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Sound the trumpets, bar the door, Demi Moore, 40, is dating a man 15 years younger than she is: Ashton Kutcher, the pretty boy from That '70s Show, who's 25.

Never mind that she's 15 times fitter, richer and better-looking than 100 per cent of the tut-tutters -- from the way the tabloids and the TV shows portray it, you'd think she's personally taken a machete to the belt loop region of every man over 26.

Now, do I think Moore and Kutcher have fallen deeply into a spiritual love that will last for eternity -- conveniently 10 minutes before the opening of her first movie in six years, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, in which she plays a villain named Madison who fondles honking-big guns and wears a black bikini so thin it could be made of lines of type?

No, I do not. I think she has a comeback to promote, and he has a new prank-filled MTV show, Punk'd, so why not let photographers grab a few glamour shots and writers generate gallons of free ink on their behalf?

I also think this: The amount of gaga over Moore's tale (and her tail) says something truly disturbing about -- how can I put this politely? -- the very, very low expectations that North Americans seem to have of finding any woman over 39 "worth" going to bed with.

Forget same-sex marriage, wife-swapping, haute strip clubs and bestiality.

No matter what happens in the crannies of our culture, the biggest sexual taboo on this crazy continent is still the older woman who dares to be sexual -- especially one who chooses a younger partner to do it with.

In each of the four decades that I have been alive, some famous woman has dated publicly a younger man -- Joan Collins! Liz Taylor! J. K. Rowling! Madonna! Each time, a few optimistic souls have declared that this or that relationship is at last the groundbreaking one, that no one will make a fuss from now on.

Wrong-o. The minute the next older woman comes along -- usually, she's successful and resented for something -- all hell breaks loose again.

Each is reacted to as if she were the first female on Earth to attempt such hubristic coupling. Each is excoriated -- "what does he see in her?" -- and each of her partners is portrayed as wimpy, or gold-digging, or gay.

Jane Juska, 70, author of the memoir, A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance, thinks our collective nervousness about and/or disdain for such relationships stems from our unconscious enslavement to the biological imperative. An older woman with a younger man takes an eligible sperm-producing male off the market and sidelines him with a non-procreative female, she says, thus betraying the propagation of the species.

In her book, Juska writes about having sex with a man she calls Graham, who is half her age. A good number of her readers, male and female, are freaked out about this; they've flooded her e-mail box and ranted at her during readings. "Some people roll their eyes, and a few get really angry about it," Juska told me. "One woman said to me: 'He must be really ugly to be going out with you!' When I said: 'No, he's quite good-looking,' she persisted: 'Well, there must be something wrong with him, or why would he?' "

Let's be shallow for a second and talk optics -- it's not like Moore is a wrinkly 90-year-old tottering about on the arm of a cabana boy who could be her great-grandson. It's not like she's, say, Harrison Ford, who is 60 and dating someone 22 years younger (Calista Flockhart, 38), or Billy Joel, who is 54 and recently attended the Tony Awards with his daughter, 17, and his girlfriend, 21. Forty is not old; 15 years is not a Grand Canyon-sized gap.

Plus, far from being quirky-looking, Moore fits the exact, precise mould that our culture deems attractive. Her beauty is not eccentrically off-centre, it is dead-centre, bull's-eye, right down the middle: big breasts, tight bottom, long hair, symmetrical, unlined face -- everything that women collectively desire to have, and men to have.

And still the tabs are shocked -- shocked! -- that she's sexy. They spend pages explaining how that could possibly be: They go on about her gruelling daily multi-hour workouts with personal trainers. They write about her many plastic surgeries, her teeth whitening (the nerve!), and her crazy diets. "Demi lost 15 pounds eating only raw food!" trumpeted last week's Star.

Other tabloids have cast Moore in a morality play (The National Examiner had her ex-husband, Bruce Willis, regretting his own affairs with younger women, begging Moore to "dump her toyboy" and feeling a "deep-down need to get back home with Demi, put his feet up in front of the fire and bounce their daughters on his knee" -- awww!), or predicted her comeuppance ("Ashton's already cheating!" blared both In Touch and The National Enquirer).

Moore has defended herself in the legitimate media: To Vogue, she said her beauty comes from being spiritually grounded; to Entertainment Tonight, that she eats fries and hamburgers, and that the only exercise she gets is "moving furniture around my house."

All of which shocks the hell out of me. I mean, what is a 40-year-old female supposed to look like, or act like? Does the general public honestly think 40 equals saggy crone? That a woman's sex drive, which famously peaks at 36, bottoms out four years later unless she's a deviant cradle-robber? Really, we think this? Or can we please, finally, grow up?

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