Truly countless forms of sexuality exist around us. If you want proof of that, browse the over 1,000 articles published on this very website since 2003, and you will find no mention of pet play – meaning those erotic games where one partner takes on the role of an animal. Let’s correct this already, then.
To begin with: ‘pet play’ is a generic term encompassing as many subcategories as the animal species are. The most common ones are dedicated to dogs (puppy play), horses (pony play) and cats, but I happened to meet even people who enjoyed playing a panda, fish, duck, frog, dragon, snake, cow and so taxonomizing on.
Make no mistake: this is not about wearing a costume and keep behaving more or less like human beings, like furries or nekomimi cat girls do. The very essence of pet play is living the experience of becoming an animal.
«Like those primals who let themselves be possessed by a spirit guide?» asks the usual sapiosexual nerd sitting in the third row. But no: you get an F, because primal sex almost always is founded on an element of competition between partners, while the animals we are discussing here are pretty happy to obey a guiding human – occasional distractions excluded.
Pet play is also separated enough from those classic BDSM scenes where the dominant partner humiliates the submissive one making them behave like an inferior beast. In that case the pleasure of both derives from exploring the emotions arising from losing dignity: a pony girl – just to make a random example – doesn’t feel any embarrassment instead… simply because she is not human at all, so she couldn’t care less about “losing face”. On the contrary, the more she can prove her handler to be a good pet, the happier she is. And if all of this sounds a little too weird, we’d better look at it from a little farther.
Like Rebecca Wilcox explains in her great book The human pony, most pet play enthusiasts come from especially good relations with actual animals. They may have grown up around farms, or maybe they were strongly attached to a puppy they spent so much time with that they grew to consider it like a brother. This contributed to their open, accepting and somewhat admiring attitude toward the simplicity and spontaneity of animal behaviors.
They are the kind of individuals who more easily think that a good solution to daily stress can be to send all the homo sapiens complications to hell and just take a nice vacation in the head of a nice, carefree animal. Also, beasts clearly have no inhibitions, and what can be more uninhibited than sex? The association between the two is almost automatic!
Now the trick is just being able to “turn off the brain” and abandon yourself to a different perception of the world. Those more attuned to their unconscious can slip more easily into this condition; others find wearing accessories – such as muzzle and leash, or the complicated pony girl costumes – helpful, as they almost become a “barrier” between the outer world and the great energy that fuels their animal identity; others yet use small rituals (the simplest one: getting naked) as a transition moment.
Enthusiasts often describe how their sensations and emotions become stronger and stronger, with less intellectual filters. Their thoughts become simpler; talking becomes such a big and complex effort to make grunting, yapping and making noises much more natural – not to mention using body language.
In such a state, similar to a light trance, trusting a human handler feels like an anchor and a liberation: all the responsibilities are theirs, while you can focus on living the experience and winning their approval by pleasing them. How can earning nice tummy scratches for having fetched a ball compare to getting by in a cubicle filling tax forms? Isn’t feeling the harmony with your jockey as you trot, strong and elegant amid the freshly cut grass, much more satisfying than being the office drone of a neurotic manager?
Differently from other forms of extreme eroticism, pet play isn’t really about power exchange as much as about collaboration in living an uncommon sensory and relational experience. Training the animal doesn’t focus on punishments or coercion, but on both partners reaching the goal of perfect behavior for an alternative identity. As a matter of fact, those who mix pet play and sex acts (is that zoophilia?) are a tiny minority.
Sure, entering such a peculiar game requires bravery and excellent communication between partners – and yet it has enough fans to support a whole subculture of publications, conventions, virtual and real communities, and of course shops. Artisans creating custom horse masks, saddles redesigned for human backs and hooved boots. Engineers designing cybernetic cat ears that move according to the wearer’s mood. Online shops entirely dedicated to tails (fox, raccoon, rabbit, pig…) to be attached via a comfortable – or uncomfortable, if you like that – anal plug. And bowls, reins, sugar cubes and curry combs. Not forgetting those who prefer to be a unicorn, sporting a rainbow mane and a glittered tail – in spite of any mundane burden.