Bering in Mind

Bering in Mind

A research psychologist's curious look at human behavior

(Ever)lasting Beauty: A Sexual Attraction to the Elderly


Léon Augustin L'hermitte. An Elderly Peasant Woman, ca.1878

Gerontophilia is an “erotic age orientation” in which one is most strongly aroused by the elderly, and so it is at the opposite end of the spectrum from pedophilia. In fact, perhaps the most bizarre theory concerning its etiological (or clinical) origins was put forth, without any supporting data, by the British psychiatrist T. C. Gibbens in 1982. This inventive author argued that gerontophiles are likely to have underlying pedophilic tendencies as well, with both paraphilias stemming from a phobia of pubic hair.

It was the father of abnormal sexuality studies, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, who first sketched out this condition of being aroused primarily by the elderly, offering a few impromptu case reports and a rather bland definition of gerontophilia as “the love of persons of advanced age.” In 1981, the sexologist John Money clarified this by defining gerontophilia as, “the condition in which a young adult is dependent on the actuality or fantasy of erotosexual activity with a much older partner in order to initiate and maintain arousal and facilitate or achieve orgasm.”

The critical point is that gerontophiles are largely dependent on having (or imagining) sex with an elderly partner in order to achieve orgasm, not simply that they are willing to do so. It is not about love alone. Nor is it about a love of money, à la that storybook affair between a twenty-six-year-old Anna Nicole Smith and her eighty-nine-year-old oil tycoon of a husband, J. Howard Marshall. Rather, it is the elderly body type that is most appealing to the “true gerontophile,” the standard physical signs of advanced age (such as fragility, wrinkles, stooped posture, white hair, slow gait and all the rest).

It would be a major understatement to say that scientific data on gerontophilia is scant, but scattered references exist. In 1929, a psychiatrist named A. Kutzinski published a brief case study. The author writes this about his gerontophilic patient:

At the age of 24 he married, and he had six children; he served in the army during the war. Following complete sexual abstinence for over a year, he encountered, while bathing, an elderly woman with whom he had sexual relations. He lost all love for his wife, showing instead outspoken erotic impulses toward elderly women, which were so compulsive that they rendered work impossible.

Given what we’ve learned about male sexuality in the years since Kutzinski’s analysis, it stands to reason that this man did not newly “acquire” a case of gerontophilia in his mid-twenties, but he was in fact always gerontophilic. The actual encounter with his first elderly partner likely just encouraged him to come out of the closet as a gerontophile, eventually leaving his young wife due to her youth.

In terms of the actual prevalence of gerontophiles, there is no known figure, or even an ongoing attempt to find one. There is no mention of gerontophilia in either of Alfred Kinsey’s famous works, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) or Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953). Kinsey wasn’t shy about discussing other stigmatized proclivities, such as bestiality and pedophilia, so this is a telling absence suggestive of its infrequency. Also, unlike pedophilia, gerontophilia has never been included in any version of the DSM, nor are there any plans to add it in the future. The general belief is that if it doesn’t bother the person or his (or her) consensual elderly partner, there’s no reason for gerontophilia to be treated as a mental disorder.

Gerontophiles find themselves in a category of deviancy that lends itself to derision, mockery and the occasional British comedy sketch. Yet their erotic age orientation isn’t intrinsically bad or harmful; in fact, for their elderly partners who themselves remain sexually attracted to youthful people, being the subject of a younger person’s gerontophilic affections could arguably be a godsend.

But gentle now—watch those hips.

I discuss paraphilias like this one, and much, much more, in my new book Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us, which will release on October 8, 2013. Follow me @jessebering (#DailyDeviant). For more on all things deviant, and to find out if I'll be visiting a city near you for the Perv book tour, visit

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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