A middle-aged man is determined to shatter the myth that men are attracted only to younger women.
He says that the "cougars" – toyboy-loving women such as Demi Moore and Madonna – will find the young 21st-century man highly receptive to their charms.
Rich Gosse, an American who has spent the past 15 years championing older women, will attempt to prove "there are millions of men who find older women attractive" at a convention dedicated to so-called cougars and pumas – women who date younger men.
Mr Gosse last night said, "We're trying to shatter the taboo that says women can't date younger men. We're also doing it because there just aren't enough older men to go round. Men die five years earlier than women – so there's a smaller dating pool."
Although television shows such as Sex and the City and Cougar Town, which stars Courteney Cox, have helped to popularise the cougar phenomenon, Mr Gosse said older women have been "victimised by our youth-obsessed society". He added: "Age discrimination is perhaps the most pervasive prejudice in society." He wants cougar dating – 40-year-olds who go out with younger men – to become the norm.
He defended the concept of cougars after research last week suggested that, beyond the world of celebrity, the trend of older women going out with younger men was a myth. A study of online dating sites found that men and women followed tradition when it came to searching for partners, with women tending to seek older men and men younger women, especially as they themselves age. The findings, which analysed the age preferences of 22,000 men and women using online dating sites across 14 countries, were published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.
Michael Dunn, a psychologist at the University of Wales, said his research showed the cougar phenomenon was "a myth and a media construct". He added: "Only the showbiz elite buck this evolutionary trend, and it could be because stars such as Madonna have already achieved their own wealth and status. But these relationships don't tend to last."
Yet Dr Dunn's conclusions go against the Hollywood trend for toyboys. Moore, now 47, the star of Ghost, married Ashton Kutcher, now 32, in 2005, and Madonna, 52, has an "on-off" relationship with the Brazilian model Jesus Luz, 24. Sam Taylor-Wood, aged 43, the artist-turned-film-maker, had a baby girl last month with her 20-year-old fiancé, Aaron Johnson.
Mr Gosse added: "Dr Dunn correctly concluded that women prefer older men. Nothing new there. Women have consistently preferred older men for thousands of years. But his study only covered preferences, not who these women actually are dating. If his study had analysed who women are actually dating, he would have found that many are breaking out of the younger woman/older man stereotype and dating younger men."