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Why Older Women (Cougars) Seek Sex With Younger Men (Cubs)

A key reason older women pursue relationships with younger men is better sex.

Key points

  • Some women who have been involved with significantly younger men report they appreciate their partner's sexual energy and stamina.
  • Younger men can sometimes provide older women with sex outside the culturally accepted "script."
  • When women have sex with minors, they’re much less likely than comparable men to go to prison, and if imprisoned, they serve shorter sentences.

There have always been couples comprised of older women (cougars) and significantly younger men (cubs), but these relationships went mainstream in 2009 with the premiere of the TV show “Cougar Town.” Then in 2017, Emmanuel Macron was elected president of France, and the media feasted on the fact that his wife, his former high school Latin teacher, was 24 years older. Not surprisingly, sexologists have recently delved into the cougar-cub phenomenon.

"Script-Defying" Sex

A French researcher conducted in-depth interviews with 55 women, aged 30 to 60, who'd been involved with significantly younger men. Their choice of mates involved several factors independent of their age differences: appearance, intelligence, kindness, family background, and sense of humor. But the younger men also gave their older partners a welcome gift—“script-defying” sex.

“Script” refers to sexual scripts, the sexological term for culturally accepted generalizations about lovemaking, what most people consider conventional and normal. Prevalent sexual scripts include:

  • Men lust. Women want to feel desired.
  • “Sex” equals fellatio and intercourse, with perhaps a bit of cunnilingus.
  • Men should orchestrate sex. Women should follow their lead.
  • Women come during intercourse.

These scripts may be widely accepted, but they are seriously mistaken:

  • Yes, the large majority of women want to feel desired. In addition, some—an estimated 5 to 10 percent—also experience lifelong male-style lust. Many cougars said they’d been denigrated by friends and previous close-in-age lovers for having lusty libidos.
  • Sex equals fellatio and intercourse with a little cunnilingus in one key realm—pornography. Porn shows almost constant penis worship, but comparatively little (if any) cunnilingus. This seriously deludes men about women and lovemaking. Gentle, extended clitoral caressing—particularly cunnilingus—is key to most women’s orgasms and erotic satisfaction. Many cougars said they’d tried unsuccessfully to persuade similar-aged lovers to provide oral. They found cubs more open to instruction and much less resistant to providing extended cunnilingus every time. As a result, the women were more consistently orgasmic than many had been with age-matched lovers and reported greater sexual satisfaction.
  • When men orchestrate partner sex, they work up to orgasms around 95 percent of the time. But depending on the study, women’s rate of partner-sex orgasms is only 50 to 70 percent, no matter how long it lasts or how large the erection is. As just mentioned, in cougar-cub relationships, the women insist on extended cunnilingus, which helps them climax. And most cubs appreciate having experienced teachers who clue them into the fine points of pleasuring women and helping them come.
  • When TV and movies depict intercourse, after a few thrusts, both lovers come. Actually, only around 25 percent of women are consistently orgasmic from intercourse alone. The other 75 percent need kissing, cuddling, whole-body massage, genital hand massage, and especially cunnilingus. Compared with men their own age or older, cougars say cubs are more teachable, and therefore, preferable partners.

Finally, in the study, the cougars appreciated their young bucks’ sexual energy and stamina, including their ability to raise new erections soon after ejaculating so the couple could go second and sometimes even third rounds.

While the cougars in the study placed great value on cunnilingus, they did not reject intercourse. On the contrary, they wanted it every time. But they also wanted generous cunnilingus—and made sure their cubs provided it.

Cougar-Cub Sex When the Men Are Minors: Is It Child Abuse?

Many cubs are legal adults—say, 55-year-old women with 30-year-old men. But some cubs are barely teenagers. If a 30-year-old man has sex with a 12-year-old girl, she’s a victim, he’s a pedophile, and most Americans would support locking him up. But if a 30-year-old woman has sex with a 12-year-old boy, is she a pedophile?

In the case of Mary Kay Letourneau, the court thought so. In 1996, Letourneau was a married, 34-year-old elementary schoolteacher in Burien, Washington, when she began a consensual sexual relationship with her then-12-year-old student, Vili Fualaau. The following year, she gave birth to their daughter.

When Letourneau’s husband discovered their affair, he divorced her. Then a relative of his took additional action. He called the police. In a plea bargain, Letourneau was sentenced to six months in jail on the condition that she never see Fualaau again. A month after her release, police caught the two together and she was sentenced to seven years in prison.

In 2004 when Letourneau was released, Fualaau was 20, an adult who could legally consent to sex. He petitioned the court to rescind the no-contact order. His request was granted. The couple married in 2005 and had another child. “I always wanted the relationship,” Fualaau said, “I was never a victim. I’m fine.”

Until the late 1970s, the legal system typically ignored sexual relationships involving cougars and underage boys based on the belief that they caused no harm. Since then, cultural sentiments have changed. If cougars bed underage boys, the courts treat them as sex offenders. But when cougars get busted for sex with minors, they’re much less likely than comparable men to go to prison, and if imprisoned, they serve shorter sentences.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of men with histories of cougar-cub relationships believe there’s nothing wrong with them. In one study, almost two-thirds of adult men who, as minors, had sex with adult women felt fine about it. Many expressed gratitude for their sexual initiation and the erotic instruction they’d received. Of those who felt less than positive, 33 percent felt neutral. Only 5 percent said they’d been abused.

How do you feel about cougar-cub relationships? If adult women have sex with male minors, do you think it’s child sex abuse?


Alarie, M. “Sleeping with Younger Men: “Women’s Accounts of Interplay in Age-Hypogamous Intimate Relationships,” Journal of Sex Research (2019) epub ahead of print.

Hines, D.A. and D. Finkelhor. “Statutory Sex Crime Relationships Between Juveniles and Adults: A Review of Social Scientific Research,” Aggression and Violent Behavior (2007) 12:300.

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