What Is A Cougar

Women's Dating

What Is a Cougar?

Ashayla Blakely

Written by: Ashayla Blakely

Ashayla Blakely

Ashayla Blakely is an experienced storyteller who has fun writing authentic and relatable content for DatingAdvice.com. As a hopeless romantic, Ashayla has always enjoyed sharing good conversation and advice about dating. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in Telecommunications from the University of Florida. She is currently enrolled in the graduate program at Florida State University's film school. You can often catch her with a script in her hand, calling out the shots in her many directorial roles on set.

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Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of journalism experience to ensure DatingAdvice articles have been edited for overall clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement. She has worked at The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The Gwinnett Daily News, and The Gainesville Sun covering lifestyle topics.

Reviewed by: Amber Brooks

Amber Brooks

Amber Brooks is a dating and relationship expert who has penned over 1,800 lifestyle articles in the last decade, and she still never tires of interviewing dating professionals and featuring actionable advice for singles. She has been quoted by the Washington Times, Cosmopolitan, The New York Post, and AskMen.

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Society has progressed to not only accept but celebrate the powerhouse woman who knows herself and has her way with younger men. We even have a title of recognition and respect for such women: cougar. 

Older single women have increasingly taken an interest in age-gap dating. It’s more common now for women to be the older, wiser benefactor in the relationship. The rise of cougar dating can be seen in its portrayal in popular media from the original MILF Mrs. Robinson to the television show “Cougar Town.” 

In this article, we will dive in and define what a cougar is and why it has become so prevalent in contemporary dating culture.  

Definition | Benefits | Myths | Challenges | Tips

Defining the “Cougar” Phenomenon

Cougars in the dating world are older women seeking romantic or sexual relationships with younger men. This slang term has been around since the late 1990s and has ushered in a powerful movement for liberated women of a certain age. 

Origins of the Term 

The term “cougar” began in the Canadian bar scene in the 1990s to refer to middle-aged women flirting with young men. Today, a cougar means any woman who dates a younger man. It wasn’t until the 21st century that people started accepting the idea of a cougar as a compliment rather than a dig. 

Photo of a couple
A cougar is a woman who dates younger men.

Cougar was formerly a derogatory term that made older women feel ashamed for their sexual or romantic desires. In the past, older women were judged harshly for having dating lives. Today, cougars embrace and reclaim this word as one of empowerment. In today’s feminist culture, women can date whoever they want without worrying about judgment.

“I never saw myself as someone who exclusively dated younger men, but when my last relationship ended a few years ago, I didn’t want anything serious,” said Jo Francis, in a testimonial.  

How It Differs From “Sugar Mama” or “Puma”

Cougar is a unique term in the dating world, but it’s not the only moniker given to older women seeking romantic affairs. Sugar mama and puma are other slang terms associated with the world of age-gap dating.

A sugar mama is a woman who provides financial support to a younger man and receives companionship or sexual favors in return. While cougars are in relationships with younger men, they don’t have to make any bargains or arrangements with their partners.

Age is the main difference between a cougar and a puma. Puma is slang for a woman in her 20s or 30s dating someone younger. A puma is just a young cougar in training. 

The Benefits & Allure of Cougar Dating

Many benefits of cougar dating go beyond the surface. Through cougar dating, women gain a confidence boost while younger men get to experience a mature relationship. 

Empowerment and Confidence 

As mentioned before, cougar dating is now often associated with older women embracing their sexuality and independence. Cougar dating has empowered women in more ways than one. It has transformed the way women view age and beauty – ultimately making them confident daters. 

Women often lose confidence in their attractiveness as they get older. Cougar dating offers older women a chance to explore their sexual desires and find the fulfillment that they need in their love lives –– and without all the judgment and shame. 

