Philias: Furry Isn’t a Fetish (Most of the Time)

The furry fandom gets a bad rap. But on this episode, we’re digging beneath the stereotypes to uncover the truth about this misunderstood community. We’ll chats with furry researcher Dr. Courtney Plante along with Riley Black, a science writer and a furry herself, to explore what the furry culture is really all about, from the artistry of fursuits to the appeal of fursonas. And yes, we’ll go there—investigating whether being a furry is actually a fetish (spoiler alert: for most, it’s not, but for the others, we’ll explore why). So put your preconceptions aside and get ready to learn what makes the furry community so fascinating—and maybe even find yourself with an urge to join in the fun.

Video version:

Is Furry a Fetish? Breaking Down the Science

The furry fandom gets a bad rap. But on this episode, we’re digging beneath the stereotypes to uncover the truth about this misunderstood community. We’ll chats with furry researcher Dr. Courtney Plante along with Riley Black, a science writer and a furry herself, to explore what the furry culture is really all about, from the artistry of fursuits to the appeal of fursonas.

Resources from Dr. Courtney Plante:

Resources from Riley Black:

Citations and further reading:

Dr. Plante in his doctoral regalia

Dr. Plante as Nuka in his doctoral regalia

Furries rate furry pornography as more explicit than non-furries do. Source


[00:00:00] Ashley: The early 2000s were an awful time to be a furry. Furries, in essence, are people who have an active interest in anthropomorphic animal characters. They make art about them, get together at events to talk about them, and most visibly dress up like them. But if all you knew about them was what you read in the 2001 Vanity Fair article entitled Pleasures of the Fur, you’d think they were a bunch of deviant sickos who can only get sexually aroused by wearing fursuits or doing unmentionable things to plush toys. You’d also come away wondering why you learned about crush fetish porn? The dude needed a better editor.

[00:00:44] Ashley: Then, TV got in on the action. There was a 2001 episode of ER that took a page out of Vanity Fair and conflated being a furry with being into sex with plushies. And a 2003 episode of CSI called Fur and Loathing investigated the fictional death of a man dressed in a raccoon costume, which led the detectives into the seedy underworld of furry sex, also known as yiffing.

[00:01:11] Ashley: One notable line from the episode? Look, if I don’t have my costume on, I pretty much can’t get yiffed. The message is clear. Furries are social outcasts with sexual fetishes that no normal human can stomach. This idea of furry as sexual fetish is now so ingrained in society, it’s most likely the first thing you think about when you hear the word furry.

[00:01:39] Ashley: I mean, it was for me. I’m literally doing an episode about them for this miniseries about fetishes, only to find out that it’s not a fetish. At least, not for most people. Today, we’ll explore what the furry fandom actually is. And, for the subset who do get hot thinking about anthropomorphic animals, we’ll find out why that is, what it does for them, and where the stereotypes have gone wrong.

[00:02:07] Ashley: I’m Ashley Hamer, and this is Taboo Science, the podcast that answers the questions you’re not allowed to ask.

[00:02:33] Ashley: In making this episode, I quickly learned that I actually have more in common with furries than I thought.

[00:02:39] Courtney Plante: The definition of furry is best understood as a fandom.

[00:02:42] Ashley: That’s Dr. Courtney Plante.

[00:02:44] Courtney Plante: I’m a social psychologist at Bishops University in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada, and primarily my research focuses on media effects and fan culture.

[00:02:56] Courtney Plante: I’m a co founder and lead data analyst for an organization called FurScience. It’s sort of this interdisciplinary group that studies furries and the furry fandom. I also do research on other fan groups like bronies and anime fans, Star Wars fans, and the like.

[00:03:11] Ashley: Dr. Plante is a furry himself. His fursona is a blue cat named Nuka.

[00:03:15] Ashley: There’s a fantastic picture of him as Nuka in his doctoral regalia that I’ll post in the show notes.

[00:03:21] Courtney Plante: So furries are fans the same way that Star Wars fans are fans, or Harry Potter fans are fans. So, you know, a science fiction fan. likes media that’s science fiction themed. They like stories and artwork and they go to science fiction conventions.

