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.
This perverse little morality tale—MILF and cougar as the new madonna and whore—has played out most notably in the tabloids. When Britney Spears was photographed in a MILF IN TRAINING wife-beater a few years back, pre-kids, a debate erupted online as to whether a bad mom could be a MILF. (The consensus: no. Sorry, Kate Moss.) Demi Moore, on the other hand, has worked tirelessly to earn the MILF honorific: Think of those happy family photo ops with Ashton grinning like a lucky manny. Moore seems to understand that the appeal of the MILF lies in appearing simultaneously maternal and doable—like Madonna, who paid her MILF dues with a kiddie book on top of all that yoga. In the court of popular opinion, without the kids in the picture you’re just mutton dressed as lamb.
Dina Lohan clearly missed that memo. In a recent feature in Harper’s Bazaar, the 44-year-old, pictured sipping Champagne in a limo, brags that she’s more like a sister than a mom: She wears Lindsay’s designer hand-me-downs, and they even go clubbing together. For this, she was scorned in the media—Gawker dubbed her a “speckly cougar” (ouch). Apparently being over-tanned, oversexed, and underconcerned about your daughter’s rehab is so not hot.
Which is why the MILF’S MILF, on- and offscreen, is 43-year-old Mary-Louise Parker, who makes MILFiness seem effortless and ethereal. Parker entered the MILF hall of fame with her acceptance speech at the 2004 Golden Globes, when she followed through on a dare—two months after Billy Crudup left her for Claire Danes and less than three weeks after giving birth—to thank her newborn son “for making my boobs look so good in this dress.”
And then onscreen last year in the second season of Weeds, Parker’s character—a widowed suburban mom who deals pot to support her two kids and her upper-middle-class lifestyle—is introduced to Snoop Dogg (as himself) as a MILF. “I’d do you,” he responds charitably, and Parker giggles like a schoolgirl. Then he smokes the stuff, declares it “MILF weed,” and performs a hilarious MILF-weed rap. And therein lies the twisted genius of the MILF movement: Can you imagine another scenario where blatant objectification is passed off as gentlemanly behavior?
All of which leaves us a little conflicted about the movement. We, like many modern women, are trapped between two fears: that having kids will make us unsexy, and that trying to stay sexy will make us ridiculous. Our inner feminist tells us that MILFdom is not a solution but rather a self-destructive form of female-chauvinist piggery, to borrow Ariel Levy’s term: Are today’s mothers really so afraid of seeming past their prime that they accept objectification as a compliment? In this light, the MILF mandate is just another superficial standard for women to try—and fail—to live up to, the final, exhausting step for alpha moms trying to “have it all.” First, there is the pressure to be alluring during pregnancy—to carry it off like Heidi Klum rather than getting puffy-faced like Kate Hudson. (Yeah, turns out it’s now okay to call a pregnant woman fat!) Then there’s the race to get back into shape everywhere (“Kegels! Kegels! Kegels!” order the moms on UrbanBaby). Next, the small matter of resurrecting your libido from the diaper pail. And finally, MILFhood. (Though anyone who saw Dame Helen Mirren at the Oscars might argue that it doesn’t even end there: Hello, GILF!)
But in the end, we’re suckers for the MILF: She may be glossy, she may be goofy, yet we can’t help but cheer for her. There’s something disarming about an archetype that lets the ladies take back the negligee, an image that suggests that motherhood is more than the death of desirability and the birth of bad haircuts. And after all, the MILF might just represent a less uptight version of maternity, in which it’s no longer considered selfish or unreasonable to protect that part of your identity that has nothing to do with scraped knees and runny noses. We’ve got long-term monogamy, one career, and two delicate egos to protect, so when we become moms, we’ll take our chances with the “speckly cougar” affronts. But if you catch us feeling the burn on a stripper pole, please shoot us.