The Science of Cougars

If you’re old enough to remember Dustin Hoffman as the young man in 1967’s “The Graduate” being seduced by Anne Bancroft’s Mrs. Robinson, then you’re probably old enough now to be a cougar yourself. We’ve all heard about the female in our modern culture, quaintly referred to as a “Cougar.” The term is applied to a woman in the fall or winter of her life who prefers to date — and presumably have sex with — men in the spring of their lives. While the term cougar implies predatory behavior and some women have trouble with that prejorative, the trend has become so commonplace that it has spawned a TV series called “Cougar Town.”

Now researchers have focussed their lens on the phenomenon and unveiled some biological and social forces that make today’s “Mrs. Robinson” common place.

A recent study published in the Journal of Health Psychology, found that the old fashioned view of menopause as a time of waning sexual energy isn’t true for all women. And that far more influential on sexual behavior than hormonal changes are social and psychological factors. In other words, even if a woman’s sex-hormone levels decline with menopause, her sexual desire may not be affected if she feels youthful and fit and lives in a permissive environment with opportunities to meet younger (or older) men.

In fact, just before she hits full-on menopause, a woman’s sex drive may get a boost. In a paper published in Personality and Individual Differences by psychologists at the University of Texas, women age 27-45 have a heightened sex drive in response to their dwindling fertility. More and more women are waiting until their thirties and forties to bear children, and this study found that those women are more willing to engage in a variety of sexual activities to capitalize on their remaining childbearing years. Such “reproduction expediting” includes one-night stands and adventurous bedroom behavior, including seducing younger men.

But before you run off and sow your wild oats with a younger husband, heed this warning. Young husbands can shorten a woman’s life expectancy. The greater a wife’s age gap from her husband, the lower her life expectancy, according to a new study from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock, Germany. According to the study, the best choice for a woman is to marry a man of exactly the same age; an older husband shortens her life, and a younger one even more so. I’m sure this last study will be dismissed by Cougars everywhere. For, if you’re going to die young, there might be no better place than to go in the arms of a young man!

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