[00:03:35] Courtney Plante: Furries do the exact same thing, but the media that they like is media featuring anthropomorphized animal characters. So animals that walk and talk and do human things. So if it’s in a show, if it’s in a video game, and it’s got an animal that walks and talks and does human things.

[00:03:52] Ashley: I spent a lot of my 20s in fandoms that looked just like this.

[00:03:56] Ashley: I was a skeptic. The critical thinking movement made popular by people like Carl Sagan and James Randi. And I’d talk about that online, go to local meetups about it. and even pay loads of money to attend the National Convention in Vegas once a year. At their worst, skeptics are essentially a culture formed around the phrase, well, actually.

[00:04:16] Ashley: And I promise you that if given the choice between sitting next to a skeptic and a furry on a cross country flight, you’d want to choose the furry. But I’ve also done my share of dress up. I’ve gone to sci fi and comic conventions dressed as Rey from Star Wars, Ygritte from Game of Thrones, Amy Pond from Doctor Who, Dolores Abernathy from Westworld, I’ve even painted my entire body green multiple times to be Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy.

[00:04:44] Ashley: So I fully understand the appeal of a good costume.

[00:04:49] Courtney Plante: I think if you understand one fan culture, furries make a lot of sense. If you’re an anime fan, if you’re a sci fi fan, you kind of get it.

[00:05:02] Ashley: In fact, furries branched off from the sci fi and comic fandom back in the 1970s and 80s. That was when a number of comic artists started creating material depicting anthropomorphic animals, what they called funny animals, in normal adult situations. These artists and fans of their work would meet up at conventions.

[00:05:22] Courtney Plante: They would hang out at science fiction conventions where they would, uh, have a panel or form a room party for people who were particularly interested in these funny animals. And they would, you know, create these small little independent zines or independent publications where they would pass artwork and stories around.

[00:05:39] Ashley: The parties started as a small single room kind of thing, but each year they got bigger. Eventually, a double suite wasn’t big enough to hold all the furry fans. So they started their own convention. In 1989, Conference became the world’s first furry convention. But it wasn’t the massive gathering you might think.

[00:05:59] Ashley: There were only about 65 people in attendance.

[00:06:02] Courtney Plante: Throughout the 80s it was very much this sort of very small, very few people had heard about it. It was kind of, unless you knew someone or had an in, it was really hard that you would just kind of stumble upon it. Uh, that kind of changed in the 90s with the advent of the internet and suddenly there were uh, MUCKs and, and user groups where you could sort of stumble upon it online.

[00:06:22] Ashley: A MUCK is a type of text based online role playing game that’s really popular among furries. But yes, like many alternative communities, the furry fandom exploded with the advent of the internet. That’s where Riley Black stumbled upon it.

[00:06:39] Riley Black: I first found furries before I really knew anything about what they were, uh, back in the late 90s.

[00:06:45] Riley Black: You know, they were talking like dial up internet days. I think I was about like 15 years old or so, and I lived in a very repressive neighborhood. you know, home in a very repressive society as we’ve been in basically post Reagan. And, you know, if I wanted to learn about sex and sexuality, I had to go online or basically find out for myself.

[00:07:04] Riley Black: So I remember, like, Googling just basics and somehow I stumbled upon, you know, this image of just like a sexy looking cat lady. And we were like, okay, what is this?

[00:07:15] Ashley: Riley Black is a freelance science writer and the author of 10 books, including The Last Days of the Dinosaurs. She is also a furry, but she wasn’t back then.

[00:07:26] Ashley: And

[00:07:26] Riley Black: I stumbled across this thing and just started clicking through the images, like, oh, there’s like a whole community of people like this. But of course, like, I’m still relatively young. This is something that I just kind of stumbled into. And it felt like since It was attached to sex and sexuality, like the shameful thing that I can’t talk to anybody about it.

[00:07:44] Riley Black: And not long after this was like the era of that infamous CSI episode with the furry convention. And all I ever heard, especially because furries are so closely associated with queerness, was that, you know, this is something that’s gross and weird and deviant. So like I was kind of on the boundaries of it for many, many years.

[00:08:03] Ashley: That’s right, furries are closely associated with queerness. So roughly 5 percent of the U. S. population identifies as LGBTQ, and in the furry fandom, it’s more like 70 80%.

