Significant age disparity in sexual relationships has been and remains a feature of couples in many cultures and societies. The most common pattern in heterosexual couples is an older man with a younger woman. This may be brought about as an arranged marriage, or either member may pursue and initiate the relationship. Relationships involving a younger male and an older female also exist, and while not as common, have become considerably more common in recent years. Homosexual relationships of both sexes may also exhibit age disparity; when between an adult male and adolescent boy, the term "pederasty" is sometimes used, especially in European historical context. In extreme cases, age disparity may be seen as dysfunctional (a paraphilia) if such relationships are pursued to the exclusion of all others and to the detriment of the partners. Sexual relationships involving an adult or adolescent and a prepubescent child are defined as child sexual abuse in all modern societies.
Factors leading into a search for a younger individual with whom to share an intimate relationship can vary wildly. A common perception is that younger mates serve the purpose of a "trophy", or object of status.
Many psychologists study the phenomenon of age disparity, and have observed certain extremes of this behavior.
There is also the issue of whether all age-disparate relationships fall under the definition of paraphilia. Individuals who exclusively pursue age-disparate relationships are generally classified by psychologists as parasexual, that is, their behavior is qualitatively different from the norm. Individuals who occasionally pursue age-disparate relationships are not included in this category, except in the popular press. As is speculated with other practices considered paraphilia, sexual imprinting may play a role in age-disparate relationships.
In some societies age-disparate relationships are seen as aberrant or even perverse. Historically, the "gold digger" mentality, when one member of a couple uses the other romantically or sexually because of his or her material wealth and social power, has been frowned upon as being akin to prostitution. The age difference that is generally accepted by modern Western society varies directly with the age of the individuals involved in the relationship; larger differences are more acceptable with older individuals. For example, while an eight-year difference might be considered unacceptable between a 23-year-old and a 15-year-old, it is less remarkable between a 30-year-old and a 22-year-old, and generally unnoticed completely between a 58-year-old and a 50-year-old.
The "half-your-age-plus-seven rule" is one rule of thumb defining a mathematical formula to judge whether the age difference in an intimate relationship is socially acceptable. It should be noted that the lower one's age, the smaller the age difference can be, thus rendering this rule questionable for anyone less than 19 years old. Mathematically speaking, the rule is:
A number of slang terms exist to describe pairings in which one individual is much older than the other:
On film, it was used in 2004's ''National Lampoon's Going the Distance'' and in 2007's ''Ocean's Thirteen. The 2007 film Cougar Club'' was dedicated to the subject - its plot was about two males creating a club where parties are thrown where male members get the chance to meet and have sexual encounters with "cougars".
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