Feb. 10 2015 01:28 AM

The meteoric cultural rise of the MILF

Illustration by Lindsey Voltoline

If there’s one thing all Americans can agree on, it’s our love for moms. And, truth be told, by “moms,” we mean MILFs.

MILF, for the uninitiated, is an acronym that starts with “Mother” and ends with a word she’d prefer you not use in polite company. Though MILFs have been a cultural concept since the time of Sophocles (and much later, The Graduate), the term first emerged in ’90s Internet chat rooms and gained increasing traction with the film American Pie and the pneumatically lipped and hipped screen siren known as “Stifler’s mom.” A MILF is the hot mom on the block, the fuel of adolescent fumblings for tissue boxes in the dark. The way she sips her latte. The way she loads the lacrosse sticks into her minivan with that slight arch in her back. 

Every town’s got a few, but North County surfer-yoga-mom mecca Encinitas is so replete with MILFs they’ve even got their own YouTube arena-rock anthem, “Encinitas Moms.” We spoke with a few in the MILF’s natural habitat: a happy-hour book club held at a wine bar just down the street from suburban Encinitas Village. 

We wanted to know what MILFs thought about the MILF phenomenon, which has manifested in one very telling statistic: According to pornography search engine PORNMD, “MILF” is the No. 1 porn search term in North America. 

The overriding sentiment of MILFs about MILFs is one of confusion. Like so much sexual terminology, when removed from the funhouse mirror of porn and held up for more objective scrutiny, the strict definition starts to waver and fade. Let’s start with the most obvious question: Is “mother” the operative word here? 

“Are men into it specifically because you’re a mom or because you’re an older woman?” asks Lauren, a 33-year-old MILF with a last name we’ve dropped—as with all the last names in this story—to protect their children from mortal embarrassment.

“It’s not like there are baby toys and diapers lying around on porn sets,” adds 42- year-old Jessica, also a mom of two. 

She has a point. The only thing that tends to differentiate MILF porn from run-of-the-mill porn (if there is such a thing) is that MILF porn features fit, shapely women between the ages of 35 and 50, which reflects the ages of the MILFs we interviewed. 

Still, some women pegged as MILFs both in porn and reality look more like teenagers with babies strapped to their hips, and even among the older fetishized women of pop culture, there’s nary a stretch mark or Cesarean scar in sight. It’s a sanitized version of motherhood that possibly hints at the angst of young males over the process of settling down and having children. Chin up, boys— you might get lucky and she’ll stay hot for life! 

Bridget Herrin, an associate professor of psychology at MiraCosta College, says MILF love might have evolutionary underpinnings. 

“We know that males find youth and physical attractiveness signs of good reproductive success,” she notes. “But even better is the proof that a woman already has kids. It could be a sign she’s reproductively healthy. Now that women are having children later in life, we might see this happening at even older ages.” 

“It’s flattering to think men are attracted to moms, especially since we’re always being told it’s the younger women who are attractive,” says Kristin, a 36-year-old mom of two. “Still, I don’t think boys are into moms with National Geographic boobs and stretch marks, so that’s not something we’re going to see reflected in reality.” 

But that raises another question: Is it really only boys chasing after MILFs? For an increasingly Internet-savvy generation of baby boomers, porn starring a 40-year-old MILF might be the equivalent of the Barely Legal set. More middle-aged fathers staying home to care for their children means more interactions with MILFs on the playground. Even among young boys newly flown from the nest, is it an Oedipal desire, a longing for nurture and care, or something more reflective of changing socioeconomic times? 

Melissa, 47, says that a number of the families on her block in Encinitas Village include 20-something males still living at home, casualties of the failure-to-launch reality of the millennial generation. 

“They’re at home all day with these other moms living around them,” she adds. “You hear the kids talking, ‘So-and-so’s mom is so hot.’ Maybe it’s a competition for them, too. A mom who’s loyal, who has kids—she’s a challenge.” 

“Yeah, and chances are, if you’ve had kids,” deadpans Lauren, “you’ve had sex a few times.” 

That “experience factor” is no doubt a draw for MILF-lovers of all ages, both for the implied promise of hot sex—which, as the fantasy goes, is made even hotter by the harried, sexually repressed MILF’s utmost gratitude—and for the concomitant confidence that comes with her age and maturity.

MILFs, in other words, don’t derive their self-worth from the number of likes they have on their Instagram bikini shots. They’re too busy taking care of business. And maybe there’s a sexual draw in that notion, too. 

The MILF phenomenon “is a fetishizing of the female at an age where she is typically at the peak of her career or financial stability or independence,” says Herrin, who teaches courses on human sexuality. “We’re in a shifting society where feminism is on the lips of millions of Americans, and women are being empowered to be independent, to make their own choices, and that can be attractive.” 

Still, they all admit that even though they don’t need attention from men to feel worthy, it’s always nice to be the object of desire for men other than their husbands, who are bound by unspoken marital law to find them attractive (or at least to pretend to). 

That notion hit home for Jen, a 41-year-old mom of two boys, when she took a girls’ trip to Palm Springs a few years ago. 

“Some younger guys were all over us all night long,” she recalls. “They wanted to dance with the moms. Maybe we were safe, I don’t know. But I’ll tell you: That night kept me going for a long time. Sometimes it feels like my husband only sees me as a mom. It’s nice to be seen as a MILF. So keep liking us. It’s working. Give an old lady a thrill, won’t you please?”

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