[00:08:17] Riley Black: I remember talking to, um, a former partner of mine, it was late as 2016, I think it was, and it felt like coming out in its own way, because she had that, you know, furry kind of response for a very long time.

[00:08:30] Ashley: So Riley stayed away from the community for years, until around her late 20s. That tracks with fur science data, which says that the average age of furries is roughly mid to late 20s.

[00:08:41] Riley Black: And that’s when I started to find people. I’ll lean off through paleontology. There are a lot of paleo people who are also furries.

[00:08:48] Riley Black: And I think it has to do with the fact that we love imagining what these animals could look like and what colors they were. And all that kind of stuff that just kind of comes with the science, it easily plugs into these pop culture. expressions. So it was around that time that I finally, you know, invented a fursona of my own.

[00:09:04] Riley Black: Somebody asked me like, well, what’s your fursona? I said, I don’t think I have one. And that’s when I invented the first iteration of Riley Katten and started talking to other people.

[00:09:16] Ashley: A fursona is a portmanteau of the words furry and persona. It’s a furry’s alter ego or avatar that they use to represent themselves in the fandom. It’s usually some species of animal, sometimes real, sometimes mythical, and sometimes a hybrid of two species that you’d never find in the wild. A person’s fursona will generally have specific coloring and behavioral traits.

[00:09:39] Ashley: This is where you start to see those fursuits furries are so famous for wearing. But not every fursona is that involved. At its simplest, a fursona is akin to a username and a profile picture.

[00:09:51] Courtney Plante: When people interact online, you typically don’t put your full first and last name, so you create an avatar, a name, and a little profile for yourself.

[00:09:58] Courtney Plante: So a fursona for many furries is just that. It’s a little name, it’s a character, that’s usually an anthropomorphized animal character, and it’s a representation of yourself.

[00:10:08] Ashley: For some people, it goes a lot deeper.

[00:10:11] Courtney Plante: Many furries imbue their fursonas with these idealized traits. So if you’re a shy, quiet, timid person, but you secretly long to be maybe a more outgoing, engaging, gregarious person.

[00:10:23] Courtney Plante: You might, uh, have a tiger fursona who is very outgoing and confident.

[00:10:28] Ashley: A person might also imbue their fursona with traits they have that might be seen by society as a weakness, but in the context of their animal, they become something positive.

[00:10:37] Riley Black: I learned this year that I’m autistic as well. I often express myself saying that like I’m kind of cat brained when it comes to social interactions.

[00:10:45] Riley Black: Sometimes it’s kind of hard for me to jump in with people I don’t know very well, so it’s kind of like you go to a party and somebody’s cat is there, and you want them to approach you and give them space and give them time, and that’s something that I identify very much with. That’s part of why I picked a feline fursona.

[00:11:00] Courtney Plante: So whether it’s in interactive role plays, whether it’s in VR chats, whether it’s in artwork or stories, but this is just kind of your, your representation of yourself. This is how you want the rest of the fandom to see you. And so it’s a really good opportunity to try on different facets of your identity.

[00:11:19] Ashley: If you’ve ever tried to make a big behavior change, like, say, exercising regularly, you may have seen the advice to try to identify as someone who exercises regularly, even if you don’t yet. The idea here is that identity comes before behavior change, so if you see yourself as someone who exercises, you’re going to naturally start exercising.

[00:11:40] Ashley: So taking on the identity of someone who’s more confident or funny or friendly, like many furries do, can be really good for you. You can try out these traits in a safe environment, and if it goes well, you get more confidence and you might start using them in the real world. In fact, research suggests that furries who see their fursonas as the ideal version of themselves, rather than some fictionalized character that they could never be, have higher well being and self esteem.

[00:12:08] Ashley: They’re more likely to agree that their fursona helps them through difficult times, helps them express themselves, and makes them feel better about who they are. But some people have idealized identities that go a bit beyond being fun at parties, and a fursona can help them too.

[00:12:25] Courtney Plante: Transgender folks find it very comforting to be sort of validated, have their gender identity validated, right?

