Age disparity, sex and relationships

By: Natalia Jaczkowski

Age gaps - so hot right now? Since this newsletter topic was specifically requested by multiple readers - it seems it may be so! I’ve had this topic on my mind recently after watching the Netflix drama “
May December '' which explores moral grey zones of age gaps in relationships through the story of a couple, Gracie and Joe, with a 23 year age gap. The movie is loosely based on a real life couple, Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau, who met when she was a teacher and he was in second grade. The phrase “May December '' itself is an old-fashioned way of describing a relationship with a big age gap – spring resembling the younger person and December resembling the elder.

I can say decisively that this movie was disturbing, full stop. In NO instance is it okay for an adult to pursue a minor who is still developing their understanding of sex and relationships. Despite their insistence on being madly in love, you realize how conditioned Joe is by Gracie’s emotional manipulation and predatory behaviours. NOT a great example of a hot age gap dynamic. But there is nothing morally wrong with relationships with large age gaps so long as both people are consenting adults of sound judgement. I would go a step further and say that I don’t find anything inherently gross or creepy about couples with large age gaps, and worry that such sentiments may be a form of ageism. I do believe that there is no age limit on feeling sexy and we have the capacity to develop deep romantic and sexual bonds with many different people. 

Though I can’t speak to the quality of the relationships, there are plenty of examples from Hollywood of long-lasting couples with large age gaps. For example, Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds (11 years), Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi (15 years), Amal and George Clooney (17 years), Michael Dougles and Catherine Zeta-Jones (25 years), Sarah Paulson and Holland Taylor (32 years), and, my personal favourite, music legend Cher and music executive Alexander Edwards (40 years). When asked about her boyfriend on the Kelly Clarkson Show in 2022, Cher said: “On paper, it’s kind of ridiculous. But, in real life, we get along great. He’s fabulous. And I don’t give men qualities that they don’t deserve.” Must be a special guy given that she was once so vocal about her happy single life. 

I’ve heard people comment that women who date older men must have daddy issues… this makes me roll my eyes, similarly to when I hear that people who are kinky or into BDSM must have been abused. There isn’t a significant body of research to prove a direct correlation or causation of these things. What’s more, there have been studies to actually debunk this belief. One study on the attachment styles of women-younger partners in age-gap relationships found that 74% of women in age-gap relationships report romantic satisfaction and secure attachment to their partners (link). Why would a gap foster greater trust between partners? There are many possible reasons. For some, there may be a sense of balance with each partner having something different to offer the other to enrich their respective life (e.g., one wisdom and the other a youthful perspective or one provides emotional and financial stability while the other provides openness and excitement). Of course, there is the flip side to this coin as sometimes differences can lead to an inability to understand each other. What is ultimately more important than the age gap itself is the ability of both partners to show compassion and empathy to be able to successfully navigate and resolve issues together. 

I have not personally dated anyone significantly older or younger than me (all of my partners have been 2 years difference or less). HOWEVER, I did have a very sexy encounter with a much younger man a few years ago that I remember fondly. I was travelling in Spain with a good friend of mine and we were staying at a backpackers hostel on the island of Mallorca. Over the course of our week stay there, I kept encountering a cute guy in the main common area where I would do some Kinks & Coffee research and writing. I could tell he was much younger, but I couldn't help checking him out and I noticed he was observing me as well. We would engage in some reciprocal eye flirting and smirks throughout the week, but we didn’t actually speak until my last night at the hostel. My friend and I were socializing with a large group of travellers when he joined us. He tried to integrate into our conversation, but was struggling with limited English speaking skills. I used it as an excuse to break off into a more intimate one-on-one conversation with him because I have decent conversational Spanish. 

I learned that he was a surfer from San Sebastian, that he was on solo travels in Mallorca to do some deep diving, and I learned that he had just graduated from high school. He was 19 and I was 30. Did that stop me from making a move? Heck no. We waited until everyone left the common space before getting hot and heavy. Our sexual play had a boisterous quality to it which was very fun and reminiscent of my highschool days. We spent the next hour making out, dry humping, and fondling each other on the couch over our clothes. I had some fun sliding up and down his body and licking the outside of his pants where his hard cock was protruding. Eventually I slowed things down and gave him the signal that I was going to kiss him goodnight and rejoin my friend in our private room. He begged me to come up to his dorm where he was sleeping on a bunk bed, but that’s where eroticizing youthfulness ended for me – I was not going to hurt my body by fucking on a bunk bed. We could have probably pulled off fucking on the couch in the common space, but to be honest there was something sweet about wrapping it up then and there for me. We exchanged social media contact info and said our goodbyes. I still follow him on Instagram and scope out his sexy surfing pictures from time to time. 

