At the tail end of her 30s, Liz Earls had a moment when she saw where she had come from and where she was going. Sitting at a desk in the corporate human-relations department where she worked at the time, she saw her boss walk by with his wife, and read the unhappiness of the relationship in their faces. It was something she had lived through with her ex-husband. There was something else: She was having an affair with her boss. “I came from this place of being the invisible fat mom. I had been numb for so long,” she says. “I’d deadened myself, had a barrier up. And I wanted to go way the other way.”
Earls soon underwent a physical transformation. She lost enough weight to require the services of a surgeon to remove the excess skin, and had breast implants. The person who emerged was the same Liz Earls, but something more—an empowered woman on many levels.
Earls had already worked professionally as a photographer, and when her affair with her boss made her position at his company untenable, she picked up her cameras again, and her life began to move in a very different direction. A chance sexual encounter led to another moment of self-discovery. Not only did she want to do erotic photography—she wanted to involve herself in the action.
She posted an ad on Craigslist advertising her services as an “erotic photographer.” She photographed single women, couples, and adventurous groups in every imaginable combination, both in private homes and in a spacious studio she had set up in Emeryville, Calif. She also photographed young men, many as avid to engage with her sexually as she was with them. She reveled in the sexual abandon and adventure of it, the men’s youth and attentions, and the photographic possibilities of it all.
“I knew right away I wanted to be involved,” she now says. “I wasn’t exactly sure how it was going to work. I felt good about my body, and so sexual. I was coming out of a drought, and here was so much passion. And I had this vehicle. Here I was with young guys in my loft. It was something I wanted to explore, completely independent of the photography.”
A year or so later, Earls put her studio into storage, and packed up her cameras for a road trip that took her around the world. Many of her encounters—in places from hotel rooms, bars, and bathrooms to private homes and public places—are captured in her new book, Days of the Cougar: The Outrageous Visual Diary of Sexual Adventurer Liz Earls, released by Taschen this week. The glossy book chronicles her X-rated encounters with a variety of much younger men—and is, in itself, a diary of sexual self-discovery. Both she and her young colts (sometimes several at a go) are photographed in a veritable gymkhana of sexual positions—and at equally extreme angles. She likes to keep the lighting natural.
As Earls showed me around the capacious 3,300-square-foot two-level loft space she recently leased in downtown Los Angeles, you can already see her photographer’s imagination at work—sizing up potential scenes and scenarios, seizing a focal point at random, and wrapping a sensual experience around it. It’s also the perfect background for explicit sexual encounters. The enormous spa tub that commands the foyer area speaks for itself. But then there’s the battered upright piano sitting in the center of the space that sets a dozen familiar screen setups unspooling in the mind’s eye, or the diner booth in the kitchen that, under dimmed lighting, without the bright daylight spilling into the loft, might easily transform cozy domesticity into a Nighthawks situation ripe with raunchy possibilities. Or the schoolgirl’s desk directly below, or the sex swing with stirrups that hangs not too far from a fully equipped gym.
Earls knows how to make maximum use of the available resources, but her greatest asset may simply be an uncanny ability to size up people and situations and just “go with the moment.” With that in mind, I sat down to ask Earls about sex—and her art.
What are the qualities you need to be a successful “cougar”?
Confidence. You have to feel good about yourself and secure in your body because the guys you’re looking at are going to be younger and good looking, and you have to know you’re good enough for them to look back.
What are the qualities required to be an appealing “cub”?
There’s a sweetness and a sense of being smitten, taken by you that comes across; not a fake charm, but a genuine sense of wanting to explore. It has nothing to do with how good-looking they are.
At what point can you tell that the “cub” has graduated to a more mature sexual persona?
I’m actually surprised at how these cubs are already very sexually mature. They’ve watched a lot of porn and been exposed to it from a very young age in a way older people weren’t. At a certain point it becomes about wanting to know what to do about wooing a girlfriend or getting her to be more open or adventurous.
Do you think anything gets lost in the transition?
I don’t think about that. I don’t judge it. You can’t compare the guy in the past with the guy in the moment. Is he better with his fingers, better with his tongue? It doesn’t concern me as long as I’m enjoying it in the moment.
What are the requisites for a good sexual pickup game?
It’s so hard to plan this stuff. Things happen, so the more natural, the more open the situation, the easier it is. It probably won’t happen if you’re looking too hard. One thing feeds off of another. You’re with one guy and then you meet another coming up in an elevator—you can’t plan these things. If you’re open to having fun, the more you do, the more it snowballs.
Missing my boyfriend. Worrying about losing him. Nothing negative in the sexual exploration. The lows come from the romantic side.
Is there any talent you think you lack that you’d like to have?
I’d love to be able to play the piano and sing—I envy people so into their music, able to really let that out. I think that could be just as good as sex.
“Here I was with young guys in my loft,” Earls says. “It was something I wanted to explore, completely independent of the photography.”
What is it (besides a toothbrush) you never travel without?
I always bring my strap-on and dildos. I recently lost my favorite dildo in cab in New York. They don’t make that model anymore.
Are there ever moments when the cougar ever feels she’d like to hang up the six-inch heels and just curl up into a little pussycat?
I definitely take my time to relax. I work out as much as I can, go to spas for full-day pampering. I love to dance. No, not really—I’m having so much fun.
What does it take to have it all: The love and romance? The nonstop, no-holds-barred sex? And the well-adjusted family?
You’ve got to take that leap of faith. It’s a moment of surrender—not relinquishing control of life, but letting it come about. I definitely have control of my life. But you have to accept that balance. If it feels right, embrace it. Other than missing my boyfriend, it’s a pretty constant high.