[00:12:31] Courtney Plante: So they can interact with others through their fursona and be seen as the gender identity that they feel. So they find it to be a very euphoric experience in that regard.

[00:12:40] Ashley: Riley didn’t identify as trans when she first came up with her fursona, but her fursona helped her get there.

[00:12:46] Riley Black: Rileycat got her start actually before I came out, and you know, I kind of came up with this fursona. And it was pretty much like me then, like, presenting as a nerdy guy.

[00:13:03] Ashley: So she asked an artist friend of hers to do a reference sheet for her character.

[00:13:07] Riley Black: So a reference sheet is basically exactly what it sounds like.

[00:13:09] Riley Black: It’s a character sheet that has, you know, here are their details, here are the color patterns. So when you give this to artists, they can just kind of pick it up right from there and draw your character accurately. And I said, like, could you do me a ref sheet, but gender swap it? Could you make, you know, Riley Cad a woman?

[00:13:25] Riley Black: And they said, of course. And as soon as I saw it, it’s like, This is me. This, this is like everything that I’ve been holding back for, for a while. And that really led the way for what my transition was. You

[00:13:46] Riley Black: know, I’ve survived quite a bit of complex post traumatic stress disorder. You know, I’ve lived through a lot of things that people shouldn’t have to live through. And I feel like Riley Cat is very much the parts of myself that have grown and come out through transition and through a lot of the healing that I’ve done without transition.

[00:14:02] Riley Black: you know, the 35 years of baggage, I guess, before that, that I’m able to forget about that stuff, forget about the flashbacks or the triggers or things like that, and just kind of be present in this character that feels like this fulfillment of who I am inside.

[00:14:17] Ashley: Art is a huge part of the furry fandom. I mean, the community was started by comic artists, after all. Furry artists will take commissions to put people’s fursonas in virtually any scene, any scenario, and any format, from traditional illustration, to virtual stickers for messaging apps, to VR designs. For some people, like Riley, art is a way to try on a role or identity to see if they’d like it in real life.

[00:14:57] Riley Black: Especially early on in transition, you know, feminizing hormones take quite a while to start kicking in. I didn’t really start seeing changes until about nine months after I started taking estrogen. And even then I had years ahead of further changes. So during that time particularly it really helped me to have this, you know, basic projection of myself that I could engage with those feelings and experiences I wanted to have before I was, you know, basically fully myself, you know, in real life.

[00:15:27] Ashley: Art can also help you see yourself doing things that you’ve never done to see how it feels.

[00:15:32] Riley Black: I’m also very much involved in the BDSM community. Many furries are. And especially coming from my background, you know, all these sorts of things, you know, around sex and sexuality that, like, I couldn’t learn or were repressed or damaged over time.

[00:15:46] Riley Black: It was really helpful to basically go to an artist and say, like, okay, like, I have feelings about this particular activity or thing I would like to do. I’ve never tried it. But if I get art of it, you know, that’s kind of a way to engage with it and see how I feel. And there’s certain kinks or interests in the furry community that just, like, you can’t do in real life.

[00:16:06] Riley Black: Like, a big one in the furry community is macro micro, so being very, very big, or very, very small. And you can stage photos on little sets. Sometimes people build, like, skyscrapers out of cardboard, and they’ll let you kind of go amongst them and act like you’re Godzilla or whatever. Um, so there are things like that where, like, if somebody has that fascination or interest in real life, but it’s not really possible. Artists can make it such that you can still engage with it or it still resonates in that way. Like, I love how much the fandom, whether it’s safe for work or not safe for work, is involved in these basically forms of fantasy. Because the world’s hard enough as it is. You know, if being a fox person running around as a giant in the city makes you happy, then I say just go for it.

[00:16:51] Ashley: When we come back, we’re talking fursuits, and finally, what’s behind the furry fetish. Stay tuned.

[00:17:05] Ashley: It’s one thing to embody your fursona in art, but many furries also literally embody their fursona. I’m of course talking about fursuits. Those full body costumes that look a bit like sports mascots. When you think about furries, a fursuit is probably what you picture. Riley was kind enough to show me her fursuit.

