Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Social Science Human Sexuality)


How Women Are Set Up to Fail at Sex

by (author) Lili Boisvert

translated by Arielle Aaronson

Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
Feb 2019
Human Sexuality), Feminism & Feminist Theory, Women's Studies
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2019
    List Price
    $20.99 USD
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Feb 2019
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


When it comes to sex and desire, women are screwed.

In film, on the page, in fashion, and in everyday life, women’s desire is routinely shown as subordinate to men’s — when it isn’t suppressed altogether. Lili Boisvert argues that there is one dominant principle behind heterosexual encounters: that desire is a male phenomenon and women are merely its object. To change this alienating system, she contends, we must start by facing it head-on.

From clothing to flirting, from our fascination with youth and innocence to the orgasm gap, every aspect of women’s lives is dictated by their status as sex objects. Is it any wonder that they are feeling sexually unfulfilled? In a series of explorations of what desire looks like under patriarchy, Screwed sketches the contours of what could be true sexual liberation for women, inside — and outside — the bedroom.

About the authors

Lili Boisvert is a journalist, columnist, and television host. She is the host of Sexplora, a program broadcast on ICI Explora, and the co-creator of Les Brutes on Télé-Québec, a feminist web series on social issues that challenge millennials. She lives in Montreal.

Lili Boisvert's profile page

ARIELLE AARONSON left her native New Jersey in 2007 to pursue a diploma in Translation Studies at Concordia University in Montreal. She holds an M.A. in Second Language Education from McGill University and has spent the past few years teaching English in the Montreal public school system and creating educational material for second language learners. She previously translated Marie-Renée Lavoie’s Autopsy of a Boring Wife and A Boring Wife Settles the Score for Arachnide.


Arielle Aaronson's profile page

Excerpt: Screwed: How Women Are Set Up to Fail at Sex (by (author) Lili Boisvert; translated by Arielle Aaronson)

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?

Other titles by