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Age disparity in sexual relationships
Jan 13, 2013

Significant age disparity in sexual relationships has been a feature of both heterosexual and same-sex couples in many cultures and societies. The most common pattern in heterosexual couples is an older man with a younger woman. This may be brought about as an arranged marriage, or either member may pursue and initiate the relationship in those societies that favor freer association. Situations involving a younger male with an older female also exist, but are not as common. Age disparity in extreme cases may be seen as dysfunctional (a paraphilia) if such relationships are pursued to the exclusion of all others and to the detriment of the partners. The term alphamegamia can be used when a person is sexually aroused by partners of a different age group, and "chronophilia" can describe a sexual fixation on members of a different age group.


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Many arranged marriages have been age-disparate, with the husband being much older than the wife. Mail-order brides have been frequently younger than their husbands.

Age disparity in same-sex male relationships was even more historically common than age similarity in such relationships. (Such relationships were practised in Ancient Greece, pre-Modern Japan, Melanesia, Islamic landsRenaissance Italy.) and

Monarchs have traditionally exercised the freedom to choose younger spouses; Henry VIII, for instance, chose women far younger than himself as some of his wives, and a number of female monarchs have chosen younger consorts. Sultans from the Middle-East maintained entire harems of much younger women.

Other historical examples include John Rolfe and Pocahontas, and Laura Ingalls Wilder and Almanzo Wilder (both ten-year differences) in America; William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway (eight-year difference) in England.

Modern times

In keeping with modern American mores, a folk formula (sometimes referred to as the Trophy Rule) seems to have evolved so as to compute correct disparities of age between older and younger partners, this being "divide by two and add seven", else the relationship is liable to be subject to moral disapprobation. The minimum age for the use of the formula is 14 years old as (14/2)+7=14.

The United States Census Bureau's March 2000 statistics show that 800,000 unmarried American couples are more than five years divergent in age, and 7 in 100 of women who have married more than once have a husband six or more years younger than they.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were only seven years different in their ages but apparently believed that it was less socially acceptable for an older woman to marry a younger man, and hence split the difference in their ages and both claimed to have been born in 1914.


There are many factors which draw both young and old into such age-disparate relationships.

Fertility and evolutionary psychology

Women generally begin to lose fertility as they enter their late thirties, and lose it completely after menopause, while men remain fertile until much later in life, although it declines over time. Evolutionary psychology[citation needed] Certainly, anyone deliberately looking for a mate to breed with must pick someone of an age of likely fertility. Moreover, senior men, even during prehistoric times, often had access to relationships and resources which would allow for them to foster the growth of their offspring. suggests that people are more likely to be attracted to people who look like they might be fertile.

Social/psychological factors

Some older partners may seek the connection with the culture of youth, maintaining a connection with the fashion, the music, the media which their age group has ostensibly outgrown. They view the generation gap as an obstacle to overcome, especially if they feel they have "missed out".

Younger partners may be searching for someone who is their superior, either socially or financially more secure, or to provide critical life guidance.

Finally, younger partners may see their relationship with an older person as a way of increasing their status within their society. This phenomenon is colloquially called "gold digging" when it involves a strictly mercenarymoney. attitude about

Older partners may seek the youth which has escaped them. They may seek the sexual vigor of the young, which partners of their own age group may no longer possess. Younger partners, on the other hand, may be seeking a parent figure, a sexually more experienced partner than partners of their own age or just somebody to provide life guidance.

Many psychologists study the phenomenon of age disparity, and have observed certain extremes of the above referenced behavior. They have coined a number of terms to describe various types of psychological preferences [2]:

  • Chronophilia is a fairly obscure general term, applied to any age-related preference.
  • Ephebophilia is the attraction of older individuals to adolescents (children who reached puberty), a phenomenon generally not assigned a separate term in most cultures unless it is between adult males and adolescent boys.
  • Infantophilia is the attraction of older individuals to small children (ages ranging from 0 to 5).
  • Pedophilia is the attraction of older individuals to pre-adolescents.
  • Teleiophilia, a generally unused term, is the attraction of younger individuals to older individuals.
  • Gerontophilia is the rarely seen attraction of non-elderly individuals to the elderly.

Of these, pedophilia has attracted a great deal of attention in the western media, especially since popular use (at least in some western countries) has merged the concept of ephebophilia and infantophilia with that of pedophilia, which has become known as attraction to any individual considered too young to consent to sexual relations. Widely-varying age of consent laws have been passed to deter adults from entering sexual relationships with people considered underage. In countries where the legal age of consent is lower (e.g. 13 to 15), the concept of pedophilia has not merged with that of ephebophilia, and the local media avoids distorting the word this way.

