Reed is long past worrying about getting knocked up — just one of many perks she has to offer a younger gentleman. "I've got experience, and I'm not needy. I don't have any baggage, and because I have no baggage, my body is nice," she sums up.

Come again?

"After women have children, their nipples get darker," says she. "Mine are still pink.

Cindy Capps, 43, can handle the guys who feel the need to send photos of their manhood. But references to Jesus? Not so much.
Jennifer Silverberg
Cindy Capps, 43, can handle the guys who feel the need to send photos of their manhood. But references to Jesus? Not so much.
Model: Rachel Gunn; Makeup: Rachel Elizabeth Meltzer
Jennifer Silverberg
Model: Rachel Gunn; Makeup: Rachel Elizabeth Meltzer

"You have no idea how many men point that out."


Yes, Unreal has had quite a month.

It began with an e-mail from a 43-year-old woman who'd been an inveterate cougar for years without knowing there was a word for it, and, by the way, would we like to know how she's perfected the art?

Frankly, it seemed a little too...obvious.

Heck, only a few weeks earlier Saturday Night Live had run a cougarific skit featuring three fortysomething TV hosts decked out in spray tans and slinky tops who waxed rhapsodic about "blowjoys" and the importance of the pelvic exercises known as Kegels. Wearing a skin-tight cougartard, "guest" Cameron Diaz pawed a young boy toy in tennis whites, played by none other than Ashton Kutcher, who in real life is married to Demi Moore, fifteen years his senior.

And last summer brought NBC's reality show Age of Love, pitting twentysomethings against fortysomethings vying for a 31-year-old fella's heart. E! Entertainment ran an entire series called 25 Hottest Cougar Tales. And ABC's Primetime ran a cougar segment three years ago. Not to mention the more than a dozen respectable daily newspapers that've run stories on the cougar phenomenon, all of them trumpeting Anne Bancroft in The Graduate as the beguiling precursor to a movement that today finds its apotheosis in Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall.

By God, no less an authority than the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) weighed in this past February in its eponymous monthly magazine, pathetically relying on statistics from a 2003 survey to back up the "trend."

Cougars = mainstream?

Indubitably.

To kill this cat once and for all, we hightailed it to the University City Public Library and checked out the 2002 tome Cougar, written by Canadian journalist Valerie Gibson.

"Did you see How I Met Your Mother last night?" the librarian asked when we handed her the book. "Jane Seymour played a" — her voice dropped to a whisper — "cougar, and Neil Patrick Harris was her...prey!"

Oh, yeah? Funny stuff?

"I just found out what the word meant!" The librarian looked down, then up at Unreal. Her face blushed beet-red. "Are you—?"

Nope! Just doing research.

"Well, this is my generation. I'm 43 and single, and I had a 21-year-old guy hit on me recently and I was telling a friend, and she was like, 'Ooh, are you a cougar?!'

"I'm not, but I sort of thought: Is it necessary to name it? I mean, I think it comes down to women who wanted it both ways, with careers and families — they got their careers and now they don't have kids. All the men their age want to date younger women, and they're looking around and going, 'You know what, the young guys want it: Why not?'"

Great point. Still, we were having trouble getting past the fact that yet another fortysomething St. Louisan had just gotten hip to the term.

Can you see how many people have checked out the book? we asked.

"Five," she said.

That's it?

Back at the office we logged on to the website urbancougar.com which features a "Cougar of the Month" and tracks "cougar dens" across the United States.

We rubbed our sweaty palms together, clicked on "Missouri" and pictured ourself on a flying carpet to the nearest coug-lair.

Up came a restaurant called re:Verse. In Kansas City.

And St. Louis?

Nada.

Time to go hunting.


Cindy Capps opens the door to her Florissant apartment wearing a T-shirt imprinted with "Camp Angel Fire, Subservient Boy Instructor."

"I got it at a thrift store," she chirps. "I thought it was perfect for the occasion!"

Capps has long auburn hair and a twiggy frame festooned with tattoos. A single mom and artist who pays the rent by waiting tables, she penned the aforementioned e-mail that sent Unreal a-cougarin'. Two nights before our arrival at her pad, she brought home a 22-year-old and her nosy neighbor, who was sitting outside, asked, "Is that your son?"

Capps, 43, doesn't recall ever dating a man her age. Her husband, from whom she separated in 2004, was twelve years her junior. Her most recent boyfriend was 34. They split in March. He was pulling stupid shit like driving drunk, she says. Besides, he wanted kids.

Capps was working one night not long after the breakup when she heard some male colleagues laughing about a couple of "cougars." She went home, logged onto urbandictionary.com and learned she belonged to a trendy, wild human subspecies.

The revelation was empowering.

"Society says you're old and dried up by the time you've turned 40, and it's such horseshit," Capps says. "We need to celebrate women taking control of their sexual desires. Nobody's getting hurt in these relationships — and shhhh, nobody's gonna tell."

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