[00:17:26] Riley Black: So she’s a full suit, this is just her head, made by a company called Blue Nose Creations. It’s really neat, there’s all kinds of venting and stuff, there’s a little button on the back that compresses the fan inside the mouth, and the mouth can move a little bit. Um, but yeah, this is a depiction of what my fursona is.

[00:17:43] Ashley: That’s, what, uh, how long ago did you get that? And, I mean, can I ask, like, how much it cost?

[00:17:48] Riley Black: Yes, uh, two years ago, and because she’s a spotty character in there for Complex, um, she was about 6, 000 altogether. Um, and she’s a curvy suit, so there’s a lot of, like, either foam or balloons and stuff that you can put at, like, the hips, or like, you know, she has breasts, and because this is not just kind of like a standard, kind of, for a suit, that’s why it costs a little bit more.

[00:18:08] Riley Black: But there are some makers that go up. into, you know, like five figures or so for their fursuits, really depending on what they’re using and the amount of complexity and detail.

[00:18:20] Ashley: A big misconception in the non furry world is that all furries wear fursuits. The cost alone should tell you that that’s not true.

[00:18:28] Ashley: FurScience gathered statistics on this and found that only about 10-15 percent of furries actually own a fursuit, though the rates get higher when you survey people at conventions, which kind of self select for those who have discretionary income and have a fursuit that they want to show off.

[00:18:45] Ashley: Another misconception that was pushed by that infamous Vanity Fair article and the CSI episode is that fursuits are built with strategically placed holes so you can have sex in the suit.

[00:18:56] Ashley: I want to again stress the practicality of this idea. Would you have sex in a $6,000 outfit? Sex is messy, and fursuits are expensive to clean and maintain. I’ve also seen commentary pointing out that wearing a fursuit feels like you’re wearing a couch. It’s just not a sexy feeling for most people.

[00:19:15] Ashley: Studies bear this out. When researchers ask people who do have a furry fetish why that is, fursuits are last on the list. That said, strategically placed holes do exist, but from everything I can find, they’re rare. You’d have to find a fursuit maker who’s open to doing it, and many are pretty invested in keeping the public image of furries wholesome.

[00:19:39] Ashley: And the fact is that for the vast majority of furries, it is not a sex thing.

[00:19:45] Courtney Plante: So first I want to say that there are some furries for whom it is a fetish. I don’t want to say that there’s not, and, you know, this is not an intent to try to, uh, kink shame anyone. If that’s your fetish and no one’s getting hurt, don’t do it.

[00:19:55] Courtney Plante: However, the data suggests that it’s incorrect to describe most furries as having a furry fetish, as that being like the primary motivator of it, in the same way that this would be inaccurate to say about other fan groups.

[00:20:08] Ashley: I mean, there’s porn out there of video game characters, anime characters, sci fi characters.

[00:20:14] Ashley: I once watched a Mario themed burlesque show. You still wouldn’t say that being a video game fan is a fetish.

[00:20:21] Courtney Plante: The reason is when you, you know, ask furries, what’s, what’s the motivator here? What, what compels you to do this? The number one reasons are like the enjoyment of the stories and the fantasy itself, right?

[00:20:32] Courtney Plante: So the, the aesthetics, uh, but also a sense of belongingness and community.

[00:20:36] Riley Black: So for me, it’s really a community focused thing, like, I consider myself a furry because I engage with the community, and if for whatever reason, you know, I wanted to stop going to conventions, or, you know, having as many friends who are in the fandom, or what have you, I might not call myself that anymore, but to me, it’s like an active participation thing, that, you know, I say I’m part of this community, and I feel like they claim me back.

[00:20:57] Ashley: However, in surveys, fur science researchers found that around 10 percent of furries do consider it a personal fetish. The fetish does exist, and it’s honestly fascinating.

[00:21:15] Ashley: I was super fascinated by the fur science research that said, basically, researchers showed furry pornography to furries and non furries and, like, asked them a bunch of was part of that study.

[00:21:28] Courtney Plante: Yeah, that was part of my study.

[00:21:29] Ashley: Could you talk about that a little bit?

[00:21:31] Courtney Plante: Yeah, so this was my idea for a study, so I’ll take the blame for this one.