Age disparity as paraphilia

There is also the issue of whether all age-disparate relationships fall under the definition of paraphilia. Individuals who exclusively pursue age-disparate relationships are generally classified by psychologists as parasexual, that is, their behavior is qualitatively different from the norm. Individuals who occasionally pursue age-disparate relationships are not included in this category, except in the popular press. As is speculated with other practices considered paraphilia, sexual imprinting may play a role in age-disparate relationships.

Social criticism

In some societies age-disparate relationships are seen as aberrant or even perverse. Historically, the "gold digger" mentality has been frowned upon as being akin to prostitution. The age difference that is generally accepted by modern society varies directly with the age of the individuals involved in the relationship; larger differences are more acceptable with older individuals. For example, while a seven-year difference might be considered unacceptable (even illegal in some places) between a 22-year-old and a 15-year-old, it is less remarkable between a 30-year-old and a 23-year-old, and unnoticed completely between a 58-year-old and a 51-year-old.

Response to criticism

Some information in this article or section has not been verified and may not be reliable.
Please check for any inaccuracies, and modify and cite sources as needed.

Few people are willing to defend cases of age disparity such as between an adolescent and an adult. In cases where both partners are above the local age of consent, however, age-disparate couples are quick to defend the legitimacy of their relationships. See Gerry Studds

While it is true that some relationships have been labelled as "gold digging" (that is to say, the younger partner's primary interest in the older partner is his/her financial circumstance), a popular adage is "love is blind". For those who feel they are in love, it doesn't matter if their partner is several years older than they are. And as factors such as the divorce rate, changing patterns in dating, and basic incompatibilities affecting personal relationships, the average age difference between prospective partners has also changed.

Many find that the younger partner is appreciative of the life experience and wisdom the older partner brings, and the older partner appreciates the vigor, enthusiasm, and new political, social, and cultural perspectives their young partner has to offer.[citation needed]

Slang terms

A number of slang terms exist to describe pairings in which one individual is much older than the other:

  • Bobcat refers to a younger women aspiring to be an older woman who sexually pursues younger men (see cougar below).
  • Boytoy (or toyboy) refers to a young boy or man in a relationship with an older woman or man. Use of this terminology is considered by some to be impolite.
  • Coubian refers to an older, (usually) masculine woman who sexually pursues younger women regardless of sexual orientation.
  • Cougar refers to an older woman who sexually pursues younger men.
  • Gold digging refers to a relationship in which a young person pursues an older person for monetary gain.
  • Jailbait refers to a particularly sexually attractive person, female or male, below the legal age of consent. This designation connotes enticement to endanger oneself of being prosecuted for statutory rape.
  • Lolita refers to a sexually precocious young girl who is the object of desire of a significantly older man. The term refers to the title character of Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita, who is referred to by the book's narrator, Humbert Humbert, as a nymphet. While "nymphet" is still used to refer to children, "Lolita" has come to be applied to older adolescents and young women in the context of pornography. In South America, "Lolita" is slang for a prostitute, a usage unrelated to Nabokov's novel.
  • May-December Romance is a general and non-prejudicial expression for an age-disparate relationship. The expression draws an implicit analogy between one's lifetime and the time of year. Thus "May" refers to the younger partner, who is in the spring of his or her life. "December" is the elder partner, in the winter of his or her life.
  • MILF refers to mothers who attract the sexual attention of high-school boys. This acronym was popularized by the movie American Pie and is frequently referred to in pornography. The term may also stand for Mama Is Looking Fine.
  • Mrs. Robinson, a reference to the movie The Graduate, refers to an older woman romantically involved with a younger man.
  • Robbing the Cradle (also known as Cradle Snatcher) may refer to a situation in which an older individual seduces a much younger one, and stigmatizes the act through its use of the word "robbing". The tone of this phrase is highly situational—in some cases, where consensuality in a relationship is clear, it is often used in a jesting manner, but where consensuality may not be evident, it can be intended in a very pejorative sense. People who 'rob the cradle' are commonly called "cradle snatchers" or "cradle robbers".
  • Robbing the Grave may refer to the opposite situation, where the object of affection is an older person.
  • Sugar Daddy refers to a rich, usually older man who offers money or gifts to a less rich, usually younger person in return for companionship or sexual favours. This term is also slang for a pimp.
  • Sugar Mama (compare to sugar daddy) refers to a rich, usually older woman who offers money or gifts to a less rich, usually younger person in return for companionship or sexual favours.