Berkeley woman crowned Miss Cougar International

Photo: Amy Luna Manderino won the title of Miss Cougar International April 1.
Amy Luna Manderino/Courtesy
Amy Luna Manderino won the title of Miss Cougar International April 1.

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When she attended a singles mixer last September in Newark, Calif., Berkeley resident Amy Luna Manderino did not know that she would be crowned Miss Cougar International less than a year later in Jamaica.

Manderino won the title on April 1 during International Cougar Week, an event organized by The Society of Single Professionals and held at an adult club and resort in Jamaica. In September, she became eligible for the competition after winning Miss Cougar San Francisco East Bay 2010, while at the mixer for older women and younger men, and the subsequent Miss Cougar California title.

"Sometimes I call myself the accidental cougar because I don't feel like anything about my lifestyle changed - I've been dating this way for 20 years," Manderino said. "All of a sudden I have a name because I'm older."

She added that she does not identify with the sexually aggressive hunter stereotype often associated with cougars and that, instead, when she makes a connection with someone - whatever his age - she resonates with him, a quality to which she attributes her multiple cougar competition wins.

According to Manderino, majoring in liberal arts and women's studies at Pennsylvania State University allowed her to appreciate the lifestyles of influential women who lived outside of society's norm and realize all of the possibilities for herself and her relationships.

"It's insulting to young men that the media thinks the only reason older women would date younger men is for sex," Manderino said. "We have a little cultural bias against the women being more of the teacher or mentor in the relationship."

Manderino, a self-proclaimed "culture junkie," has traveled to more than 100 cities in 18 countries, forming connections with people through music and dance. She created the "Dance for Seduction" workshop - in which men are taught skills to become more confident on the dance floor - and currently teaches "Play for a Lifetime," an intuitive method by which beginning adults can learn to play the piano without reading music, in her home and at the Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville.

During cougar week, Manderino performed with local Jamaicans at the resort Hedonism II, which holds theme nights such as "Toga Night" and "Fetish Wear," encouraging guests to "fulfill their fantasies," said Steven Pottinger, public relations and social media manager at Hedonism II.

"The resort caters to adventurous adults - people who like to let their hair down and have a good time," Pottinger said.

According to Rich Gosse, executive producer of and chairman of the society, this was the first year the society crowned a Miss Cougar International. Cougar contests are held around the world, and the society hosts more than 100 events annually in the Bay Area, Gosse said.

"We're trying to educate people that the best combination is younger men, older women," he said. "There's a demographic imperative - there's a tremendous shortage of middle-aged men that are willing to date women of their own age."

The society has hosted younger men/older women parties for the past 15 years but did not draw any media attention until it changed the event name to "Cougar Parties" two years ago, Gosse said.

Manderino said she receives the most opposition to her dating style from the younger men's mothers, who often support age difference in relationships - but only if the man is older.

"In my experience, the most difficult thing about older women/younger men relationships is the younger man's mom," Manderino said. "Why are those women ape shit over this idea of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes but stony and conflicted about the reverse? ... I think the moms need to love themselves and go find themselves a younger single guy."

While Manderino's lifestyle is criticized by some, she said she firmly believes in soulmates, individuals who she can laugh with and who intellectually stimulate her.

"I have two soulmates that I talk to every day - one is my friend Shirley, and one is my gay best friend Wilber," she said. "I know what a soulmate is - I'm just looking for one I can have sex with."


Contact Kelsey Clark at [email protected]

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