SEX! Researchers, journalists, and furries debate The Topic They Love To Hate.
by Patch O'Furr
Just published in the media: SF IS A HOTBED OF ONE KINKY-CREEPY-CUTE SUBCULTURE. And: SAN FRANCISCO – A FURRY FETISH EPICENTER. More on that shortly. (I apologize if this post is jumbled to read all at once- a lot of related topics just happened.)
1) Researcher Debra Soh recently wrote about Furries in Harper’s Magazine. I invited her to submit a piece here. She sent:
“A Lesson Everyone Can Learn from Furries”
“I wanted to write something witty and humourous for your readers, then realized a message that is more important to share.
As a sex researcher, I use brain imaging to understand how and why people develop their specific sexual interests. Our culture is not as sex-positive as it could be, and when someone asks me about my work, I am usually prepared for one of two types of reactions when I respond. Either the person will say, “That’s so interesting! Tell me more!” or they will get extremely uncomfortable, possibly angry, and sometimes imply that there is something wrong with me for wilfully pursuing this line of research.
I used to avoid speaking about my work outside of professional contexts, for fear of offending or alienating people in the room. After seeing what the fandom is about firsthand, I admire furries for pursuing what interests you, in spite of mainstream society’s opinions. You do as you wish—and why shouldn’t you? Non-furries could learn a thing or two.
I’ve since resolved to stand tall in the work that I do, and to be unapologetic if someone doesn’t share my enthusiasm for the things I find interesting.”
Debra W. Soh is a PhD Candidate in Psychology specializing in Sexual Neuroscience at York University in Toronto. She recently published a letter to the editor in the Archives of Sexual Behavior about her experience attending Furnal Equinox, which can be found here: “A Peek Inside a Furry Convention.”
2) Recently there was high traffic and controversy here about: THE NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY RESEARCH STUDY ON FURRIES.
Read about it’s non-judging intentions regarding sex – and what (or if) that has to do with Furries. Another researcher (who had nothing to do with the study) made a great comment:
… a unidimensional or binaristic approach to sex… doesn’t seem to take into account how power, fear, desire, love, longing, shame, attachment, and the need to conquer one’s personal demons can all become seamlessly interwoven with feelings of arousal or attraction. Arousal or attraction isn’t just about madly jerking off in response to a stimulus… So, someone might be “aroused” by the idea of becoming a particular animal because they relish the thought of becoming greater, stronger, more powerful, more respected, or more beautiful than they currently are, and not so much because they find tails or scales “so hawt” per se.
That explains how a creative hobby could intersect with a kink/fetish… (if it does)… but feeling sexy and “sexiness” doesn’t need anything to do with getting physical. Role playing is symbolic and mental too.
3) Having a “sexy” car doesn’t make you a perv, either…
Sometimes I compare fursuiting to driving a flashy car. (Yeah, it’s expensive and unnecessary, but it sure is fun.) Mainstream music and pop culture loves equating cars and sex. Mainstream fun might involve going to a car show… nobody thinks a car show is an orgy. A lot of Furries have fun seeing fursuits at a con… but there’s a media-distorted assumption that all furries have fursuits (only a fraction do), AND they do dirty things with them.
4) San Francisco Furries just got a lot of press. It made some mad about unfair “fetish” labels. Those articles again: SF IS A HOTBED OF ONE KINKY-CREEPY-CUTE SUBCULTURE and SAN FRANCISCO – A FURRY FETISH EPICENTER.
Thanks for the links from Kai, who anticipates a spike in furry tourism: “it could be an interesting weekend at the Stud…” The articles feature the popular furry party at The Stud, Frolic. (I wonder if the writers consulted my LONG interview with Frolic founder Neonbunny?)
Comments on his post give a True Story of a professional mascot who was unfairly fired for being seen at a furry con. That resulted from a distorted/false MTV report about furries. (It’s today known as a faked travesty.) It makes a very valid point. On the other hand, I felt:
I don’t think it’s good to pretend that certain interests don’t exist and aren’t popular. It gives all the power to rumor and innuendo from giggling people with boring lives who are secretly titillated about it. Nobody is accurately informed about how much or little it does exist. People think you have something to hide and they exploit it. Sex is more than robotic “push button to dispense pleasure” anyhow. That’s why dancing, art, driving silly cars is about sex too… Costuming is sexy as hell, drunk normal people hit on fursuiters in ways they’d never admit to themselves sober.
What the articles get right and wrong:
- Wrong: The furry map started from a German site full of Germans, so the 7,500 furries on it don’t accurately represent a much larger world population.
