The Meaning of the Acronym 'MILF'

Two teenage boys playing video games while one checks out his friend's mother
Illustration by Hugo Lin. ThoughtCo. 

The acronym MILF has been a part of our cultural lexicon since it popped up in the 1999 hit movie "American Pie." It refers to a woman, specifically a mom, who becomes an object of sexual fantasy for her children's teenaged friends. Or, to be blunt, a "mother I'd like to f - - k."

Cultural Origins

It's impossible to pinpoint the first time MILF was used, but stories about the fantasy—and the reality—of young men having sexual relationships with older women have been played out time and again throughout popular culture. Aristophanes addressed the subject as early as 391 B.C. in his comedy, "Women of the Assembly," in which the women of Athens take over the government and decree that no man can have sex with a young woman without first having sex with an elderly one. Nearly 2,000 years later, American writer Edith Wharton pens "The Age of Innocence," a novel of the social stratifications that exist among the upper-crust denizens of Gilded Age New York City. Its major plot point centers on the love affair between young lawyer Newland Archer and his fiance's cousin, the 30-year-old Countess Olenska, who at the time would have been considered an old maid. And we have countless films that tackle the topic, from "The Graduate" to "Harold and Maude" to "Bull Durham."

Cougar vs. MILF

Many of the women in these books and movies could be referred to as "cougars," a term that describes a woman over the age of about 35 who exhibits so-called "predatory" behavior toward men who are 10 or more years younger than they are. Unlike MILFs, cougars don't necessarily have children, and they are usually the ones doing the seducing. Implicit in the definition of a MILF is that she is primarily a fantasy. In addition, a MILF is not just any older woman, she is a mom, more specifically, a "hot mom," a mother whose children's friends find sexually attractive.

American Pie

Probably the first time that MILF achieved buzzword status was in the 1999 coming-of-age movie "American Pie." In it, comedic actress Jennifer Coolidge plays the attractive mother of a teenage boy named Stifler. One of Stifler's rivals, Paul Finch, finds himself lusting after Stifler's mom, and although she plays her part for laughs, Coolidge infuses her performance with enough seductiveness that "Stifler's mom" became the prototypical MILF. The term was so ubiquitous that the band Fountains of Wayne were inspired to write a 2003 song riffing on the topic called "Stacy's Mom," complete with a video that borders on the scandalous.

Congratulatory or Derogatory?

By and large, in our culture, women are seen as vital only so long as they remain fertile. Once they enter menopause, many women are treated as invisible—and they begin to feel invisible as well. Which is why some women consider it a compliment to be called a MILF. After all, it confers a sense of prolonged youth, and the ability to still wield sexual power over men.

But the term is also problematic. First of all, it qualifies the extent to which an older woman is considered attractive. In other words, you may look good, but you look good for an old hen—just don't go thinking you're still a spring chicken.

More troubling, however, is the fact that the teenagers who find their friends' mothers attractive are underage. Sure, one could argue, MILFs do not necessarily take advantage of their children's friends. They are simply the objects of their fantasies. Yet, in "American Pie," Stifler's mom does end up having sex with Paul Finch. Imagine if the roles were reversed and Stifler's mom was Stifler's dad—he'd be arrested for statutory rape and branded a pedophile.