Age disparity in sexual relationships  

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Ill-Matched Lovers (c. 1520/1525) by Quentin Matsys
Ill-Matched Lovers (c. 1520/1525) by Quentin Matsys

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senex amans

Significant age disparity in sexual relationships has been 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 in those societies that favor freer association. Situations involving a younger male with an older female also exist, but are not as common. Age disparity in extreme cases 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. The term alphamegamia can be used when a person is sexually aroused by partners of a different age group, and "chronophilia" can describe a sexual fixation on members of a different age group.


In literature

The advantages and pitfalls of sexual relationships between people of very different ages provides fuel for many literary works, but these relationships are rarely depicted in a favorable light. When a young woman seeks out an older man, her desire for guidance and support is often depicted as tragically naive. In George Eliot's Middlemarch, for example, Dorothea Brooke marries the distinguished scholar Casaubon for high-minded reasons. In a time when women in England were barred from seeking higher education, Dorothea's only option is to marry a man who can educate her at home, but her desire for knowledge and wisdom is frustrated by Edward Casaubon's suspicious and selfish nature. He allows Dorothea to serve as his assistant but is too timid and narrow-minded to share her genuine passion for new ideas. Discovering her elderly husband's flaws too late, Dorothea is only released by his death to remarry, this time for love.

In the novel Tom Jones, by Henry Fielding, the dashing rake Tom Jones is depicted as being deeply in love with a girl his own age, the pure and virginal Sophia Western. But Tom's love for Sophia is nearly thwarted by the selfish desires of Lady Bellaston, a much older woman who takes Tom as a lover. Because Tom is penniless and Lady Bellaston is very wealthy, she holds much of the power in the relationship. After their initial sexual encounter, she provides Tom with ample money and a new wardrobe, favors which he gratefully accepts. Fielding presents the older woman as selfish, spiteful and cruel, implying that any older woman who desires a younger man must be acting from sinister motives. Conversely, Tom's willingness to sleep with Lady Bellaston, and even accept presents from her, is not portrayed negatively.

Modern culture

The "half-your-age-plus-seven" rule

The "never date anyone under half your age plus seven" rule is a rule of thumb used by some to judge whether the age difference in an intimate relationship is socially acceptable.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Age disparity in sexual relationships" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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