I was fetishised at 18 by a 40-year-old man
Have you ever been told you are ‘mature for your age’? I have.
I was a teenager, living with parents and in full-time education when a man first ‘complimented’ me in this way.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this was a tactic used to isolate me from my friends and enable me to feel special because a much older man desired me.
Mark* was in his 40s and was far too old to be sliding into my messages.
This man would go on to fetishise my age, reducing me to a ‘barely legal’ fantasy.
Fetishism is defined as ‘a form of sexual desire in which gratification is linked to a particular object’ or part of the body. Age fetishisation means the object in question is a person’s age group.
With the rise of teen porn and age play in recent years, young people (16 – 19) have become highly sexualised for their inexperience and naivety – both online and offline.
My earliest recollection of this was at the age of 15, when strolling through the city centre; I was the recipient of wolf-whistles and cat-calls from greying, middle-aged men.
It made me feel uncomfortable and triggered my fight-or-flight response, but I thought this was natural for any young woman.
My most significant experience of age fetishisation, however, occurred when I’d just turned 18.
I was messing around with the age restrictions on my Tinder profile with my friends, swiping right on numerous older men. We’d seen screenshots of dating app trolls messaging song-lyrics and funny openers to strangers online, and we wanted to be in on the joke.
In hindsight, this was another demonstration of how immature we truly were.
It was at this point that I matched with Mark.
He was undeniably attractive, had a well-paying job, and was rarely pictured without friends.
Mark seemed strikingly different from the other older males I had seen and I couldn’t believe that a man with such brilliant assets had chosen to swipe right on me.
I believed I was just an average-looking sixth form student with nothing else to offer – and to an extent, I was right.
Why would a 40-year-old man with an abundance of life experience want to ignite a relationship with an 18-year-old who was still in full-time education?
My age, the name of my college and my affinity for memes and makeup tutorials were crystal clear on my profile.
After my friends had left, I decided to strike up a real conversation with Mark. At the time I didn’t question his motives and was more flattered by him matching with me than I was concerned.
We exchanged pleasantries at first, but it wasn’t long until the question of sex was introduced. I told him I was a virgin with minimal sexual experience.
‘Not that I couldn’t lose it if I wanted to,’ I insisted. ‘I’m just not sure how ready I am.’
Mark understood, and reassured me that he wasn’t going to make me do anything I might regret. Though, he added that I was so unique that perhaps he wouldn’t be able to help himself.
After all, he’d ‘know how to handle me’ better than the boys in my class.
I couldn’t help but feel elated at that comment. I always figured there was something special about me, a mature elegance that the boys at college couldn’t see.
I often angled for compliments in conversations with Mark and he would say that I had the sophisticated aura of someone 10 years my senior – but the praise always degenerated into something sexual.
‘Your age and lack of experience makes you a true submissive,’ he said once.
I’d only been speaking to him for a matter of weeks, but the elation I had initially felt swiftly began to deflate. The idea of having sex with Mark was still intriguing, but the two sides of his personality didn’t seem to correlate in my teenage brain.
The obvious age gap between us gave him an air of excitement, but I was too naive to realise how powerful this made him.
He was coercive, hypersexual and often controlling. He used to tell me how much he ‘wanted me to himself’. He’d often suggest I engage in sex acts I hadn’t tried, and wasn’t yet ready for. He’d threaten to ‘find a better option’ if I didn’t. Not wanting to lose out on his undivided attention, this worked on me every time. My inexperience made me easy to manipulate.
But the fight-or-flight I’d felt the first time I got catcalled was triggered once again. I stopped replying to his messages, and didn’t hear from him until four years later.
Mark had followed me on Instagram for a couple of years, in full knowledge of my relationship and subsequent break-up. Just three months after I’d split with my ex, he made his move.
He told me that I’d obviously grown a lot, but I was still ‘young enough’ for him.
Feeling suddenly unsafe, but with a fierce desire to reclaim my power, I blocked him from all social media platforms.
It was as if four years’ worth of anxiety was released as I felt a sudden surge of relief.
The differences between age fetishisation and age gap relationships are subtle, but important.
While an age gap relationship might have its grounding in mutual respect, attraction and interests, age fetishisation is far more sexual.
The only reason Mark ever wanted to talk to me was because I was 18, wide-eyed and virginal. It felt like he wanted to ‘ruin’ me, removing my right to exist as a complex human being and turning me into an object for his own sexual fantasies is a fetish – not affection.
Age-fetishisation can be experienced by people of all genders and ages, yet it seems that young women are disproportionately depicted in age play porn.
A quick PornHub search of the term ‘barely 18’ revealed that the most viewed title; ‘Little Maja – Only 18’ has been viewed 31.5million times. Other titles include ‘Since My GF Turned 18, She’s My Personal Pornstar’ and ’40 vs 18 – She Can’t Handle It’.
Images of infantilised women accompanied by the words ‘teen sex’ are impossible to miss on banner ads and in pop-ups.
Meanwhile, celebrity 18th birthday countdowns – a US-originated trend in which young female child stars are subjected to a daily countdown until they reach the legal age of consent – have been a distasteful discourse since the late 90s.
Victims of this have previously included Natalie Portman, the Olsen twins, and more recently, Kendall and Kylie Jenner.
It raises several questions as to why these older men would be attracted to younger women in the first place.
The task now is to de-normalise a cultural kink when it’s so prevalent.
While we continuously fail to bat an eyelid at exploitative older men, we’re doing our young women a disservice.
When Mark attempted to re-enter my life, he hadn’t changed – he was still obsessed with my age. And I can’t help but feel disappointed in myself for believing everything he told me four years ago, despite knowing it wasn’t my fault.
I was blissfully unaware that I was playing with fire, but with this one experience, I lost a significant amount of trust in potential sex partners.
Women are exposed to hypersexual older men from a young age; whether in the media, on the street or on social platforms.
We need to take action to ensure that this form of oppression is dismantled.
Call out your male friends if you know they’re exploiting younger women, communicate with your female friends about consensual sex with older men.
The age of consent does not universally equate to maturity and experience.
Exploring sex with someone much older than you may seem fun and exciting, at first. Some women, like myself, may even go looking for this kind of attention.
But always trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right about this person, cut them off.
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