"I can make a conquest any day of the week," claims Terry Akins, 46. "Men jump through hoops for me like they do for twenty-something girls." It’s the thrill of the hunt that captivates Akins, a divorced California beauty publicist. As for the men she dates, "I don’t find them interesting," she says. "They’re just toys."
Fellow seductress Dawn Ellison, a 42-year-old New Jersey advertising executive, currently has 10 men in her "stable," each of whom can be lassoed at a moment’s notice for a variety of activities. She laughs, "In the six and a half years since my divorce I’ve dated hundreds of younger men, earning me a PhD in ‘Picking Hot Dudes.’"
Akins and Ellison are part of a new breed of 40-plus female Casanovas who — rather than feeling grateful for a crumb of attention from the opposite sex — treat men like scalps to be collected.
Is this attitude an outgrowth of feminism — or a display of bitterness and dysfunction? Pepper Schwartz, PhD, relationship expert for perfectmatch.com, offers, "For some it’s just a numbers game … tasting all the kinds of men out there, even having a day when you’ve had three lovers." (Hopefully these women have a gross of condoms on hand.) Adds Schwartz, who is the author of Prime: Adventures and Advice on Sex, Love, and the Sensual Years, "It’s not so different from the man who likes the seduction, the thrilling moment, and that’s about it. There’s an element of flexing one’s muscles."
Linda Franklin, creator of therealcougarwoman.com, a Web site focusing on women aging gracefully, opines, "These ladies, especially divorced women, know marriage isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. They’re strong, confident, sexy, and independent and will change the fabric of what’s acceptable and what’s not."
‘Picker of Hot Dudes’ Ellison derives "empowerment, as opposed to needing to wield power" from her lifestyle choice "of simultaneously juggling several younger men." The founder of cougarandthecub.com, she explains, "I was with my husband from age 19 to 36. After I left him, making the discovery that men in their early 20s found me attractive helped me reinvent myself." She’s been known to put cubs eager to date her on a six-week waiting list.
What keeps this behavior from being unsavory, according to Ellison, is her honesty. "I want them to know my intentions up front. The first thing I say is, ‘I’m not looking for anything serious.’"
While Maryann Karinch might quibble with Ellison’s claim that she’s uninterested in seeking supremacy — "As more women exercise influence in business, government, and the arts, we see them displaying power in the form of sexual conquests" — the author of Date Decoder considers the female Casanova’s modus operandi normal and healthy. With this proviso: "As long as the woman has the forthright agenda of Samantha Jones in Sex and the City."
Sex therapist and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Dating author Judy Kuriansky, PhD, agrees that when the motive is straightforward, a desire to serially (or simultaneously) seduce men can be a "positive evolution, an anti-desperation movement practiced by women who don’t need to have a man." However, cautions Dr. Kuriansky, if this behavior functions as a way to exact revenge on the misogynist species, some refiguring is in order. "It’s one thing not to need a man, another to subconsciously look to cause them pain."
Akins, who considers men "toys," admits to having experienced a "rough" divorce eight years ago. "I’ve seen too many nurturing women with men who don’t treat them well," she says. Now she’ll do whatever it takes to trap her game: "If I know he wants to hear I’m looking for a relationship, I’ll sometimes lie and say I am, too." Do her discards suffer anguish? She says blithely, "I’ve heard some do, but that’s not really my problem."