As two sex writers on the brink of breeding, we sometimes foresee a gloomy future—will people really take sex advice from two moms? But then we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we live in a glorious era in which motherhood has become perversely conflated with bodaciousness: It’s the age of the MILF, or, to put it more crassly, the Mom I’d Like to Fuck—an acronym at once repulsive and appealing. The MILF is Stacy’s Mom. She’s the lady in the Strippercize class. She dresses like a Jersey mob wife, her eye tilted into a perpetual wink. Is she our future?
The evidence surrounds us, from the 25,000-plus MILF-branded mugs and tees on Café Press to a rash of hot-mama books (The Hot Mom’s Handbook, Confessions of a Naughty Mommy, The MILF Anthology), television shows (Desperate Housewives, The Real Housewives of Orange County, the forthcoming contest “Hottest Mom in America,” and a pilot in development called MILF & Cookies), and, of course, a concomitant porn genre (though the majority of these films simply feature women in their late twenties or early thirties—dinosaurs in the porn biz—defiling baby-faced “pool boys” and “grocery clerks”).
How exactly did a once-taboo erotic fetish become a widespread, culturally sanctioned ideal, a perverse mix of branding and empowerment? After all, a hot mom used to be a tragedy, whether in the literal sense (Oedipus’ Mom-I’m-Fated-to-Fuck, Jocasta) or in the bittersweet Mrs. Robinson sense (“Oh, God. Oh, let me out,” begs Benjamin Braddock). Alternately, it was an insult: “Oh, yeah? That’s not what your mama said last night.” A hot mom was by definition a bad mom.
The term’s tipping point was the 1999 release of American Pie, in which a designated MILF named simply “Stifler’s mom” devirginizes a grateful teen. The film is often credited with coining the acronym; however, poll ten guys who went to college in the early nineties and you’ll find eight guys who recall the term fondly (and at least one claiming someone in his hometown invented it). This is all pre-Internet hearsay, of course: The earliest online reference is a 1995 Usenet post about a Playboy pictorial of hot moms. (Unless you count the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a Muslim separatist rebel group located in the southern Philippines.)
But why the hot mom, and why now? Maybe it has to do with women’s procreating later, and being more hesitant to surrender a sexuality they’ve spent decades building. Maybe it’s a looks thing, given that women can—with the aid of Pilates and a discreet tuck—turn back time to a sometimes disturbing degree. Perhaps it’s a side effect of the rise of the hipster parenting generation. (What’s less hip than having zero sex appeal?) And we can also thank Demi and Madonna for glamorizing May-December relationships.
Then there’s the Viagra factor. “There are all these halftime commercials for Viagra shouting at men to take the lead sexually and make love like porn stars,” says Ian Kerner, Ph.D., therapist-author of He Comes Next. “There’s a lot of performance pressure on guys, so I think the idea of submitting to an older woman who can take charge is incredibly alluring.”
But perhaps the weirdest aspect of the MILF phenomenon is how many moms themselves have embraced the term. By donning MILF T-shirts, they’ve made the I obsolete, declawing the dirty little joke on the playground. (Across the pond, Brits accomplished the same via the more polite term “yummy mummy.”)
Jen, a 35-year-old divorced mother of two living in the Hudson Valley, says that in the past three years, she’s had more sex than she did in her entire five-year relationship with her ex-husband—and she credits “the whole MILF thing”: “It’s totally cheesy, but ten years ago, I don’t think there would have been so many 23-year-old guys who’d want to sleep with a 35-year-old mom.” She estimates that 80 percent of the guys she’s dated have been younger. “It’s liberating and it’s an ego boost—I’ll drop my kids off at school and look at the other moms and think, Damn, I look good!”
But in the cultural analysis, not all MILFs are created equal. There’s the good MILF: the one who is basically just a happy-go-lucky flirt with a lot of sexual confidence. She’s the aforementioned Stacy’s Mom, the subject of the Fountains of Wayne anthem of MILFhood—is it her fault that her daughter’s boyfriend has a crush? She’s just got it going on!
Then there are the MILFs who edge over into the MILF sister-category: the cougar. The punitive term implies an older woman as predator, a showy, sharp-clawed figure who turns the MILF hunter into the hunted. Think of it as a grown-up variant of the Girls Gone Wild phenomenon, except that while we may forgive an 18-year-old her lack of decorum—she was drunk, Joe Francis is a manipulating jackhole, she wanted that baseball hat real bad—her mom is supposed to know better.