Image posted on Flickr by "Nikki OK".

It's never been a problem for older men to have a young woman hanging off their arm, but when it's the other way round, then toy boys have long been best kept a secret. Until now... "Cougar women" in the US are coming out of the dark and flaunting their younger boyfriends. The only problem is, everybody's laughing at them.

A cougar is a solitary mountain cat which preys on pretty much anything that moves. Not a very kind depiction of older women who date younger men then. The term emerged in North America around ten years ago, and for want of another name, has risen to prominence mainly due to necessity - the number of women married to men younger than them has doubled since 1960, and a third of non-married females aged 40+ date younger men, according to research by over 50s lifestyle organisation AARP. The concept has been brought to the attention of the media by celebrity examples; the most famous being 46-year-old film star Demi Moore and her husband of four years, 31-year-old actor Ashton Kutcher.

A poll published on October 12 by Avalanche LLC, owner of various major US dating sites, found that for 89% of women, the appeal of "snagging" a younger man made them feel "that they still had it", and only 3.8% cared about being "stigmatized as a cougar or cradle robber". For the men, almost 90% said that they were interested in dating an older woman. Eighty-five percent of those said it was because "they have a lot of money and can take care of me", and 72% of the interviewees labelled older women "desperate and easier".

Meanwhile, TV network ABC has just released a series devoted to the species, which depicts them as desperate, lonely, and - in comparison with their male counterparts, or "silver foxes" - largely unsuccessful.

“The last thing we’re doing is skulking in bars, looking to go home with a young guy for a one night stand”

Former Wall Street banker and self-made "Cougar advisor", 60-year-old Linda Franklin runs the blog "The Real Cougar Woman".  

The survey [published by Avalanche] was abysmal. They didn't actually give any details about the people they interviewed. Perhaps it was a bunch of 19-year-olds, and then of course that's what they're going to say. I have many cougar friends who are happy in serious, long relationships with younger men. The cougar thing is not going to go away soon, absolutely no way. But this survey sets us back 25 years and Cougar Town makes us look ridiculous. There are also so-called cougars who are doing this by themselves. I did not like the sound of the Miss Cougar America for example. It was just women putting themselves on the meat market. It was held in Silicon Valley because there are a lot of young brainiacs there who were more than happy to go. End result: a lot of drinking and a lot of bedding down."

Linda's response to "three Cougar myths":

America's first "Miss Cougar"

Flickr user Daniel Britt attended the first ever Miss Cougar America pageant on August 28 and interviewed the winner, 42-year-old suburban management consultant and divorcee, Gloria Navarro. Around 200 "cubs", or men under 40, voted at the event.

Cougar Town trailer

On September 23 TV network ABC launched "Cougar Town", starring 45-year-old Friends star Courtney Cox.