When you think of the word cougar, what does it conjure up?

Vito Schnabel, 31, is dating model, Heidi Klum, 44.

Rita de Brún says it is cruel to call older women who date younger men ‘cougars’. They just want loving, fulfilling relationships.

When you think of the word cougar, what does it conjure up? Women prowling, their eyes wide-open for trophy-boys to snare?

While many women might be interested in dating younger men, most of those women don’t look like Sex and the City’s Samantha or The Graduate’s Mrs Robinson. Nor do they behave like them.

The dull reality is that most are likely to be older-girl-next-door types, with lives and men so ordinary as to make them next to invisible.

Toyboys are caricatured as gigolos on the make. In reality, most are the opposite of that. Aaron Johnson was just 19 when he first met the then 42-year-old Sam Taylor-Wood. They are married now, and, to judge by 26-year-old’s sizzling-hot Instagram post wishing his missus a happy 50th birthday, the two are as happy-as-pie.

According to Mike Bandar, director of Toyboy Warehouse, which describes itself as the biggest cougar and toyboy dating site in the UK, membership’s growing by 20% per year.

“At present, we’ve around a quarter of a million members,” he says.

Asked for the top reasons why younger men date older women, Mr Bandar lists confidence and the women being “more secure in themselves.”

“Also, they aren’t as interested in game playing, they’ve more experience in relationships, physically, and, of course, the physical attraction is there too.”

He says cougars want physical attraction, along with more passion and energy than men their age have. “They like that toyboys are chivalrous, and that they make extra effort to make women feel special,” Mr Bandar says.

The cougar label isn’t funny; it’s used as a weapon to make women of a certain age feel so diminished, singularly unattractive, and sexually repulsive that the mere notion of them seducing, or being seduced by, a younger man seems unfathomably wrong.

Intriguingly, when it comes to dissing women for ‘cradle-snatching’, other women are the main culprits, with men tending to be merely amused, bemused, or largely uninterested in the topic.

And it is a topic. Toyboys make the news every day. You’ll find the term linked with Demi Moore, Kourtney Kardashian, Heidi Klum, Brigitte Macron, Roo, Kris Jenner, Mariah Carey, Zoë Ball, Elizabeth Hurley, Wendy Deng, Madonna, and Britney Spears, and many more household names, all beautiful, powerful women, none of whom look their age.

The reality, of course, is that older women/younger men couplings are as common as daisies on a summer lawn, with the women all shapes and sizes and the men the same.

In their 2015 study, McGill University sociologists, Milaine Alarie and Jason Carmichael, crushed the fling-myth that’s associated with cougar/toyboy relationships, when they found that 43% of women who are in a relationship with men who are five years younger or more were either married to them or living with them.

The sociologists also debunked the ‘toyboy endures sex with aged-cougar for financial gain’ myth. The least-affluent women (those who made less than $20,000 per year) were twice as likely to be in a relationship with a younger man as those who made $75,000 or more.

This research destroys the core of the cougar/toyboy myth, given that most of these women can scarcely support themselves, so are clearly not paying for the sex they’re hopefully enjoying with the younger men.

As for the so-called toyboys, there’s no age-limit attached to that label, as even the 70-year-old second husband of Great British Bake Off judge, Prue Leith (77), has been labelled that way.

It’s hard to understand why anyone should give a rat’s ass who anyone else sleeps with, assuming they’re consenting, and are not minors.

Where this obsession with dissing the older woman/younger man dynamic came from is equally puzzling. After all, there’s nothing new about it, and, if the history books are right, Cleopatra, Catherine the Great, and Elizabeth 1 all enjoyed the company of younger men.

If it’s sad to look at a couple and see them through a gender or skin-colour lens, it’s pitiful to define them by their age gap.

While we’ve a long way to go in removing the stigma that prevails around age-gap relationships, Mike Bandar has proof that inhibitions are falling away: “We’ve always noticed age-gap dating to be popular among younger men in Ireland, but, recently, we’ve seen an increase in older Irish women joining the site.”


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