Reversal of Gender Norms 

For the longest time, men had the privilege to date and have a sexual relationship with a younger woman and not be crucified for it. But cougars are changing the game and putting an end to unfair gender norms. Age and gender dynamics are becoming more fluid in relationships. Famous modern cougars like Demi Moore, Madonna, and Sofía Vergara have shown just how beautiful and fulfilling age-gap romances can be.

Psychological Factors 

Age-gap dating isn’t for everyone, but those who prefer it have solid reasonings. Different motivations drive older women and younger men to seek cougar relationships. Some of those reasons include a need for companionship, fulfillment, and excitement. 

Photo of a woman on vacation
Many cougar women want a young companion to accompany them on fun vacations.

Some would say that the exchange between cougars and their partners is a healthy and equal transaction. Cougars enjoy new and exciting adventures with their partners, and younger men have the opportunity to experience mature dating, perhaps for the first time. 

Dating someone the same age as you isn’t always ideal. Some young daters are attracted to stability and maturity, while some older daters want to relive the fun spirit of youth. Both partners receive something they couldn’t get from someone their own age.

“I’ve always been attracted to older women, so when I heard about cougar dating apps, I was intrigued,” said an anonymous CougarD member in a testimonial. “My mature partner has helped me through a lot of problems in my cougar life. She has taught me how to be more confident, how to handle my emotions, and how to be a better lover.”

Cougar Myths, Stereotypes, and Stigma

Some common stereotypes associated with cougars cast women as villains. When people think of a cougar, they may imagine a woman who is desperate to be young or preying on the attention of boys. But if people truly understood the dynamic of healthy cougar relationships, maybe they wouldn’t be so opposed to the idea. 

Ageism and Double Standards 

It’s no secret that double standards exist in the dating world when it comes to gender. Older men have engaged in age-gap dating since the beginning of civilization. Just look at Caesar (53 years old) and Cleopatra (21 years old).

Older men have traditionally been seen as protectors when they woo and marry younger women. It used to be commonplace for a man to date younger partners. But I can’t say the same for women. 

Photo of an older woman
Cougar women can enrich their lives by dating younger men.

Older women are often labeled as desperate and insecure for dating younger men. People may claim that they can’t find dates with guys their age, but that’s generally not the case. Cougar relationships aren’t developed out of desperation – they’re sparked from desire, just like any other relationship. 

“It is very one-sided, because men have always had that freedom at any age, and then when women do the same, people think they’ve gone off the deep end,” said Valerie Gibson, the author of “Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men.”

Impact on a Woman’s Self-Image 

Let’s be honest, our self-image can sometimes be influenced by what other people think. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the truth. Societal stigmas can affect the self-esteem and confidence of individuals involved in cougar dating. Whether you’re a cougar or a cub, society can make you feel like you’re wrong for pursuing a cougar relationship.   

On the other hand, society also has the power to encourage singles to embrace cougar dating. Positive portrayals in shows such as “Cougar Town” can help celebrate and empower older women on their quest to find connections. 

Age-Gap Relationship Challenges

People in age-gap relationships can go through some unique challenges. They may struggle to get the acceptance of family members, or they may feel pressured by imbalanced power dynamics.

Daters can benefit from professional support from therapists and dating experts who can help them overcome such hurdles. 

Social and Family Dynamics 

Outside influences can put a strain on relationships. Potential challenges in navigating age-gap relationships are family or friend disapproval and societal judgment. It’s sometimes easy to ignore the opinions of strangers, but when it comes to your family and friends, those harsh judgments can hit home, literally. 

Certain family members may disapprove of age-gap dating and make it a lot harder for the couple to continue their relationship. A mother who is witnessing someone her age dating her son isn’t an easy pill to swallow. It’s difficult for some people to understand what age-gap dating is all about. 

Friends are also important people in our lives who influence our decision-making in one way or another. Couples thrive better when their friend groups click, but that’s not always the case. In the event that this happens, couples should sit down and discuss how to move forward so that the issue doesn’t bleed into their relationship. 