- Right: “the Bay Area could very well have the world’s largest population of furries per square mile”.
- Wrong: “I recommend this 2001 Vanity Fair story by George Gurley.” This explains how it’s a “flat-out false publication”; “the absolute worst” on a long list.
- Wrong: “plenty of invite-only parties devoted to fursuit sex.” There aren’t “plenty.” Trust me, it HAS been covered here… but that was one of the few (or only one) of it’s kind ever attempted as an official event. It’s like plane crashes – rare but sensationalized.
- Wrong: “furry fetishists/lifestyle-enthusiasts”. Say FANS or MEMBERS. Starting with labels, the story is distorted away from a creative community.
- Right-ish: There is SOME furry fetish community. It is small – a fraction of a niche. It gets a lot bigger when you look at self-generated drawn erotica that’s overflowing all over the internet. Of course that isn’t all that members like – far from it! (Top interests probably start with mainstream cartoons.) At the same time, people who really have a fetish or kink (or merely browse adult art) aren’t outsiders. They like sci fi, art, and creativity as much as everyone else. They represent a subculture as much as anyone who has nothing to do with them. There isn’t really an identifiable group… Just a collection of individuals who represent themselves. If outsiders make a broad brush label, you can only inform or ignore them.
TL;DR: The fetish stuff isn’t huge or done by everyone. It’s not exactly separate from other Furry interests, but not a definer. It’s poorly understood but harmless – even natural. (Almost) everyone has sex, and as Psychology Today explains: “Fetishes Do Not Exist.”
I’ve often remarked that Americans are entirely too fixated on sex in general. Hell, I’ve even had people declare, “Oh, that has to be sexual,” after I showed them perfectly-decent pictures of fursuiters and broadly described the fandom.
I don’t which is more sad, really–the assumption that something odd, different, or unusual must necessarily be driven by sex, or the fact that I’ve encountered people who’ve also expressed suspicion of fursuiters because they aren’t motivated by *money.*
For me, the fandom is this colourful carousel of ideas, interests, experiences, revelations, and encounters, so always being asked about whether people fuck each other while wearing panda suits is really quite tiresome. It’s like telling someone that you went to an incredible banquet, and then having them ask if people ate asparagus with their fingers, ooooooooh-ooh! What are we, five? It’s just silly.
I feel like the public at large could potentially learn a lot from the fandom, and even, find a great deal to admire about it, if they could stop fixating on sex for five seconds.
Oh, and thanks for the shout-out/compliment :).
Yeah it was a great comment 🙂
I think a lot of people are too neurotic and repressed about sex. It’s like grown-ups covering their faces while peeping and giggling. American traditional puritanism and me-first attitude mix in a twisted way. A nipple-slip at the Super Bowl one year was a scandal because Think Of The Children, but torture-porn movies lead the box office. I really enjoyed watching Century Of The Self recently… it described how people are led around aimlessly by carrots of superficial consumeristic desire, so the big social scope stays controlled by a few powerful manipulators. I think that’s why completely backwards attitudes are still powerful. The same people who fund billion dollar chastity education that’s worse than none are meanwhile doing coke off stripper tits and hiding their criminal friends. They brew up a “culture war” with stupidity on both sides, while they plunder everyone’s property. It’s all distraction.
Century of the Self is brilliant. Mandatory viewing for everyone!
Compulsive self-expression (like the kind pushed in most advertising) is also a trap. “Do this, and you will be free.” “Flaunt this, and you’ll prove that you’re no fuddy-duddy.”
America’s obsession with sex, I think, is largely grounded in this intense need to prove that “we” are all liberated, free, and cool, unlike our Puritanical forebears–and yet, the culture’s still haunted by that Puritanical anxiety and guilt. I’d just be content for the pendulum to stop swinging between the extremes, and just find a happy medium.
I hate how popular media purposefully confuses expressions of sensuality, sexuality talk and actual sex as if they were the same thing. The furry culture is about expressing sensuality and discussing/depicting sexuality much more than it is about actual sex. The fact it’s an internet-based culture should be the biggest clue. I mean come on… if furries are so obsessed with sex where are all the furry hookup bars? Where are all the furry prostitutes and furry brothels? Where are all the adults-only conventions? Shouldn’t these be all over the place if we really were so sex hungry? Instead the biggest furry businesses related to actual sex acts are producers of oddly shaped dildoes which are mostly bought by males for personal use… that’s pretty emblematic of the real situation, that is a community of people in love with anthropomorphic fantasies and with sexuality talk which may or may not have something to do with their RL sex life.
