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Are Men Biologically Hardwired To Chase After Much Younger Girls?

Myths, science, and social conventions behind male attraction

By Katie JglnPublished about a year ago 9 min read
Lolita (1997) film with Dominique Swaim and Jeremy Irons; Photo: Allstar/Cinetext/Pathe

I was only 16 when I started dating a man significantly older than me.

He was in his mid-30s back then.

Yes, that was legal. The age of consent in my home country - like in the vast majority of other European countries - is 15.

Of course, just because it was legal, it doesn't mean it was right. But my 16-year-old self didn't think twice about it. He was a DJ, he traveled a lot and had a motorcycle. I thought he was cool, and that was enough for me.

Needless to say, neither of these things would impress me today. But they sure did when I was a teenager with little to no life experience. And even though I was just that - an inexperienced, and quite frankly, stupid teenager - I used to hear that I was 'mature for my age' and 'an old soul' from the mouths of older guys. Two common bullshit phrases used by predators and groomers alike, as I found out later on.

But I didn't know that back then. And how could I have known? I was never given a manual on how to be a young girl in a world full of creeps.

I thought that was normal. Older men and young girls. You see it everywhere, after all. But why is that? And to what extent can you explain this type of attraction with biology?

'The Lolita Effect'

Many, if not most, people don't find anything shocking about older men dating much younger women. It has become common and generally accepted within society.

And one of the reasons why is that popular culture normalized and even romanticized these relationships.

They are showcased by movies, books, reality TV shows, grocery store tabloids, and Hollywood hookups. Think movie Lolita (1997), based on the 1955 novel of the same title by Vladimir Nabokov, the entire dating history of Leonardo DiCaprio and the pantheon of dad-bodied, middle-aged Hollywood men and their Gen-Z lovers.

Ever since that pouty-lipped Lolita fantasy became pervasive - which some dubbed 'The Lolita Effect' - I'd even go as far as to say that it's become expected of older men to seek young girls actively. Because it telegraphs, 'I'm still young, relevant and can get the hottest piece of ass around here.'

But with the rise of high-profile sexual misconduct cases involving older men and underage girls - like that of R. Kelly or Jeffrey Epstein - it's hard to ignore this kind of predatory fetishization of girls.

And as more survivors of underage sexual harassment and grooming come forward, it starts to sound like over-sexualization and exploitation of young girls isn't just a series of individual tragedies.

It is an epidemic.

Most men find younger women to be more desirable

One recent study looked at nearly 200,000 heterosexual users of online dating apps and found that while men's desirability peaks at age 50, women hit their prime at 18. Yes, that was also the lowest possible age in this research. A different study conducted by a dating website found that 'the median 30-year-old man spends as much time messaging teenage girls as he does women his own age.'

The conclusion from both of these studies is quite straightforward. Most heterosexual men find much younger women - even teenagers - to be the most desirable.

And from my own experience, these findings make sense. I was getting a lot of attention from older men as a teenager - even when I was as young as 13 - then less so when I was in my early 20s and even less so now, in my late 20s.

As our youth and beauty fade away, so does the attraction from men. And that's because we live in a patriarchal society that still equals women's worth to her looks, which are presumed to diminish with age. In the past, that could make sense since women didn't have any rights and, in most cases, couldn't bring anything else to the table - like money, status, or power.

The thing is, we do have rights now. Not everywhere and not entirely, but it's a massive improvement from the situation a century ago. Sure, youth and beauty will always be attractive - to everyone, not only men.

But women are not actively seeking much younger partners as often as men. Why not?

How much of this attraction can be explained by biology?

Some people claim that this type of relationship occurs so often because 'men are biologically 'hardwired' to pursue younger women, since they are more fertile, and because of the good old 'men are more visual than women.'

Is there even a grain of truth in any of these claims?

Even though it's a common presumption that men respond more strongly to visual stimuli than women, this is just a scientific myth. The latest neuroscientific research shows that neuronal response to visual sexual stimuli is entirely independent of biological sex. And it's the sociological factors that play a much more significant role in men's visual stimulation rather than anything related to our biology.

As for the other piece of conventional wisdom that states men are evolutionarily predisposed to want to fuck women at the peak of their fertility, it's a rather poorly document claim. Those on Team Evolution use the prevalence of the pattern as the only evidence that it's universal. And those on Team Society hypothesize that the difference in preferred age for a partner is the product of societally determined gender roles.