Power Imbalance 

Power differentials and potential exploitation are other major problems that can lead to cougar relationship breakups and fallouts. When dating younger men, women sometimes feel like they’re the ones in charge –– especially if they’re dating a man who isn’t as mature as them. Cougars have to understand and separate the power dynamic from a romantic relationship versus a parental one. 

Photo of a female boss
The power in a cougar relationship belongs to the woman.

When dating an older woman, young men may feel insecure in their role in the relationship. Young men can feel societal pressure to be alpha males who are in charge of their households. Toxic masculinity tells them they just be a provider who takes care of business for his little lady.

Cougar relationships have to find the right balance where both partners feel equally empowered and respected. 

Long-Term Compatibility 

Age disparity can impact long-term compatibility in cougar relationships. Partners being in different life stages can take a toll over time. While age doesn’t matter for love to blossom, it does affect a person’s health, outlook, and well-being. Cougars can go through menopause, battle high blood pressure, and deal with health issues that their younger counterparts haven’t encountered. An illness can affect an older woman’s self-esteem and test the relationship in a serious way. 

Cougar relationships are fun for the short term, but they can be difficult to sustain over the long-term. People can have different goals with a long-term commitment. When trying to pursue a romantic relationship, cougars and cubs should consider whether they’re on the same page in life.

Tips for Navigating Cougar Dating

The cougar dating life is rewarding, but it can be pretty complicated at times. Learning the dos and don’ts of cougar dating can be helpful if you want to avoid the common pitfalls.

Communication and Mutual Consent 

As we’ve all heard before, communication is key to a good relationship. Open communication and mutual consent can take a couple very far on their cougar dating journey. Dating experts and relationship coaches encourage couples to set clear boundaries and realistic expectations to ensure a healthy and respectful relationship is formed from the very beginning. 

“I dated a woman 12 years older than me for over two years. I was 26, and she was 38 when we met. It was an amazing, life-affirming relationship with someone who truly loved me, and I truly loved her,” said an anonymous man in a testimonial

Online Apps Provide More Opportunity

Online dating has become a popular resource for singles over the years. Now people can go online and find nontraditional relationships that they may not be able to find in person. 

CougarD logo
Since 2016, the CougarD dating site supported age-gap romances.

Niche dating apps like CougarD aim to help cougars and cubs find genuine connections under their terms. CourgarD has a fast-growing membership base. The platform encourages members to develop the kind of relationships they’re looking for whether that’s romantic or sexual.  

“CougarD is really easy to use,” said a CougarD user in a review. “I absolutely love how it helps me find the right partner. You can search for the right person by choosing your personality, interests, age range, height, and body type.”

Mainstream dating apps like Tinder and Bumble can also be helpful for cougars because the age demographics on these apps skew younger.

Seeking Support & Community

People do better in their relationships when they have a strong support system behind them. Individuals involved in cougar dating should seek support from friends, family, or counseling if needed. When different obstacles come their way, having supportive people can get cougars and cubs through the tough times. Honestly, it can make or break a relationship. 

“Friends and family support marriage in two ways. They affirm the choice we’ve made. But they also hold us to account for the choice we’ve made,” said Harry Benson in an Institute for Family Studies article

Cougar Can Be a Term of Empowerment

The world is evolving and heading in a new direction where any adult can find a relationship that suits them. Our dating experts recommend that single people approach cougar dating with an open mind and awareness of societal dynamics. All relationships should have mutual respect and understanding, regardless of age. 

Thanks to inclusive online dating apps, singles have the support and fuel they need to pursue cougar relationships. Older women have the absolute right to date whoever they want and on their terms. Whether it’s a summer fling or a one-night stand, cougars are making a statement, coming into their own, and changing the trajectory of modern dating culture. 

“Our vibrant community of women do not see their station in life as a barrier to love, sex, or companionship,” said Isabella Mise, Cougar Life’s Senior Director of Communications. “Rather, they are emboldened to pursue pleasure and happiness on their own terms.”