Last year, we ruffled a few feathers when we posted some OKCupid data on dating and race. We’re sure this latest news is going to be equally unpopular, but the data support the conclusions, so here we go.

Women users of the online dating site state a range of preferred ages for partners that is relatively normal, and when it comes to reaching out to other users, they stay pretty strictly within their own self-imposed guidelines. However, men on the site continue to state a preference for 20-something girls well into their later years. And even when male users state a cut-off age, they continue to contact women who are below that age. Culture of sexual exploitation or personal preference? Check out the graphs below and let us know what you think in the comments.

For starters, OKCupid’s blog states, “Men between 22 and 30 – nearly two-thirds of the male dating pool – focus almost exclusively on women younger than themselves… A man, as he gets older, searches for relatively younger and younger women. Meanwhile his upper acceptable limit hovers only a token amount above his own age.”

Here’s what that looks like in a graph format:

Women, on the other hand, display an “admirable openness to both reasonably younger and reasonably older men,” with the exception of early-20s young women who generally prefer to date slightly older young men.

Here’s where the plot thickens: Stated age preferences are fine and dandy, but how different genders actually interact with potential dates of varying ages belies male users’ statements about who they’re really looking to meet.

Here’s a heat map overlaid with the women’s stated age preferences. You can see that, with striking regularity, women mean it when they say they want to find a partner within a given age range:

As you can see, the data show that 29-year-old women generally stop messaging significantly younger men.

Now, here’s the data on men’s messaging habits:

The men in this study consistently reached out to the youngest of the women in their preference range – which already heavily favors younger women. Moreover, they don’t cut themselves off at their stated minimum age preference. “No matter what he’s telling himself on his setting page,” reads the OKCupid blog, “a 30-year-old man spends as much time messaging 18- and 19-year-olds as he does women his own age.”

Taking into account this data about sexual desirability and women’s responses to frank questions about sex acts and exploration, the OKCupid researchers determined a socio-sexual sweet spot for men to consider:

To some, this graph might look like an episode of Cougartown. But the folks at OKCupid feel that “older” women get a bad rap in the online dating world – one that they don’t necessarily deserve.

What’s your experience or opinion on the matter? Let us know in the comments.