom
39Aging, singlehood and (re)marriage From age 35 and on, the ratio of single women versus single men begin to increaseunbalanced pool of potential opposite-sex partnersSex differences in mortality rates= play a limited role, and it does so only passed age 45Aging and the age-gap between partnersThe older a man is when he gets married, the younger is bride will likely beMen marrying in their 20s: 1 year age-gapMen marrying in their 60s: 9 to12 years age-gap
40Gender and age preferences in partners Personal ads (Jagger 2005)35-44 age-groupAdvertising for a partner who is 34 or younger:47%of men vs8 %of womenIdeal partner (Montenegro 2003) :40-69 age-groupmajority of men (26%) prefer a female partner who is 4 to 9 years youngermajority of women (33%) prefer a male partner who is 1 to 4 years olderReporting wanting a partner who is at least 5 years younger:64% of men vs17% of women
41Gender 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 isWomen:regardless of the commitment level, women want men of a similar age
42Age heterogamy in marriage Age heterogamy- 2 typesHypergamy (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 Canada4 years in the US
43Trends in marriage Man at least 4 years older : Canada: 36% of marriage/common law unionsUS: 32.3% of marriagesWoman at least 4 years older:Canada: 6% of marriage/common law unionsUS: wife is at least 4 years older in 7.6% of marriages
44Trends in marriages Age-gap of minimum 10 years (Canada): Hypergamy: 7% of marriage/common lawHypogamy: 1%
45Women 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?
46The variables The socio-demographic factors analysed: Woman’s age Her raceHer educationHer incomeHer marital statusHer religious faith and level of religiosityHer attitudes towards sexuality/gender rolesHer number of sexual partners in last 12 months (control)
47The sample and the outcome Focus= sexual relationshipsSample=U.S. Women aged 35-44Sexually active women onlyLooked at all sexual partners in the last 12 monthsThe 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
48My findings Age-hypogamy Age-hypergamy: 13% of women have slept with a man who is at least 5 years younger4.5% of women have slept with a man at least 10 years youngerAge-hypergamy:34% of women have slept with at least one man who was 5 years older or more14% of women have slept with a man at least 10 years older or more
49Who is the ‘cougar’ Women’s Income: Women’s race: lower income women are more likely than affluent women to have sex with younger menWomen’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 relationshipsNo difference between never married women and married womenMajority of older woman/younger man sexual relationships actually involve married/cohabiting women
50Who 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 manReligion:Women who never go to Church are more likely than those who go regularly to sleep with a younger manWomen’s level of education:Not significant
51How serious are these relationships? Longevity?Marrying their younger partner?
52My next project- interviewing women Looking for Canadian womenAged 35-55Goal= Understand women’s experience of age-hypogamy in the heterosexual dating contexta) 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
53ReferencesAlarie & 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.
54My contact informationMilaine Alarie PhD (c)Department of SociologyMcGill University