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What is pup play? Study explores new sexual subculture

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Researchers have begun to examine the sexual behavior known as “pup play.” A new exploratory study, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, helps provide a basic understanding of the behavior to enable future research.

The qualitative study consisted of interviews with 30 gay and bisexual young men in the United Kingdom who participate in pup play, a sexual activity in which people imitate the behavior of young dogs.

Pup play often involves playing fetch, petting, biting, licking, cuddling, and barking, the participants explained. They also noted that bondage-related “pup gear” — such as muzzles and restrictive gloves — is common in pupplay. The activity also usually involves an element of domination and submission, where a “handler” acts as the dominant partner and a pup acts as the submissive.

Nearly all of the participants said pup play was not related to zoophilia or the so-called “furry” community.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Liam Wignall of the University of Sunderland. Read his responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Wignall: My research agenda focuses on kinky sexual subcultures more broadly and part of this is chatting with people from different kink communities. One of the activities that kept coming up was pup play – it seemed very popular at the time as an easy route into exploring kinks. Naturally the first thing I did was check Google scholar for research on pup play, but there was nothing there. I saw an opening! I wanted to research it from a non-pathologising perspective and find out what it was about and why it was becoming so popular among kink circles, particularly the gay/bisexual kink communities.

What should the average person take away from your study?

Pup play exists as a sexual kink and a social activity. Individuals like to take on these animalistic qualities and do it for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it can be a form of relaxation. You can enter an ‘alternative’ headspace and forget about worries or stresses of everyday life – you’re thinking becomes more instinctual and you become more pleasure orientated. Secondly, it can be incorporated with other kink activities and be a light form of submission/domination play. Finally, it varies to how much pup play mixes with an individuals’ non-kinky life. For some, pup play might be a 24/7 thing, but for most, it is a separate part of their life, though they may enjoy the occasional strokes and treats.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

We have no idea if the benefits individuals describe when doing pup play last longer than the session. There is some research which has looked at hormone levels before and after kink play, but these seem to revolve around the giving or receiving of pain. It would be interesting to see if stress hormones decrease after engaging in pup play. The study also focused more on the individual and sexual nature of pup play and didn’t expand more on the social elements of pup play – there is a worldwide community of pups who interact and have this global support network. It would be fascinating to explore this more!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Pup play is a complex kink with both social and sexual elements. My research was about opening up more discussions and hopefully paving the way for future research. No actual dogs were involved in this research, but all participants were given chocolate buttons as remuneration for their time.

The study, “An Exploratory Study of a New Kink Activity: ‘Pup Play’“, was also co-authored by Mark McCormack.

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