This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
The vision of the hot dad at the park, doing the one-handed stroller push, is synonymous with ‘DILF’—the less popular term to the ubiquitous ‘MILF’ (the third most searched for term on PornHub in 2018). The ‘dad-I’d-like-to-fuck’ phenomenon has spiked in popularity in recent years; a quick scan for DILFs on Google yields 5,860,000 results, and Instagram accounts like dilfs_of_disneyland boast hundreds of thousands of followers. And according to 2016 PornHub data, “women are 96% more likely to search for dad and daddy compared to men.”
But why does the DILF fantasy appeal to women—is it some heady combo of daddy issues, the older man, the provider—or is this just a reconfiguration of the ol’ patriarchal order? Why is the man saddled with children—and all of the complications they entail—suddenly an attractive prospect? Under Dr. Cory Pedersen, a developmental psychologist who works at The Observations and Research in Gender and Sexuality Matters (O.R.G.A.S.M) research lab at British Columbia’s Kwantlen Polytechnic University (a lab dedicated to the scientific process in the field of sexology) has sought to quantify answers to the DILF question. Their study, The Appeal of the DILF, presented at the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality in Montreal last year, set out to define why women are attracted to DILFs, and whether DILFs are more appealing to women than otherwise equally attractive men without children.
VICE: What exactly did your DILF study look at, and what were you trying to figure out?
Cory Pedersen: We were looking at what factors may make older men more attractive to women. You probably know the MILF phenomenon, there is a rising interest in DILFs—yet there is no empirical literature on what a DILF is, what makes him a DILF, and what about him is attractive in particular. We didn’t really have any hypothesis because there is no research, so we were exploring what factors may make a DILF attractive to women.
We recruited our participants and randomly assigned them to one of two conditions. The one condition—the DILF profile condition—participants were presented with an image of an attractive older man, looks to be about 45 years old. They were told; This is Jason, he’s an employed 45-year-old man with two children, and you’ve been recently introduced by a mutual acquaintance. In the other condition, they were shown the exact same image of the same man, and they were told; This is Jason, he’s an employed 45 year old man and you’ve been introduced by a mutual acquaintance. So in one condition, the participants were shown Jason and told he had children, and in the other condition, no children were introduced.
What we were hoping to find here—given this difference—is, would women be more attracted to the man with children? That would suggest that the appeal of the DILF has something to do with the fact that he has kids. Or, would they be attracted to the Jason without kids—which would suggest that the fact that he’s an older man is what makes him attractive.
Participants were asked to evaluate the attractiveness of Jason on a number of qualities; characteristics like masculinity (i.e. Jason is rugged, Jason is athletic). Other things related to his emotionality (is he warm? is he empathic? is he kind?), and the other was related to his sociability (how much did he like to go out? how much did he like to entertain?). They were asked to indicate to the extent that they agreed with this based on this information and the profile.
What we found was, when Jason is described as having kids, women rated him as higher on measures of things that we called ‘emotionality.’ So the things related to being warm, empathic, nurturing, kind, funny. With no kids, Jason was rated higher on qualities of sociality; so, he likes to entertain, he likes to travel, he’s spontaneous. There were no differences between the conditions on measures of things like masculinity (he’s rugged, good-looking, and so on).
Across the board, we found that the Jason with children was rated overall more positively on attributes than the Jason without kids, suggesting that it’s the having kids that seems to be the appealing thing about Jason.
Do you think it’s a preselection thing? He has fathered kids so that means he would be a good father to my kids? Or were they looking for more of a short-term encounter?
We did ask participants about the extent to which they’d be willing to engage in a short-term sexual encounter with either one of these men (depending on which group they were in), or the extent to which they’d be interested in a long-term relationship. And we found no difference between the groups.
So for the short-term and long-term, they rated both men equally attractive. So what we suspect is that what women really do value in a mate are these emotional qualities (being funny, kind, generous, loving). When men have kids, our perception perhaps is that they must have these qualities; that these qualities are already there.
Another possible explanation is that women use men with kids as a mate selection strategy. So if a man has kids, he’s already demonstrated his fertility. So if you want kids, then he’s pretty much a sure bet because he’s already got them. You know he’s a fertile man.
But the fact he had kids never took away from his attractiveness. Do you suppose the flip side is true? Like would men find MILFs more attractive than similar women without kids?
We investigated the MILF literature to help guide our DILF literature. What we found was, men find MILFs attractive in spite of the fact that they have kids. So the evidence suggests that men are attracted to MILFs because of their age, not because of their kids. There’s something about an older woman’s age; she exudes a confidence, there’s a knowledge base she has about sexuality that a younger woman does not have.
So they’re just using MILF interchangeably with older woman.
Right, whereas with women, the kids seem to matter, not the age.
Were the women able to articulate why they found the DILFs more attractive, beyond a number rating?
There was an open-ended option for women to say what it was they found particularly attractive about Jason. At a cursory glance, they were mentioning things like ‘he has kind eyes, he has a warm smile, he seems like a good person.' It seems to suggest we’re interested in these personality values; traits like warmth and kindness and generosity.
Was there any correlation between the age of the woman or her desire to have children—and her attraction level to the DILF?
We asked about that. We asked do you have children, and if they said no, we said do you want to have children in the future—and then a ratings scale from ‘no’ to ‘definitely.’ We found no difference between the groups. It didn’t matter if women were in the Jason-with-kids or without; and it didn’t matter across groups. Same with age.
Did anything surprise you in this research?
I was surprised that we didn’t see a difference between the short-term sexual encounter vs. long-term relationship. I expected to find an effect there; that women would be more interested in the man with kids for a long-term partnership and the man without kids for a short-term partnership. So that surprised me.
I was also surprised by; we asked participants would this man be more appealing if he was younger, or older, or is he perfectly fine the way he is? And we asked participants to indicate their preferred partner age. Contrary to popular opinion that women go after these old sugar daddies, that is not what we found. We found that women were interested in people that were within four years or so of their own age range. For both long- and short-term encounters.
Another thing I found interesting—you probably have heard Sigmund Freud has postulated that men are attracted to women that resemble their mothers. And women are attracted to men that resemble their fathers. We asked participants about the quality of their relationship with their paternal caregiver. We asked them because we wanted to cover this as a potential explanation for why women might be attracted to older men (because they might remind them of their dad). So we asked participants about the relationship they had with their father, and the extent to which they believed that this profile reminded them of their father, and we found no effect of that. So there does not seem to be any credibility to the idea that women are attracted to the older man because of some daddy issue thing.
What do these results say about our current social climate, and do you expect the popularity of DILFS to continue?
I believe it will continue. I believe we’re just starting to see the beginnings of this. Especially if the MILF trend is any indication (and it’s been around for quite some time). As women in our culture become more comfortable with their sexuality, more open about it, and as society becomes more accepting of the fact that women are sexual beings—we’ll see more openness [to it]. Evidence suggests that we’re seeing more and more women admitting to perusing pornography sites. I’m sure they always have, but I don’t believe they’ve always admitted as such because of the censure we have around women’s sexuality.
At the same time, I think that the fact that our findings suggest that women are interested in qualities like personality, things like being warm and nurturing—I think that shows that neither women nor men are simply seeking mates that are ideal in terms of things like money or looks or status. I think it shows that women (and men) are interested in and attracted to—in both short- and long-term partnerships—things that matter. Qualities of kindness and warmth and generosity. Both men and women are both ultimately looking for the good in people.
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This article originally appeared on VICE CA.