When I was in Form 1, I dated a guy in Lower Six. I must have been about 12 years old at the time, and he about 17. Dating Kodjo meant that he would visit me on Sundays during the designated visiting hours in my catholic single-sex boarding school. I thought he was beyond cool. His age alone made him desirable. One could spend the entire week being sent by seniors on never ending errands but all would be well on Sundays between the hours of 2pm-5pm when you strolled around the school compound with your boyfriend (who was the same age as the seniors) by your side. Somehow that felt like a one up, which made me feel cool. I never imagined that decades down the line, this situation would be reversed, and that by the age of 36, I would dwarf some of the men I became sexually involved with by a decade.

Recently, as I was walking toward one of my friends at an arts festival, another guy said in reference to me, “She looks like a cougar. Is she one?” I wonder what gave him that impression. Was it my slightly too short denim skirt? Or was it a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’?

The word cougar in its current cultural context sends me into paroxysms of rage. A woman who dates or has sex with a younger man is a cougar and a man who dates younger women is a what? Of course no such term exists. Cougar implies several things, some of which are complimentary—an attractive older woman who can pull younger men—and others, which in my opinion, are not so complimentary. Such as, an older woman who hunts down younger men, and devours them sexually.

For the younger men involved in such a relationship, being sexually devoured by an older woman, in and of itself is not a bad thing. For the older woman there is a strong sense of societal disapproval. Many years ago I was in a bar with a younger male friend. I was attracted to him, as he was to me. Our friendship was platonic. At one point in the evening a group of his friends came over and he introduced them to me. As one of the guys was leaving he whispered into my ear, “do you know how old he is?” I was too stunned to respond. And slightly hurt too. What was he trying to tell me? What he was saying was clear. This is an inappropriate relationship. The real irony for me is that I have never initiated a relationship with a younger man, or any other man for that matter. As feminist as I am, I’m not much of a risk taker when it comes to starting a new relationship. I like for the other person to make the first move, and if the attraction is mutual I respond accordingly. For the longest time I would ignore the advances of younger men, and then one day I thought, ‘why the fuck not’?

When the 31-year-old Nigerian celebrity stylist Toyin Lawani announced her engagement to her 21-year old partner last year, blog posts labelling her a cougar followed in predictable fashion.

When the 31-year-old Nigerian celebrity stylist Toyin Lawani announced her engagement to her 21-year old partner last year, blog posts labelling her a cougar followed in predictable fashion.

A relationship between an older woman and a younger man can become the ideal relationship in contexts such as Ghana, where traditional heterosexual relationships (where the man is older and usually wealthier than the woman) are very often transactional. By definition, a cougar does not need money from a man. She does not expect her younger lover to take care of her financially. What she needs is for him to take care of her sexual needs, and she is not shy about that. This is another plus for the younger man. The games, which our hypocritical societies have taught young women to play, get thrown out of the window. No longer do you have to be involved in the elaborate dance of ‘wooing’ a woman when what you really want is to have sex with her. There is a particular honesty in the sexual relationship between an older woman and a younger man that does not exist in traditional heterosexual relationships.

When I want to have sex with my younger lover I whatsapp him and ask if he wants to come over. Nine times out of ten he will be at my home within the hour. When he is feeling horny and wants to come over I say yes if it’s convenient to me. And that’s a tad unfair but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. Maybe that’s the other advantage of an older woman/younger man relationship for me. The dynamic is not the same. He is not in a position to boss me around. He knows better than to try to dominate me. He can have fun with me, tease me like any friend would do, but he knows where the line is, and he knows who determines whether the relationship will continue and how long it will last. He knows when I’m sexually satisfied, and when I’m not. I please him because pleasing my partner in bed is sexually satisfying to me, but I’m definitely not having sex for his pleasure. Sex becomes an act that’s for our mutual pleasure because the minute the younger lover falls below par there is no need for the relationship to continue.

But it’s not all ‘gravy’. For the most part cougar type relationships tend to be secretive. My younger lover comes to my house in the evenings and leaves before dawn. When I see him in public we act like we are ordinary friends. I won’t be introducing him to my parents. And I know that one day, he will probably marry a woman his own age.