We need a “Furry Bar”. I think the post-2010 “Furclub” movement is the closest thing so far, but they ARE just dance parties for the most part.
Furry prostitutes? Hahaha… fursuit hugs are free and cuddling is just as good as anything else 🙂
Well said. I think the furry fandom is extremely *sensual,* but sensuality isn’t necessarily about sex–and hell, not even sex is necessarily about sex!
You’re also right that you can explore and discuss sex without being *obsessed* with sex as an act. I see the furry fandom largely as a place for identity exploration, and of course sexuality and gender are facets of identity. I think people mistake some furries’ candor about their fetishes (especially online) as being fixated solely on sex and fetishism.
It actually reminds me a bit of how some people see LGB people as being defined *only* by their sexuality, and what they do in the sack.
Even though furries get upset when mainstream media calls their fan club “a fetish club”, most furry news sites are all to eager to cover sexual topics openly and often.
Now, don’t get ME (a stranger in the comment section) wrong: I do not think sexual content is bad. I DO however think that shoving sex into a public place and into everyone’s faces IS wrong. Sex should be a private thing, or at least discussed with those who are okay with it, when it;s okay. Do we see New York Times put porn on its front page? No, and that is why their paper is respectable. Furries are perfectly fine to have porn or erotica represent them. HEY, I WANK TO THIS! LOOK AT IT! DO YOU LIKE IT? NO? WELL YOU’RE INTOLERANT AND YOU MUST ACCEPT ME!
It’s Social Interaction 101 – do not suddenly bring up sex for no reason, and do not shove your porn into other people’s faces. Never do either.
Pretty much made my point. Feel free to disagree.
P.S. I feel like I am the only one in the 21st century who knows the proper definition of a “fetish”. It roughly means “attributing great importance and/or power to an object or detail, ignoring the context of the whole”. The concept of a fetish is tribal, and is one of the many words discovered by colonialists in Africa and Asia (together with “taboo” and “ketchup”). Opposed to the ICON, which channels the power of a deity but has no powers of its own, a FETISH is an object (usually small) that HAS power in an of itself. A fetish is believed to be a source of important power and is worshiped for that reason. Confusing “liking something” to “having a fetish” is akin to confusing a tap on the shoulder to a fist to the face: totally incorrect. Speaking of sexual fetishes, a red shoe is a perfect example of one. A body PART is a fetish, entire body it NOT. If you are attracted to women, it is NOT a fetish. If you are only attracted to FAT women who are OVER 40, then you DO have a sex fetish. If you are wanking to an image, you are weird in the public’s eyes, but you do not have a fetish. If you wank to it only because the character on it has a HAT, then you do.
There, I explained the meaning of a word on a website. Will my words be heard, or ignored? Will I be told to go away for telling everyone what to think? Who knows.
I think it takes a little parsing to pick apart the issue. Labels imply definitions. Even people who may take part in fetish activities (drawing adult art, etc) object to being defined by that among many other interests, by outsiders with shallow understanding. It’s not a fetish community, it’s a fan community.
“Most furry news sites” = it could be argued that’s a category of 2 or less! (The only reason this one is so active is because nobody else seems to feel like it.) Flayrah has gone mostly dormant. Adj/Species is more for essays and not that active about “current events”. Furstarter covers crowdfunding only. There is SOME coverage of “adult” topics, but I don’t think that often (maybe 1 in 15 articles here, if that). It’s almost always modified by disclaimers that it doesn’t define the hobby.
“shoving sex into a public place and into everyone’s faces” – I think we have to agree to disagree. In my opinion, nothing about this is for titillation. Words about a thing isn’t the thing itself. Discussing isn’t shoving… and if you can’t do it on a blog, then where? It’s not a billboard by the highway… it’s a place for readers who are already seeking the topic. Also, it’s not a writer’s job to manage how minors use the internet. I’m pro-open discussion, sex education, personal liberty, diversity of opinion, etc.
I think “fetish” in the tribal religion sense is now diverged from the personal sense. Either definition is equally valid, in proper context. Just semantics. For info, it would be neat to know when the new meaning entered the dictionary. (The research dates back more than a century, to Krafft-Ebing, I think.)
Thanks for being understanding and actually reading through my mess.
And by “most furry news sites” I actually meant something different, but I cannot exactly edit, can I? What I meant was “furry information sources”. When someone decides to search for information on furries, they get what they get.
Yeah, Google has it all. I call it a big umbrella from dirty to disney. I think that’s actually a strength in some ways. Companies can’t dominate stuff that conflicts with their P.R. It leaves it up to the individual. Whatever you’re into there’s a place for it, and people seem to be extra accepting about it.