'Pup Play' A Sexual Kink; Freedom.

'Pup Play' A Sexual Kink; Freedom.

They dress up as puppies and play on mats. Yes, they get off—but it's so much more.

Some guys feel like they turn into an animal when they have sex. But if you watched season 2 of Netflix's BDSM show, Bonding, then you know others prefer to dress up as an animal when they do it. Puppy play (a.k.a pup play) is a form of consensual, adult role-play popular in the gay leather community, where people dress up and embody the characteristics of a dog. Often, these so-called "pups" wear a leather dog mask and a tail, usually in the form of a butt plug. They walk around on all fours, bark, and sometimes eat and drink from a bowl.

But these pups aren’t strays. They typically have an "owner," also called a "handler" or "master." The owner may walk their pup on a leash, pet them, and shower them with love, just like they would a real dog. But unlike with real dogs, the owner may also have sex with their pup—though sex isn’t mandatory. Some guys simply get a lot of satisfaction out of being dressed up and treated like a dog.

In this past season of Bonding, which follows a shunned dominatrix and her assistant, there's a somewhat intense scene depicting a man dressed head to toe as a Dalmatian, including some form of ceramic polka-dotted mask. Sitting on his hind legs, he’s fed some disgusting-looking dog food from a bowl, but only after sitting and staying, like a good boy.

Ask people who partake in the puppy play scene, and they'll tell you that’s not how pup play typically manifests. There usually isn’t a room of 10 dominatrixes feeding one pup food (you’d have to have a lotof many to make that fantasy a reality). Not to mention that ceramic masks are extremely rare in the pup scene; leather masks are the norm.

To learn everything about pup play, we reached out to Justin Lehmiller, Ph.D., host of the Sex and Psychology Podcast and author of Tell Me What You Want. We also spoke to a couple of pups, Sean and Champ. The kinky mother puppers shared how they got into the pup scene and why they love the experience of dressing up and being treated like a dog.

What’s the appeal of puppy play?

There’s often a dominant/submissive dynamic that goes along with pup play, even though the relationship is playful. If the owner says sit, the pup sits. If the owner says bark, the pup barks. “The dog and owner get the same thing out of pup play as people who engage in other forms of BDSM, including an escape from self-awareness and change in headspace,” Lehmiller says. “However, it’s not always a sexual thing—sometimes it’s more about play and leisure than anything.”

Sean (not his real name), 26, says he "love[s] the release of inhibitions I get out of pup play. It's a way to escape any ‘human’ problems and just have fun in the headspace, whether it be in the bedroom or at a mosh.”

A mosh, he explains, is when “pups physically get down on all fours and interact with each other like bio[logical] pups: We lick, nuzzle, and tackle each other.” Typically, puppy booths at events and pup social nights have a mat where pups can play together. Often, no verbal communication (other than puppy noises) is allowed while moshing. “It’s mostly barking and similar quips,” Sean says.

Champ, 37, was drawn to pup play initially for sex. “I found the animalistic and anonymous aspect of fucking to be a huge turn-on,” he explains. Champ was aroused by the fact that people didn’t know how he looked while he was wearing a pup mask.

Champ discovered pup play through the gay leather scene. In the gay community, pup play is often a subset within the leather scene since you wear a leather mask, harness, chaps, and collar as a pup. In 2017, Champ had his first experience with pup play at MAL (Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend). He'd just purchased a leather pup mask and was being led on all fours by his handler. “A very attractive man came up to us and negotiated with my handler to take me back up to a hotel room and fuck me,” Champ says. “It was hot just to be used by this guy in head-to-toe leather."

But his love for pup play has grown well beyond his desire for sex. For Champ, transforming into a puppy is also it’s about escaping his human life. “Champ is a character I created who is an expression of my authentic self,” he says. Chap is “unrestrained” and not bound by the rules of heteronormativity that comes from living in a straight-dominated culture, he says. It’s also a way to connect with other gay men on a more primal level.

How common is the pup play kink?

We don’t really know how common pup play is. “It’s not something that’s been inquired about in nationally representative sex surveys,” Lehmiller says. However, when Lehmiller surveyed 4,000 adults for his book Tell Me What You Want, he found that about 1 in 10 people reported fantasizing about dressing up as an animal to have sex before, which could include but isn’t limited to pup play. “However, just 1% of my participants said this was something they fantasize about often, which means that as a recurring or favorite fantasy, it seems to be pretty uncommon.”

It’s important to note that pup play is unrelated to zoophilia—a sexual interest in animals. “Research doesn’t support that idea that they’re connected at all,” Lehmiller says. “It’s not about an attraction to animals—it’s about wanting to take on different roles and temporarily escape reality.”

Who practices puppy play?

“The very limited research that exists on pup play has mostly focused on gay and bisexual men; however, it’s not necessarily limited to people of any one gender or sexual orientation,” Lehmiller says. He’s also heard from straight men who are into it. The few women he’s spoken to who participate in pup play usually take on the role of the handler and aren’t dressing up as pups.

This doesn’t mean that women can’t be into the pup role, but it does seem to be more common among men, Lehmiller says.

How can you explore pup play?

If you’re a gay or bisexual man, you can attend any gay leather event (when it's safe to do so, pandemic-wise). There will be plenty of men there who are into pup play, and you can also buy leather masks and pup gear from vendors.

FetLife is a huge social networking website (and now app) that caters to folks interested in BDSM and other fetishes and kinks. It's easy to find another pup or handler on it.

There's also an active Subreddit called PupPlay, where men openly talk about pup play and share pictures of themselves dressed as pups. That would be another fun way to get more involved in the community and find other like-minded pups.

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