[00:21:35] Courtney Plante: Um, the whole idea behind it was that a lot of furries are very defensive about the idea of acknowledging that there is porn, right? It’s becoming less of a problem now, but, um, especially in the early 2010s, there was this concern because the media consistently got it wrong. The media consistently told the story.

[00:21:55] Courtney Plante: Oh, it’s a fetish. Oh, these are people who have some kink, uh, isn’t that weird? And furries were getting really frustrated with that. And so there was this sort of, almost defensive recoiling at the suggestion that, Oh gosh, you know, people, if they ever hear about furry porn existing, they’re going to assume the worst about us.

[00:22:11] Courtney Plante: And so I was interested in this idea, this knee jerk reaction to assume the worst, uh, when it comes to porn.

[00:22:17] Courtney Plante: So Dr. Plante wanted to study whether furries would have an exaggerated perception of how explicit furry porn really was to non furries.

[00:22:26] Courtney Plante: So we did it. So we ran an experiment where we showed furries and non furry college students furry porn and, you know, sort of just, Typical pornography and we sort of looked at how did they rate how explicitly was it rated?

[00:22:39] Courtney Plante: How pornographic was it? And what was funny to me was that furries were rating it far more Pornographic than were non furry college students. Non furry college students like what the hell is this? Like, okay, whatever 10 for explicit. Go back to the actual porn that I want to look at. Whereas furries were like, Oh my gosh, there’s a furry character not wearing a shirt.

[00:22:59] Courtney Plante: Gah, it’s explicit. Hide it. Burn it. Don’t let anyone see this. And so it suggested this idea that furries may be overly sensitive to the idea that these might be sexualized because of this concern that they had that the media might take this and run with it.

[00:23:14] Ashley: Yeah, it’s so fun. It goes back to that. you know, porn is like, I know it when I see it.

[00:23:19] Ashley: Like if it, if it’s titillating to you, it’s porn. And if you’re not a furry, it’s not titillating to you. So you don’t see it as porn. Yeah, that’s, that’s incredible.

[00:23:28] Courtney Plante: It seems that it was also a good demonstration of the fact that, uh, people sometimes ask, if this is furry porn out there, does that mean furries just aren’t attracted to conventional porn?

[00:23:36] Courtney Plante: And that’s not true. Furries are. So we found that furries liked the furry porn, also the non furry porn, right? So, uh, So, it wasn’t like they were sacrificing their normal human sexuality for something else.

[00:23:55] Riley Black: So people have this, you know, eww, furry response, and they kind of consider furries synonymous with like a certain form of sexuality. But our culture is kind of awash with sexuality in so many different ways. Um, particularly like heterosexual forms of sexuality and the idea of like, you know, who you’re going to marry when you get up or when you’re a kid.

[00:24:14] Riley Black: It’s like, oh, is that your boyfriend, your girlfriend or whatever? And there was something about the furry depictions where even though I didn’t know it quite yet, it seemed different. There was a queerness to it. There was an otherness and a strangeness and a broader range of expression, I think, to it.

[00:24:30] Riley Black: That’s like, Okay, even though I don’t fully understand this yet, and I wouldn’t until many years later, there is more out there in the world than I’m being told by the people around me. I think that was part of it. It was like that form of sort of transgression, that you’re learning something about the world and the people in it that you’ve never been told before.

[00:24:50] Ashley: There’s very little research on furry as a fetish. This makes sense, it’s a lot rarer than the media makes it out to be. But I can share a few theories I’ve found for why someone might be turned on by anthropomorphic animals. First of all, there has been research into whether being a furry is motivated by zoophilia, a sexual attraction to animals.

[00:25:12] Ashley: While some zoophiles are furries, that survey found that there was no statistical correlation between the two. A 2019 article by Kevin J. Hsu and J. Michael Bailey proposed the idea of erotic target identity inversion. That’s a concept where instead of just being sexually attracted to something or someone, a person gets sexual gratification by actually being the object of their desire.

[00:25:37] Ashley: That wasn’t super satisfying to me though, because it doesn’t actually explain the attraction, it just explains the desire to wear a fursuit. And we’ve already explored how diverse and usually non sexual the reasons for wearing a fursuit can be. But a much smarter person than me actually published a response to this paper in the same journal, and he had an alternative explanation.