One study even suggests that it's precisely this preference for younger mates that caused older women to become infertile in the first place. Yes, this means we could possibly 'blame' men for menopause.

Now, we all know that correlation doesn't imply causation. This pattern's existence is not enough proof that biology plays a part in men's attraction towards younger girls.

And if Team Evolution were correct, then women would choose younger partners, too. Men's fertility declines every year after age 20, as with women. It takes a 40-year-old man nearly two years to achieve a pregnancy with a woman at peak fertility. Again, it's a myth that men remain fertile all of their lives and can parent children as long as they perform sexually.

So, no - you can't really use biology as a driving force behind men's attraction towards younger women. There just isn't enough evidence to support this argument.

But one thing is clear: scientific myths about men's sexuality tend to stick around because they make sense in light of traditional social roles and gender ideology.

Something else is at play here

I met my much older ex in a club that was a well-known spot for teenagers and students. From the perspective of time, it became clear to me that the only reason someone much older would come to a place like that was to pick up younger girls. But why?

According to the traditional understanding of gender roles and masculinity, men are expected to be the strong, assertive, and dominant providers. How much easier is it to be one if your partner is dependent on you by default because of their age?

I know I thought my ex was great, simply because he had a job (sort of) and drove a motorcycle. He also had more life experiences than me and was - most likely - more emotionally and mentally mature. Not that he made a mature choice by going to a party for teenagers, but because I was incredibly immature at 16.

The thing is - most teenagers and young adults are. Research on brain development confirms that most people don't reach full maturity until the age of 25. Yes - 25, not 18 as we once thought.

So if a middle-aged or older man dates a woman who is less than 25 years old, the power imbalance will inevitably always be there. Because her brain is literally still under development.

Men who actively seek much younger girls and simultaneously refuse to date women their own age aren't looking for an equal. They are looking for someone with less maturity, opinions, and agency than grown women. Someone to control, manipulate and possibly take advantage of.

If this isn't peak predatory behavior, I don't know what is.

Luckily, even my clueless 16-year old self could feel something was off about that relationship. I ended it very quickly and tried my best to steer away from much older men from that point onwards.

With more gender equality, this phenomenon ceases to exist

If men and much younger women's relationships are driven by traditional gender roles and stereotypes, does it mean there are fewer of them in societies with greater gender equality?

One study on age differences between spouses in 37 countries in light of those countries' scores on the UN gender equality index confirms precisely that. As gender equality increased, men expressed less preference for younger women, and consequently, the difference in the preferred age of mates became smaller.

And that's because with greater gender equality, the need for traditional gender roles diminishes. Women can become economic providers. Men can become the primary homemakers. Or both of them can equally share their domestic duties and provide for their family.

Sadly, full gender equality exists only in a handful of European countries. Everywhere else, traditional gender roles are a well-established norm. And relationships between older men and younger women are all too common.

Even though it's ultimately no one else's business what happens between two consenting adults, I do think that perpetuating the belief that men are 'biologically hardwired' to desire and date younger women is exceptionally toxic. Firstly, because it contributes to over-sexualization and exploitation of young girls, many of whom are underage.

And secondly, it too often serves to frighten women. To make us grateful for the male attention we receive and 'warn' us that it could all evaporate within a few short years.

Because following that logic, you might invest in a decades-long relationship, believing you were loved for your true self, only to find that it didn't matter anymore once you become a woman of 'a certain age.' Men would naturally be tempted to stray to someone else with firmer breasts and shinier hair.

Conveniently, it's not their fault - it's just their 'biology.' That's bullshit. It's 100% their fault.

And a man who believes that a woman his own age is too old to love isn't a man. He is a man-child at best.

The claim that men are 'biologically hardwired' to chase younger women is mostly an assertion of power cloaked in scientific myths.

More than being hardwired to do anything, men are simply given societal permission to pursue much younger women. And patriarchy plays a role in this, too.

As Susan Sontag wrote in her 1975 essay, 'The Double Standard of Aging':

Taste is not free, and its judgments are never merely 'natural.' Rules of taste enforce structures of power.

This story was originally published on Medium.


About the Creator

Katie Jgln

Sometimes serious, sometimes funny, always stirring the pot. Social sciences nerd based in London. Check out my other social media:

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