Human Sexuality (see Also Psychology

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PrEP, Pedagogy, and the Politics of Barebacking
edited by Ricky Varghese
afterword by Tim Dean
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What I remember most is what happened after.

I’m sitting in my car, staring out the windshield. It’s raining, and it’s late, maybe 3 or 4 in the morning. The wipers are on but the car is not. I watch them spread the rain across the windshield (badly on the right side, that wiper has been broken for years). I listen to the rhythmic squee for a while, staring, not quite able to turn the car on and drive myself home. My thoughts don’t seem to want to take an order. I’m not physically hurt, I’m fine. I’m fine. I think I’m fine. But I left my best friend’s house at 3 or 4 in the morning in the rain because I needed to get the hell out of there. And now I’m sitting here across from his apartment, listening to a broken windshield wiper, not getting the hell out.

I don’t know how long I sat there before I finally figured out I could turn the car on and go home. Sometimes I try to remember, really get the details in order, sort out what happened, go back to the beginning and think it through til the end, but it’s difficult, like trying to get ants to walk in a straight line. It gets mixed up with other memories—the other times he’d tried to touch me when I didn’t want him to. Or when pushed me into a dark room and locked the door behind him. Or trying to leave earlier that same night, sitting on the stairs, my coat half on, him pleading with me to stay, me making him promise nothing would happen. I remember enough, anyway.

When a bad thing happens, you have to survive twice. First you have to survive the thing itself. You have to be physically alive after the thing has happened. That’s certainly key to the whole process. But then you have to survive again, to get through the consequences of the thing that didn’t kill you. You have to figure out how to be a person in a world where your trust in people or your faith in what you think the world is has been shattered. Survival is a gift, but not always the kind you want. Sometimes it’s like the worst of Grandma’s Christmas sweaters, because still existing after a terrible thing happened is confusing and painful and sometimes itchy and definitely comes back every Christmas.

So survive we must. However long it takes, we need to create a container of safety before we can start dealing with the devastation of sexual assault. We need to see that whatever we had to do to survive at the time was what we had to do, and we survived, goddammit. It doesn’t matter if we smoked ten thousand cigarettes or dated all the wrong people or pushed away everyone we cared about or drank ourselves to the bottom of the ocean. Your desire, your will to power, your creativity, your ability to love and connect and fuck and feel don’t completely die unless you completely die. Whatever happened, if you’re still alive, you can heal.

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How Women Are Set Up to Fail at Sex
also available: eBook
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Chapter 2: Cougars and Nymphets: Glorifying the Younger Woman

In 2014, fifty-three-year-old George Clooney married Amal Alamuddin, a lawyer in her midthirties. The day after the news broke, I sat with my coffee, reading a column by a journalist in her fifties who considered the relationship proof of a mid-life crisis, an ugly reality that can strike indiscriminately and leaves no aging wife safe in her marriage. As I came across similar stories, I couldn’t help wondering whether the phenomenon is really as widespread as they say. I am, after all, about the same age as Amal Clooney. If the phenomenon is real, that means many women under thirty-five are dating men ten, fifteen, even twenty years their senior. So where are all the single men my age hiding?

Statistically speaking, there should be a single man out there for every single heterosexual woman — after all, the population is fairly evenly split between the genders. If men in their fifties prefer to date younger women, then it follows that there are fewer younger women available. Logically, this should create an untapped pool of single young men who are potential partners for the older women. If this is the case, then why do we often hear about the former situation (older men with younger women) but rarely the latter (older women with younger men)?

Is the older man + younger woman combination really so common? And if the answer is yes, wouldn’t it invariably lead to young men and older women coupling up?

Enter the “cougar”: if we’re talking about courtship, age gaps, and the hunt, we can’t gloss over this contemporary female archetype.

Throughout history, women have been expected to abandon their sex drive as they aged, simply because it was believed that men lost interest in them. A woman was supposed to pass without protest from spring blossom to fading bloom.

Until recently, this shift manifested with motherhood. A woman would transition from eligible maiden, to bride, to mother. And once the kids arrived, the role of mother replaced that of sexual being and object of desire. 1 Women were expected to steer their lives according to this trajectory. First, devote body and soul to securing a husband; once this has been achieved, raise their children with the same utter devotion. A mother was not expected to attract men once she had settled down: her life had taken a new direction, one that desexualized her.

In today’s world, with sexuality being trivialized and multinational corporations constantly hunting for new markets, the situation has changed. Mothers are no longer encouraged to renounce their sex appeal. On the contrary, marketing firms do everything they can to sell women products designed to keep them looking young. The imperative to appear youthful ensures that these products (hair dyes, push-up bras, makeup, anti-aging creams, plastic surgery, trendy clothing, etc.) are in constant demand.

This is partly why becoming a mother no longer stands in the way of a woman’s sexualization. And this has given rise to two new cultural phenomena: the cougar and the MILF.

The MILF (Mother I’d Like to Fuck) and the cougar are two distinct concepts. A MILF is a woman who is objectified. A man’s desire is central to the expression: the man is the subject, the “I,” who is acting on the object. The sex drive of the mother in question is not part of the equation.

But while the MILF complies with the stereotype of the passive woman, the concept of the cougar is quite revolutionary.

The cougar is a subject who desires; her sex drive is central to the expression defining her. The image of the “cougar” suggests a predatory relationship. The cougar is no prey; she is a huntress.

But even so, does the cougar undermine the cumshot principle? This question deserves a closer look.

The cougar is no longer a spring blossom, but nor is she necessarily a mother. The word simply refers to a woman who is attracted to men significantly younger than she is.

The term entered popular culture around the turn of the millennium to describe celebrities like Demi Moore or Madonna. But New Zealand researchers Zoe Lawton and Paul Callister have traced the expression’s origin to Canada, in the 1980s.2 According to their research, the Vancouver Canucks, a professional hockey team, coined the term to refer to older single women who attended games in the hopes of sleeping with attractive young players. The expression was then picked up by columnist Valerie Gibson of the Toronto Sun in 2001. The following year, Gibson published a book providing tips for older women who want to date younger men. In it, she related her own experiences with men ten to twenty years her junior.

The age difference in Gibson’s case is significant, but it isn’t always so for cougars. A woman may be called a cougar even if she is only a few years older than her partner. In fact, the unusual nature of any relationship involving an older woman and a younger man is quickly remarked on — and amplified. Once, when I was twenty-nine and dating a twenty-five-year-old, an acquaintance compared our “age difference” to that of her own relationship: she was thirty, her partner fifty.

Yet in our culture, men can easily be older than their partner without raising any eyebrows. People may call attention to a large age gap, but not systematically and with less intensity. Why is that?

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