It’s the most recent feminist talking point: men’s preference for young, attractive women is misogyny and a result of the “patriarchy.” For example, I recently saw a viral social media post claiming that the meme “men age like wine, women like milk” is only a consequence of the patriarchy not allowing women to age.
Proponents of this theory cite phenomena like the fact that many famous cinematic romances feature women in their early 20s with men 10, 20 or even 30 years older. However, the question is: Is life imitating art, or is art imitating life?
The truth is, men’s preference for young women at the peak of their health and fertility is natural, universal and innate. It’s not oppressive to women, but policing male sexuality is oppressive to men.
What Does the Data Say Men Like?
Hollywood isn’t the only place it’s apparent that men are drawn to younger women. Specifically, data from OKCupid showed that regardless of their own age, men consistently give more attention to younger women. The most common preferred age being 20, and female desirability peaks at age 21 and falls below the average by age 31. The median 30-year-old male user on the site messages 18 and 19 year olds just as often as women his own age, but has little interest in women just a few years older than him.
Women’s preferences, on the other hand, are a function of their own age. They seem to prefer men their own age or older, with a dramatic upswing in messages to older men starting around age 29. Men’s attractiveness based on age doesn’t fall below the average until age 36, and at age 48, men have a dating pool twice as large as women.
Peer-reviewed scientific research backs this up. A study in the journal Sexualities, Evolution & Gender where men were supposed to choose their ideal mates for a brief sexual encounter while using methodology to minimize the effects of social taboos found that the average preferred age was 18.
The Biology Behind Men’s Age Preferences
Anyone who’s studied the animal kingdom would hardly be surprised at the differing age preferences by gender. For instance, due to hunting, the mating patterns of white-tailed deer have been widely studied. Bucks go to great lengths, even forgoing feeding during the mating season, to chase fertile does, even if they’ve just recently gone into heat.
Meanwhile, it usually takes bucks several years before they’re able to mate. This is because they must gain the experience to fight off rival bucks and secure territory and resources.
All these principles are even more significant in humans. This is partly because women have a limited fertile window. They have a limited number of eggs. While the number of eggs and therefore the fertile window of each woman differs, a young woman is much more likely to still be fertile than an older one. For this reason, men have evolved to be instinctively attracted to youth. Men who mated with young women were historically more likely to successfully reproduce.
Additionally, human pregnancy is incredibly strenuous and dangerous relative to that of other animals. Historically, and even in the modern era, being fit and healthy increases the chances of a successful pregnancy and birth.
Just like athletic ability declines after one’s early 20s, so does the physical fitness necessary for pregnancy and labor. Geriatric pregnancy is considered pregnancy after age 35 because of the heightened risk of genetic abnormalities as well as the potential for complications and the death of the mother or child. Though modern medicine has somewhat negated this, an attraction to younger women, who were fitter and more prepared for pregnancy, historically improved men’s chances of successful reproduction, thus imprinting this instinct on the male mind.
For women, this isn’t necessarily true because a man’s physical fitness is only partly important and secondary to his ability to provide resources, which is more a function of his social standing—or in modern civilization, wealth. Fitting with the OkCupid data, men seem to maximize their combination of both physical fitness and social status in their mid-30s to early 40s.
Indeed, a study of the nomadic Sami people before industrialization and modern medicine showed that both men and women maximized their reproductive success in marriages where the man was 15 years older than his wife. While the Sami live in an extreme environment (northern Scandinavia and Finland) that probably exaggerates this dynamic, it’s still good evidence that male attraction to younger women (and vice versa) is an evolutionary instinct.
Why Does Society Want to Police Men’s Sexuality?
Considering men’s attraction to younger women is natural and instinctive as well as women’s attraction to relatively older, successful men, blaming this dynamic on patriarchy and men’s participation in it oppressive is clearly a disingenuous way to restrict men’s sexuality. Despite the common narrative that society only restricts female sexuality, social restriction on male sexuality is actually quite common.
In fact, society has long policed male sexuality for the benefit of women. For example, bachelor taxes have historically penalized men living the single life. This was to encourage monogamous marriages so that all women were provided for.
Making men’s attraction to younger women taboo, or in this case, politically incorrect, serves the same purpose. Otherwise, older women would frequently end up socially discarded for younger, more fertile women. They would no longer have financial or emotional support. An attempt to shame men for seeking out younger women is simply a collective way to force men to serve the needs of older women.
Men Having Preferences Isn’t Patriarchy, Shaming Them Is Misandry
Since we know why men prefer younger women and why modern society tries to restrict this preference, we can more easily analyze the social implications of these restrictions—and whether they’re justified. Most evidently, it’s clear that feminists calling men misogynists for their sexual preferences and blaming the importance of youthfulness in female attraction on “patriarchy” isn’t at all forward thinking or progressive. It’s regressive, repressive and conservative.
In other words, feminists are promoting a misandristic narrative to serve their own benefits while sacrificing the innate sexuality of men. While it’s true that society has often restricted certain parties for the benefit of the whole, we can see that in this case, it’s no longer justified, if it ever was. Thanks to industrial automation, most work is no longer physically intensive, and women can easily support themselves through gainful employment. We have no need to force men to support older women financially.
With that in mind, shaming men’s sexuality in this way can only serve the purpose of manipulating men into satisfying women’s emotional and psychological needs by denying their own sexuality. This is far from gender equality or in line with the values of our liberal society. On the contrary, men should be allowed to express their sexuality however they choose and make their own assessments and trade offs regarding sexual satisfaction, commitment, love and relationships. That would be true equality.