[00:25:59] Ashley: This was B. Terrence Gray, who pointed out that if erotic target identity inversion were at play, men who are attracted to female furry characters would also want to be female furry characters themselves. And that was true of only 1 percent of their sample. Instead, Gray suggested that attraction to anthropomorphic animals might be a conditioned fetish.

[00:26:21] Ashley: That’s where something that isn’t typically considered sexual becomes sexually arousing because of its repeated associations with sex. Think high heeled shoes. They’re not sexual in and of themselves, but they’re often worn by people who are considered sexy. Therefore, the shoes themselves become a turn on for some people.

[00:26:41] Ashley: The original study did find that its participants most commonly became furries in the context of furry porn. And it stands to reason that if you look at enough sexy cartoon animals, cartoon animals could start to look sexy to you.

[00:26:54] Ashley: And there’s also the fact that the furry community is just sexually open, completely outside of the rare furry fetish.

[00:27:01] Ashley: If you’re getting your rocks off in other ways with open, understanding partners who are also furries, the furry culture could come to represent sexual satisfaction for you. And that’s great!

[00:27:12] Courtney Plante: One of the things that, I don’t want to say a problem with the furry fandom, but a characteristic of the furry fandom is that they’re incredibly open about sex, which is actually very good, I think.

[00:27:21] Courtney Plante: The drawback to that is that it makes it almost impossible to make comparisons between furries and the general population when it comes to sex, because if we say, Hey furries, tell me all your kinks and fetishes, they’ll happily say, yeah, what do you want to know? We’ve actually done a study where we compared furries to anime fans and furries to bronies.

[00:27:38] Ashley: Bronies are male fans of the TV series My Little Pony Friendship is Magic.

[00:27:43] Courtney Plante: We said on a 1 to 10 scale, hypothetically, how open would you be about telling us about your kinks and fetishes? And on like this 1 to 10 scale, furries nearly maxed out the scale. They’re like, yeah, what do you want to know? I’m an open book.

[00:27:55] Courtney Plante: Whereas anime fans and bronies, like without even having to explain what their fetishes were, they just said as a concept, You know, 5 out of 10. Like, I’m not going to tell you most of what I’m interested in. So, As an extension of that, if we were to run the study and find, Hey look, furries report being more kinky than anime fans and bronies.

[00:28:14] Courtney Plante: Is that because furries are actually more kinky or just furries talk about it? Sexologists will tell you that people have kinks and fetishes and all sorts of wild sexual fantasies. We just don’t talk about it. And so The, the impression that we often get is that, oh, furries, because they talk about having kinks and fetishes, they must be especially sexualized, and just, just all sorts of kinky and wild compared to the general population, and I don’t think that’s true.

[00:28:40] Courtney Plante: I think furries are just normalized talking about it.

[00:28:43] Riley Black: So the sexuality in the furry fandom, I think, largely stems from its queerness, that the majority of us are queer, and some fashion or another. And it’s been there from the beginning. I mean, every furry convention is basically like a pride celebration.

[00:28:57] Riley Black: It’s a place that feels very safe to express yourself. That’s very different, I think, for many of us from the places that we come from or live in now. And, you know, I don’t want to make it sound like this is a monolith at all. Like, furries, oh my gosh, if you are a part of furry social media at all, we fight with each other, you know, every couple of months about these things.

[00:29:17] Riley Black: We have every year, at least once a year, there is a big argument about whether people can wear pup hoods. So basically involving this BDSM activity of pet play or pup play where someone will take on the persona that’s more closely related to a dog or other pet and usually as a handler.

[00:29:32] Ashley: Pup play, huh?

[00:29:34] Ashley: That sounds like the kind of interesting kink that a podcast like this should do an episode on. Maybe, like, the next episode.

[00:29:42] Riley Black: So there’s not really one sort of standard thing. We’re not all like yiffing in fursuits or not all commissioning smutty art, but I love that there is a lot of overt sort of sexuality in the fandom.

[00:29:56] Riley Black: It’s a freeing space because these things are usually looked down upon as so different and gross and beyond the pale and, you know, sort of a very cisgendered, very heterosexual thing. Society, and in some ways these are some of the few spaces that we really have to be free, even find out what we like, even learn from each other.

