The Psychology of Pup Play
September 23, 2020 by Justin Lehmiller
“Pup play” is a form of sexual roleplay in which an adult human adopts the appearance and characteristics of a dog. This may include dressing up like a dog (wearing collars, masks, tails, body suits, etc.), adopting dog-like mannerisms (posture, barking, eating, playing, etc.), and—often—taking on a submissive role to a “handler,” or someone who plays the role of pet owner.
Very little research exists on the phenomenon of pup play, but a recent qualitative study of 30 gay and bisexual men sheds some light on it . This study characterized pup play as a kink that also often has elements of non-sexual fulfillment. In other words, it is an activity that provides some level of sexual gratification for most practitioners, but it can also be a form of play, leisure, and relaxation in and of itself.
What’s the appeal of pup play? For many, it has to do with “headspace.” In other words, escaping self-awareness, letting go, and forgetting about daily life. Many participants in this study characterized pup play as an immersive experience that provides a potent distraction. In this way, it’s similar to why BDSM in general is appealing to so many people—it helps folks to shed self-awareness in a way that allows them to live in the moment.
Incidentally, pup play does not appear to be related to zoophilia, or the desire to have sex with actual animals. In fact, in this study, not a single participant expressed zoophilic desires. Thus, it seems to be fundamentally about roleplay, not about an outlet for zoophilia, which is a common misconception.
To learn more about pup play, check out the Life of the Human Pups documentary below, which consists of interviews with several pups and handlers. It is absolutely fascinating and builds on a lot of what’s discussed in the research (sexual vs. non-sexual aspects, headspace, etc.), while also showing how some of them manage to integrate it into their daily lives and relationships. Watch the full video for more and weigh in with your comments below.
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 Wignall, L., & McCormack, M. (2017). An exploratory study of a new kink activity: “Pup play”. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(3), 801-811.
Image Source: 123RF/Dmitriy Tereshchenko
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Dr. Justin LehmillerFounder & Owner of Sex and Psychology
Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.Read full bio >