Men may like ’em young, but they still fuck ’em old. At least according to new research by psychologist Jan Antfolk at Abo Akademi University in Turku, Finland. Antfolk found that while men certainly stay randy and alert at all times for the under-30 set, the sex they are actually having is with women closer to their own age, and that remains true throughout their lives.
This seems like a drastic departure from not only previous research from the same university, but also the relentless conventional wisdom that has long claimed that any woman over 30 is a basket of spiders, sexually speaking. The truth is, we all take what we can get in the sack, and are usually grateful.
First, the old research: Back in 2014, Antfolk looked at data on some 12,000 Finns and found that, in terms of sexual interest, women, from the day they are born to the day they expire, sexually prefer men their own age or slightly older. (Other research has found that the ideal age gap is a man specifically 52 months, or four years and four months, older.)
Meanwhile, men of any age whatsoever agree that nothing is sweeter, hotter, or more sexually desirable than a woman who could not yet have completed a postgraduate degree. This research comes by way of the field of evolutionary psychology, so the best explanation given for this eternal optimism is that younger women are more fertile, and that male brains, uninterested in ever wasting time on someone fun to get coffee with, have no other set of criteria for knockin’ boots than Most Likely to Succeed: Offspring Edition.
To its credit, even that research noted that preference is one thing, and actual experience is another. Because, duh, if men got only their first-choice sexual mates, it would not adequately explain the world’s population. Men aren’t going around only sleeping with 20-somethings while women over 30 are stuck with vibrators and Scandal—and even 20-something women who do have an appetite for older men still have standards and limits. Meanwhile, the barely-legal babes of One Direction are lusted after by women of all ages.
Also, there’s the issue of consent. Just because men want sex with women who won’t know who the band Deep Purple is, doesn’t mean those women will sleep with them. “We found that sexual activity more closely mimics women’s than men’s sexual interest,” the researchers wrote back in 2014. “We conclude that women show larger developmental plasticity than men with regard to the desired object’s age and that men’s heterosexual activity likely is constrained by female choice.” In other words, men would fuck 20-year-olds mostly all the time if they could, but 20-year-olds often won’t fuck them.
To be fair, Finnish people aren’t the only ones saying this sort of thing about men wanting younger women — there’s every piece of popular culture in existence, and also the data of OkCupid. In 2014, the same year as the first research, OkCupid cofounder (and data analyst) Christian Rudder examined the data of millions of user preferences on the site and came to a strikingly similar conclusion — that women on the site tend to select and contact men close to their own age, while men of any age tend pretend to set their filters to something socially acceptable, age-wise, but never contact anyone over 29. Why? Wishful thinking, perhaps. Also boners. Can’t hurt to try, I guess.
But now for the new research, from the same psychologists at Abo Akademi University. This time, Antfolk wanted to expand on the previous work and look for specific age limits regarding the youngest and oldest ages men and women (age 18 to 50) would consider sleeping with, and then compare that to the age of the youngest and oldest partners they’d actually slept with within the last 5 years. The result? Men may prefer younger partners, but they sleep with people their own age, like most of the rest of us. Call off the dogs — we’re all going to be okay.
The researchers found that as men and women got older, so did the age of the youngest person they would consider sleeping with, apart from the homosexual male participants, who maintained an interest in younger men even as they aged. The same was true of actual partners, too, for men and women — the age of the youngest actual partner went up as the participants aged.
“While they continue to consider sex with young women, men also consider sex with women their own age or older,” they write. “Contrary to earlier suggestions, men’s sexual activity thus reflects also their own age range, although their potential interest in younger women is not likely converted into sexual activity.”
That last part, again, is really key to this whole thing: Men still want to sleep with younger women, they simply can’t. In the real world, old people sleep with old people. “Most sexual activity occurs between partners of approximately the same age,” they add.
It’s easy to mock men for their graciousness in slumming it with women their own actual age, but nobody benefits from these sweeping generalizations about sexual preference. Hey, women might be just as inclined to desire younger men as openly as men desire younger women if unforgiving cougar stereotypes didn’t await them — and the more relaxed that shame cycle has become, the more women seem to do exactly that. Recent research found that sleeping with younger men is not the novelty it’s often portrayed as: About 13 percent of sexually active women admitted to having a sexual mate in the previous year who was at least five years younger than them (and 54 percent of those relationships lasted over two years).
That said, we can all dare to dream, but it seems obvious that most people prefer to be with someone who watched the same TV shows they did growing up. Everyone knows that in the real world, regular old people are forced to consort with others just like them. (Except me. Call me, Niall!)