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The ideal age of sexual partners is different for men and women

(25 Sep 2014)

New evolutionary psychology research shows gender differences in age preferences regarding sexual partners.

Men and women have different preferences regarding the age of their sexual partners and women’s preferences are better realised than are men’s. However, regarding the age of their actual sexual partners, the difference is much smaller. Psychology researchers at Åbo Akademi University in Turku, Finland, suggest that this pattern reflects the fact that, when it comes to mating, women control the market. 

Grounding their interpretation in evolutionary theory, the researchers suggest that because women are more selective than men in their sexual behaviour, men are more unlikely than women to have sex with their ideal partners. Therefore, men’s actual behaviour follows more closely women’s preferences than the men’s own preferences.

To study this pattern in terms of preferences with regard to the partner’s age the scientists gathered observations from a population-based sample of more than 12,000 Finns. They found that women, on average, are interested in same-aged to somewhat older men than themselves and that this pattern displays itself across the entire lifespan. Men, on the other hand, show a tendency to be sexually interested in women in their mid-twenties. This tendency is also notable when the men themselves are younger or older than this. Men younger than 20 prefer women older than themselves, while men older than 30 prefer women younger than themselves. The reason for why men’s sexual interests seem directed towards women in their mid-twenties is likely because women of this age are the most fertile. This means that in our evolutionary past, men who have had sex with women in their mid-twenties have had more offspring than other men. In terms of sexuality, the study shows that evolution has favoured differences in female and male psychology.

The study only looked at heterosexual preferences and heterosexual activity. To follow this up, the researchers plan to study the corresponding pattern in nonheterosexual individuals.

The study is part of the research project "Parent-Child Incest: Experimental Tests of Evolutionary Mechanisms", which is funded by the Academy of Finland (funding period 1 Sep 2012–31 Aug 2015, project number 260298).

Link to the online publication: http://authors.elsevier.com/sd/article/S1090513814001111

More information:

  • Jan Antfolk, researcher in psychology at Åbo Akademi University, email jan.antfolk(at)abo.fi, tel. +358 44 255 7682
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