[00:30:18] Ashley: I need to stress that even though we’ve talked about some people having a furry fetish, even though the furry community is open about sex, even though this episode about furries is in a podcast miniseries about fetishes, the vast majority of furries are in it because they’re fans. That’s it. And yet, because society doesn’t understand why a person would dress up in an animal costume, people assume it’s a weird sex thing.

[00:30:44] Courtney Plante: When I say picture a fan, you’re probably picturing some kind of music fan or some kind of, you know, fan of a particular television show. That’s our sort of default when we think of fan. And what the research shows is that the further an example deviates from that prototype, the more it almost needs an explanation.

[00:31:02] Courtney Plante: The more we kind of assume that there’s something weird or wrong about it. And that some kind of explanation is needed. So, furries deviate quite a bit from that typical sports fan, music fan, fan of mainstream culture. And so, people are natural psychologists. When we see something weird, we feel compelled to explain it somehow.

[00:31:21] Courtney Plante: What is the reason for that? And our default assumption is one of two things. We go, well, it’s weird, it must be, uh, a mental illness thing, perhaps the person’s dogs aren’t all barking, or we assume that it’s some kind of sex thing, right? So if you see a person in a fursuit, you go, oh, well, either they’ve lost touch with reality and they think they’re an animal, Or, well, they’re doing kinky things in that fursuit, that must be it.

[00:31:48] Courtney Plante: And so, those are the two places that people go. They look for an extreme explanation for what they think to be extreme behavior.

[00:31:55] Ashley: And this is a problem.

[00:32:00] Ashley: This wild misconception of furries as a weird sex thing makes it so people can’t share the things that make them happy with the people they love. And that’s not a great life to live.

[00:32:12] Courtney Plante: It’s fairly common for furries to say, I don’t tell my entire family about it. Usually it’s, oh, this, there’s an uncle or an aunt that maybe I wouldn’t tell because they might assume the worst.

[00:32:21] Courtney Plante: Many furries will typically keep it undercover in the workplace, uh, again for fear of what if their employer assumes the worst about them because of this. Yeah, so furries often keep it kind of close to the chest when it comes to that sort of thing. Only people they can kind of trust. And it’s not good for a person, by the way.

[00:32:36] Courtney Plante: We have research that shows that when you are sort of forced to conceal important parts of your identity, takes its toll on your mental health. Ideally, we would live in a society where people didn’t have to do this.

[00:32:48] Riley Black: The main thing that I would hope that people would understand about furries is that it is a community of people and that when people have that eww, furry response, it’s often not very far away from a, you know, a don’t shove it down our throats response to queer people, or like, I don’t understand why they need to have a pride parade kind of thing.

[00:33:10] Riley Black: These things are so closely tied together that it’s not just a misunderstanding of funny animal people, that there are depths in history. To this and if you are having that response to people who are just enjoying themselves and really not really doing anything much different from dressing up at a comic con or for Halloween or like that is a prompt for some self reflection about what that is and where that is coming from and I imagine many people, you know become furries themselves when they have that strong response to it Like, you know, there’s a stereotype or at least a you know, kind of running joke within the fandom, when people start saying, like, I’m not a furry, but it’s like, okay, we will give you your time to come to this understanding, but you’re basically saying you’re already one of us.

[00:34:01] Ashley: Thanks for listening. My deepest appreciation to Dr. Courtney Plante and Riley Black for speaking to me. You can learn more about Dr. Plante’s research, plus more research about the furry fandom, at furscience. com. Riley Black’s website is at rileyblack. net, and she’s also active on BlueSky at

[00:34:23] Ashley: Taboo Science is written and produced by me, Ashley Hamer. The theme song is by Danny Lopatka of DLC Music. Episode music is from Epidemic Sound, and there’s a referral link in the show notes if you want to try it for your own projects. Have a question or comment about anything I covered here? Well, you can leave a voice note by heading to and hitting record. You can leave your name or stay anonymous, and I might play your message on the show. Next time, as promised, we’re talking pup play. There’s actual science on this, you guys. It’s great. So tune in next time. I won’t tell anyone.