Cradle robbers, sugar daddies, and cougars - oh my! Let’s talk more about age-disparity, sex and relationships…

Age-gap relationship trends

Age-disparate relationships have been documented throughout history, and social attitudes towards them have varied based on the social norms of the day. There are various social theories for why age-disparate relationships have existed. Some factors that have influenced age preferences for mates include partner availability, gender roles, and evolutionary mating strategies. Over the last hundred years, what is considered a “normal” age-gap in partnerships has fallen as a result of shifts in economics and gender equality (e.g., increased female employment and rising levels of education) (source).

Today, cultural differences exist with regards to the prevalence of age-gap relationships. A 2019 Pew Research study analyzed data from 130 countries and territories and found the following:

  • Age gaps are especially common in sub-Saharan Africa, such as Gambia (14.5 years between men and their wives/partners), Guinea (13.5 years) and Mali (12.9 years). 
  • European countries, the United States and China have much narrower gaps (around 2 years difference). 
  • There are differences across religions with Muslims having the widest spousal age gap (6.6. years between men and their wives/partners) followed by Hindus, (5.6 years), Christians (3.8 years), Buddhists (2.9 years), and Jews (2.1 years). 

Across the Western hemisphere, approximately 8% of married heterosexual couples can be classified as having a large age gap (10+ years) (source). In these relationships, the man is generally older than the woman. On average, women report wanting partners who are 3.5 years older than them (source). That being said, the opposite trend is becoming more common with the percentage of younger men marrying older women increasing from 11% in 1980 to 16% in 2017 (source). Limited research on same-sex couples indicates a higher rate of large age gaps with about 25% of male-male unions and 15% of female-female unions demonstrating an age gap of ten or more years (source). 

Sex considerations in age-gap relationships 

More than sharing a similar age, a shared value base and the ability to be compassionate to each other’s perspectives is better able to determine the success of a relationship. In the context of an age disparate relationship, that may require the younger partner to practice compassion in understanding the particular sexual health changes that the older partner may face. 

As people age, they encounter hormonal changes (e.g., menopause) and the increase in likelihood of chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis. These changes can affect sexual function, resulting in issues like loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, orgasm dysfunction, vaginal dryness, prostate issues, etc. These changes may also have a negative impact on one’s mental health, causing stress, anxiety and/or depression which can further impact sexual desire or performance. 

All of this does not mean that an age-disparate couple is doomed to have a healthy sex life. With open communication, a willingness to navigate the age-related changes in sexual health together, and curiosity and patience to explore new ways of experiencing sexual pleasure, an age-disparate couple can continue to have a thriving shared sex life.

Sexual kinks related to age gaps

While they may not be for everyone, some people find a lot of pleasure from engaging in kink play where age difference is part of the role-playing. The umbrella term for this category of kink is age play. Essentially, partners assume personas of different ages within a power dynamic: one person in the older role and the other in the younger role. Often this is within a classic dom/sub context, but not always.

A common form of age play within a power dynamic is daddy/mommy domination. This is when the dominant person takes on a parental role and the other assumes a childlike persona (infant, child, adolescent or teenager). The dominant partner may oscillate between nurturing and disciplining their submissive. They may lovingly feed a snack but then have to deliver a spanking because their sub made a mess! 

Then there are some people who specifically derive pleasure from being treated like an infant - what’s called infantilism or adult baby kink. This type of role-playing usually involves certain props or accessories such as adult-sized diapers, baby bottles, pacifiers, baby clothing and/or baby foods. In this role-playing scenario, one partner is in the baby-like role and the other partner may exclusively role-play caretaking behaviours, such as feeding, bathing and other forms of support typically associated with a parent role.

Remember, age play is fantasy-based. A person enjoying age play is NOT an indicator of sexual attraction to babies or children (pedophilia). As with all forms of kink,clear communication is necessary to set boundaries and ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for all. 

I hope folks have enjoyed learning about this topic and perhaps it has helped to reduce some judgement about people’s relationship choices <3 

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