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Your Attraction to Older Women Could Be a Sexual Orientation

Your Attraction to Older Women Could Be a Sexual Orientation: David Livingston, Jason Merritt/Turner, Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images; Pacal Le Segretain/amfAR16/WireImage/Getty Images

David Livingston, Jason Merritt/Turner, Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images; Pacal Le Segretain/amfAR16/WireImage/Getty Images

If asked to describe their sexual orientation, chances are most people will respond by saying whether they’re sexually attracted to men and/or women. This is because most people—some scientists included—think about sexual orientation only in terms of gender. As it turns out, this thinking might be all wrong.

In a paper published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior earlier this year, forensic psychologist Michael Seto argues that sexual orientation should be thought of in much broader terms. He believes that all of us are attracted to several classes of sexual stimuli—of which gender is just one—and that a whole spectrum or continuum of interests exist within each class. For example, humans already have an orientation to a particular species: for most of us, that’s other humans. Most of us also have an orientation to targets that are living (necrophiles notwithstanding). Beyond this, we may also be oriented to partners of certain ages or maturity levels. Enter Soto’s research.

In his paper, Seto argues that age is actually one of the major sexual orientations we have and that different people are innately oriented to others who are at different stages of their lives. Expanding our view of sexual orientation to encompass age can help us to better understand, for example, why some young people are attracted to MILFs, DILFs, silver foxes and cougars (and vice versa) while others are mainly attracted to people of a similar age.

According to Seto, most of us are what he refers to as teliophilies, meaning we are more attracted to young, sexually mature adults—aka people from their late teens through their thirties. Just like heterosexuality is the dominant gender orientation, teliophilia is the dominant age orientation. Some people, however, are attracted to persons who are much younger or much older. These people have what are known as chronophilias, which means they have unusual or uncommon age orientations. Similarly, Seto calls people who are into middle-aged adults—those in their forties and fifties—mesophiles. Those who are into older adults, 60 years and older, something he terms gerontophilia. Chronophilia has been depicted and parodied in pop culture for decades, from Harold and Maude to Demi Moore’s infamous relationship with Ashton Kutcher to recent skits on SNL, wherein Julia Louis Dreyfus breaks it off with her pool boy lover. Their existence might also explain, in part, why Helen Mirren once edged out Megan Fox in an online poll to name the “Sexiest Woman Alive”.

These age orientations aren’t really about age per se, but about one’s level of physical and psychological maturity. We’re talking body size and development, the smoothness or firmness of the skin and whether someone is innocent or experienced. Someone attracted to older adults, for example, might find wisdom and graying hair a turn on.

With gender orientations, people can be bisexual, meaning they’re attracted to more than one sex. They can also be sexually fluid, meaning their pattern of attractions can change over time. Seto argues that both of these phenomena can occur with age orientations. People can be attracted to others at more than one spot on the age spectrum. In addition, it’s possible for these attractions to change as people themselves age. For example, as a heterosexual man gets older, his interest in younger women might stay the same while his interest in middle-aged women increases—or decreases, as Dreyfus, Amy Schumer, Tina Fey and Patricia Arquette once lamented on Inside Amy Schumer.

There are lots of big questions about Seto’s theory we can’t yet answer, such as how chronophilias evolved and why they exist. Many researchers are puzzled by chronophilias specifically because, from an evolutionary perspective, having partners who are not yet fertile or have who haved passed peak fertility would obviously hamper one’s ability to reproduce. Current evidence does suggest that sexual orientations are likely to be innate—at least partially.

A big question this theory raises is that if we consider socially reviled attractions like pedophilia (attraction to minors), zoophilia (attraction to non-human species) and necrophilia (attraction to the dead) to be sexual orientations, does that legitimize or justify the actions taken by people who have these sexual interests?

Let’s be clear: it doesn’t; labeling something as a sexual orientation isn’t the same as endorsing that orientation as appropriate or moral. The model that Seto has developed is purely a scientific one designed to help us better understand and organize diverse sexual interests. It isn’t meant to delineate what is right or wrong when it comes to desire and behavior.

While this new model of sexual orientation raises more questions than it answers (at least right now), I do believe it’s one that Alfred Kinsey, the founder of the modern sex-research movement, would have gotten behind. As Kinsey wrote more than half a century ago in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, “The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behavior, the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex.”


Justin Lehmiller, PhD is a sex educator and researcher at Ball State University and author of the blog Sex and Psychology. Follow him on Twitter: @JustinLehmiller.


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