Significant age disparity in sexual relationships has been and remains a feature of couples in many cultures and societies. Although the more common pattern in heterosexual couples is an older man with a younger woman, the proportion of the converse (older woman/younger man) has risen significantly in many countries. In extreme cases, age disparity 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.
Reasons for seeking a much younger or older individual with whom to relate intimately can vary wildly. A common perception is that younger mates serve the purpose of a "trophy" or object of status, while older mates are perceived to have greater resources, wisdom, and/or sexual knowledge. Biologically, a young female is desirable for her reproductive potential.
Culture may also play a part. Cultures requiring a bride price or dowry may increase the age of the potential groom relative to his wife. Cultures and countries requiring compulsory service of one sex but not the other – military, religious, etc. – may additionally increase the difference in ages. Some religious requirements with prescriptive rules about marrying widows may produce female older than male marriages.
Societies where divorce is allowed may have increased age disparity between partners as a reassortment of partners occurs following divorces. Access to support from previous marriage(s) in the form of alimony or other legal supports can allow women in cultures to select mates based on non-economic or parental support requirements promoting an older woman-younger man motif.
Several English language slang terms describe pairings in which one individual is much older than the other:
- Chickenhawk—an older gay man who sexually pursues younger males, i.e. "twinks"/"chickens" or, more rarely, underage boys.
- Cougar—a woman, 40 years of age or older, who pursues younger men, typically more than eight years her junior. The origin of the word is debated; however, it is thought to have first appeared in print on the Canadian dating website Cougardate.com and has been used in TV series, advertising and film. The 2007 film Cougar Club was dedicated to the subject and in Spring 2009 TV Land aired a reality show called The Cougar. The sitcom Cougar Town explores the difficulty and stigma of many so-called "Cougars".
- Cradle robber or cradle snatcher —a person involved with a much younger individual.
- Cub—a younger male who is going out with an older partner, often paired with the term Cougar. The term is also often used in the gay community along with the term Bear. While normally used to refer to a partner under 30, this is not a prerequisite.
- Trout — An older man who dates a younger woman. A trout swims downstream hence the term.
- Gold digger—someone (typically a female) who develops a relationship with a much older partner for primarily financial reasons, especially to inherit the partner's wealth upon death (which is expected to come soon).
- Jailbait—a sexually attractive young person who is below the legal age of consent. This designation connotes enticement to endanger oneself of being prosecuted for statutory rape. In California, the term "San Quentin Quail," a reference to the state prison at San Quentin, is used. Perhaps due to the influence of Hollywood on American slang, the expression is used in other states as well.
- Lolita – a sexually precocious girl who is the object of desire of a significantly older man. The term's origin is the name of the title character in Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita, whom the book's narrator, Humbert Humbert, calls a nymphet. While nymphet still describes younger children,[Citation needed] Lolita has come to be applied to older adolescents and young women in the context of pornography.
- May–December romance—a relationship in which the age difference between the two adults is wide enough to risk social disapproval. The issue was explored in depth in a very successful BBC comedy series, May to December.
- MILF (an acronym of "Mother [or 'Mom'] I'd Like/Love to Fuck")—a sexually desirable older woman, though not necessarily one who has children. The term is used frequently as a descriptor of pornography featuring older women. It was popularized by the 1999 film American Pie and is also the name given to the marijuana sold by Nancy Botwin on the Showtime series "Weeds". By 2008, the term was familiar enough to be used on television series such as 30 Rock (episode "MILF Island"), Scrubs (episode "My Last Words") and Pushing Daisies (episode "The Norwegians") without necessitating its definition (which would have violated Federal Communications Commission rules). The 'M' is replaced by 'G' (for 'Grandmother') in the case of women who are in their mid-50s or older, and/or are actual grandmothers; thus, GILF (or G-MILF). The male counterpart terms are DILF (an acronym of "Dad I'd Like to Fuck")–for Dad–within the gay community and FILF–for Father–in the straight community. Other variations have also been used - 2008 Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin was described as a VPILF or GILF (Governor I'd Like to Fuck), although technically she was also a mother and a grandmother.
- Puma—a woman in her late twenties and thirties who dates a younger man (i.e., 20-somethings), often considered a "cougar in training". It also means a cougar whose age disparity is less than eight years.
- Sugar daddy/mama/mommy—a rich, usually older person who offers money or gifts to a less rich, usually younger person in return for companionship or sexual favors. This differs from prostitution in that the older person is usually the sole financial provider to the younger person. In Japan, there is a loosely similar practice known as enjo kōsai.
- Toy boy/Boy toy—a much younger boyfriend or husband of an older woman. In male-male relationships, a toy boy (sometimes toy boi) characterizes the one who is (and usually enjoys being) used for sexual gratification.
- "More women marrying younger men", BBC News, 12 December 2003.
- Levesque, Roger J. R. (1999). Sexual Abuse of Children: A Human Rights Perspective. Indiana University Press, 1, 5–6, 176–180.
- United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1989).
- "Urban Dictionary: cougar". Retrieved on 7 April 2010.
- "Are More Older Women With Younger Men? 'Cougars' on TV and in Real Life Find Romance Overcomes Age Gaps", ABC News, 2005-05-05. Retrieved on 2008-02-24.
- Barrett, Grant. "Time for a cougar?", The Star Online, 17 October 2007. Retrieved on 26 August 2009.
- Cougar & Cub Speed Dating - Is It For You?. The Real Cougar Woman.
- SFBrawnyBear (July 21, 2009). A Day in the Life of a Cub.
- Lux Alptraum (2008-10-29). FILF: Fathers Ffinally Get Their Due. Porn of the Moment. Fleshbot. Retrieved on 2008-10-31.
- VPILF. Retrieved on 2009-04-08.
- Ward, Don. "The Man Behind VPILF.com", Campaign 2008, Seattle Weekly, September 12, 2008.
- "Hollywood's Cougar/Puma Continuum", Fox News. Retrieved on 21 August 2009.
- "Should a Cougar play a Puma?", Fox News, 2009-08-20. Retrieved on 2009-09-27.
- Macdonnell, Jane (2008-03-09). The truth about toy boys. The Sunday Times. Retrieved on 2009-09-27.
- Green, Jonathon (2006). The Big Book of Filth: 6500 Sex Slang Words and Phrases, Illustrated by Kipper Williams, Cassell P L C, 288. ISBN 9780304368242.