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Older men use the internet and dating apps to prey on younger women.

It isn’t uncommon for a man to be involved with a woman half his age. This is especially true in the celebrity world. 

At age 86, Hugh Hefner married Crystal Harris when she was just 26. When Woody Allen was 56, he and 19-year-old Soon-Yi Previn started dating. This phenomenon of older men seeing much younger women is far from exclusive to Hollywood stars.

A study published by Science Advances found that the desirability of women in the eyes of men sharply decreases as women age. On the other hand, a man’s desirability peaks around 50 on average and then declines.

These oppositional trend lines result in older women being largely neglected in the dating world, while younger women win the affections of older men. This trend is made exceedingly clear through the habits of dating app users.

Online dating apps

A blog post from Medium analyzed data about OkCupid users. They found that the median 31-year-old man sets his allowable match range to be nine years younger than himself yet only four years older. Men aged 42 set their range to allow for an even more skewed relative age difference: up to 15 years younger, but no more than three years older.

Even more telling than the average age preferences set by men are their messaging habits on dating apps. A disturbing graph on Medium’s article reveals that the vast majority of messages from men on OkCupid are sent to women around the age of 18, even for men as old as 30.

This data shows how many men prefer women much younger than themselves and accept relatively younger dating partners as they age.

Large age gaps can be a red flag

This data begs the question of why age gaps matter and how they can be problematic. 

The biggest concern with a large difference in age between romantic or sexual partners is the presence of a power imbalance. The older person in a relationship is often seen as a predator and the younger person as a victim.

Another concern is that partners of different ages are at different stages in life and will therefore likely want different things, like marriage and kids versus freedom and traveling. On top of this, a generational gap has the potential to strike conflict at the core of what two partners have been brought up to believe.

The effect on a young girl’s psyche

Sexualizing young girls leads to a multitude of problems. Girls grow up with the media and the people around them focusing on their looks and the looks of others above all else. This can encourage girls to look and dress in a certain way, and the portrayal of one “perfect” body type in the media puts pressure on them to meet impossible beauty standards.

With all of this pressure comes an increased risk for developing eating disorders, self-harming and depression. Furthermore, sexualizing young girls causes them to self-objectify and makes them more vulnerable to sexual violence and human trafficking

“Sexual objectification dehumanizes girls and women, which contributes toward rape culture and violence against women,” according to Dr. Carrie Baker, author of “Fighting the US Youth Sex Trade: Gender, Race, and Politics and The Women’s Movement Against Sexual Harassment.”

What can be done

To end the over-sexualization of girls from a young age, everyone should be mindful of the way they perceive young girls and how their words can be impactful. Rather than complimenting a girl on her looks every time you see her, try to find other genuine things you admire about her. Women are often praised for their looks, while men are praised for their successes. These compliments are internalized and shape the way both parties see their own worth.

Girls could also be empowered to see more women in positions of power. Women currently make up just over a quarter of the members of Congress, and this is the highest percentage in U.S. history. That’s an improvement from where things stood decades ago, but it’s still not great.

Uplifting girls for their intelligence, athleticism, creativity and anything else that doesn’t have to do with their attractiveness can lead them to establish their worth in more meaningful and fulfilling ways from a young age.

Objectifying girls, on the contrary, teaches them that their worth rests in their sexuality and makes them more susceptible to sexual crimes.

Alex Davis is a freshman business management major. Contact Alex at davis8aj@dukes.jmu.edu.