Pumas, and Cougars, and MILFs, Oh My!: Popular Portrayals of Romance and Sexual Encounters Between ‘The Older Woman’ and Younger Man

  • Melissa Ames
  • Sarah Burcon


When Jennifer Lopez was cast as the lead in Rob Cohen’s 2015 erotic thriller, The Boy Next Door — a film about a middle-aged high school English teacher who sleeps with a student from her school — the irony was not lost on media critics. Lopez’s name — along with that of Madonna, Mariah Carey, Sharon Stone, Sandra Bullock, Julianne Moore, Demi Moore, Susan Sarandon, Robin Wright, Katie Couric, Kathy Griffin, and Ivana Trump — often lands on lists ranking the ‘most notorious’, ‘sexiest’, or ‘hottest’ female celebrities involved with younger men.1 Although The Boy Next Door received little praise from critics, it grossed $35.4 million in the domestic market alone.2 Nearly two decades after the real-life scandal of Mary Kay Letourneau — the teacher who not only slept with her 12-year-old student, but also gave birth to his child while out on bail and married him once he became of legal age following her imprisonment — it might seem as if the teacher/student sexual liaison storyline has become almost banal. And with so many lists dedicated to detailing the romantic exploits of older women and younger men, one would think such relationships are no longer looked upon as deviant, right? Wrong.


Popular Culture Double Standard Sexual Double Standard Mother Lover Soda Bottle 


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  1. 3.
    For more on the sexual double standard, see also Keith Thomas’s seminal text, ‘The Double Standard’ (Journal of the History of Ideas, 1959); Elizabeth Reis’s American Sexual Histories (Wiley-Blackwell, 2001);Google Scholar
  2. Angus McLaren’s Twentieth-Century Sexuality: A History (Wiley-Blackwell, 1999);Google Scholar
  3. Nancy F. Cott’s The Grounding of Modern Feminism (Yale University Press, 1987);Google Scholar
  4. and Joanne Meyerowitz’s Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945–1960 (Temple University Press, 1994).Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Gibson, Valerie. Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men. Toronto: Key Porter Books, 2008.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Targosz, Cyndi. Dating the Younger Man: Guide to Every Woman’s Sweetest Indulgence. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2009.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Franklin, Linda. Don’t Ever Call Me Ma’am: The Real Cougar Woman Handbook. Charleston, SC: Messenger House, 2009.Google Scholar
  8. 27.
    Herz, Adam. American Pie. Dirs. Paul and Chris Weitz. Universal City, CA: Universal Pictures, 1999.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Melissa Ames and Sarah Burcon 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melissa Ames
    • 1
  • Sarah Burcon
    • 2
  1. 1.Eastern Illinois UniversityUSA
  2. 2.University of MichiganUSA

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