Human animal roleplay
(Petplay. Ponyplay. Ponyism. Pup-play)
Human animal roleplay is a form of erotic sexual role-play where one or more of the participants takes on the role of a real or imaginary animal in character, including appropriate mannerisms and behavior, and sometimes a partner will act as another animal, or, in a sexual context, may take the role of rider, trainer, or caretaker (or even breeding partner).
The principal theme of human-animal roleplay is usually the voluntary or involuntary reduction (or transformation) of a human being to animal status, and focus on the altered mind-space created. The most common examples are probably canids (pup, dog, wolf), felines (cat, kitten, lion) or equines (pony, horse). Human-animal roleplay is also used in a BDSM context, where one person may be a 'slave', treated or used as an animal by their Mistress/Master.
Non-sexual animal roleplay was common in many tribal cultures, such as Native American culture and prehistory, where therianthropic play formed an important part of their rituals. In this case the animal was usually either one that was revered spiritually, or one that was hunted. It is also used in physical education especially with children, as an enjoyable way to encourage certain exercises.
The origins of human-animal roleplay, and petplay, are probably various and diverse, again, depending upon the people involved. However, its origins are certainly influenced by costuming, fiction, myth and legend, roleplay and psychodrama in their various aspects.
Cultural and ritual use
Non-sexual animal roleplay, or therianthropy, was a common and integral part of ritual in many tribal cultures both in recent and likely prehistoric times, where a member (or members) of the tribe would take the role physically and often spiritually, of an animal that was either revered, or hunted. Examples of the former include many of the American Indian tribes and Arctic native peoples, examples are evidenced by cave paintings. In 1911 Julia Tuell photographed the last Animal Dance ("Massaum") performed by the Northern Cheyenne of Montana.
It is also sometimes used in education, especially physical education, as an enjoyable way to encourage people to exercise the body in unusual ways, by mimicking various animals.
Like much of erotic play and roleplay, human-animal roleplay in an erotic or relational context is entirely defined by the people involved and by their mood and interests at the time of play. It ranges from the simple imitation of a vocal whinnying of a horse to the barking, panting or playful nudging of a puppy, or playful behaviour of a kitten, to crawling around on all fours and being fed, or petted, by hand. (In the latter instance, its motives may be similar to those of ageplay, ie taking on a role that one feels spiritually appropriate or which allows for nurturing, and a change from usual roles in everyday life). To the greater extremes of dressing up as a pony in modified horse tack, masks, prosthetics and temporary bondage based body modification (such as binding the forearms to the upperarms and/or the calves to the thighs).
Public participation in human animal roleplay is varied. Inconspicuously, a couple could role-play a silly, but loving, pet play scene in public, but it would look to the casual observer like one partner is merely stroking the other's neck innocently. In the case of many convention-going furries and some BDSM club/party fetishists, one partner may wear a dog collar with a leash attached (some carry their own leashes, others are carried by their partner).
The reasons for playing such a character or animal can vary as much as the actual physical manifestations and intensity of the play. Some people enjoy being able to "cut loose" into a different, or more dynamic personality (eg, Were-creatures or Catgirls; see other variations). In some cases, pet play is seen as a loving, quiet cuddling time where there is no need for verbalizations and the simple act of stroking, rubbing and holding the other partner is satisfying or reassuring in and of itself for those involved. For others, there may be a spiritual side to it. Some feel closer to their animal totem, while others may identify with something akin to a deeper side or part of their own psyche (see: Therianthropy). For still others, there is the experience of power exchange setup in a context or structure which they can accept. Clearly, again, it depends on the people involved and what they bring to it or take from it.
Additionally, some authorities[weasel words] classify this as a type of animal transformation fantasy. It can have strong elements of exhibitionism, be totally enjoyed in the privacy of the home, or lie somewhere between those boundaries. Before the Internet became widely available, the private players were virtually unknown. With the sharing of ideas, in forums and chatrooms, has come the realization that this is a kind of erotic roleplay; while not widespread, it is still enjoyed by more than just a few fringe groups. It is, however, primarily still identified with BDSM practice, or as being integrated into furry or other alternative lifestyle activities.
This activity is a pure roleplay whose principal theme is the voluntary or involuntary reduction (or transformation) of a human being to animal status and focus on the altered mind-space created. For a majority it has no connection whatsoever with zoophilia or bestiality, which are controversial and would usually be considered edgeplay in BDSM circles.
It should be pointed out that each type of play can focus on a certain "strength" of an animal character. Pony play often involves the practice and training that a horse owner or trainer would put their horse through to learn how to walk, canter, etc, as modified for human limbs. Puppy play often can involve BDSM related discipline. Cow Play often involves fantasies of lactation and impregnation. The usual limits of safe, sane and consensual apply to roleplay as much as any other activity between humans who accept and respect their partner's interests and limits. For most, this does not include bestiality.
Note: Just because one partner is playing the "pet" does not necessarily make them the passive or submissive play partner in the scene. For example, if the form of pet play is for the meek and timid wife to "transform" into a werewolf or mischievous anime catgirl, she may take the upper hand and dominate the partner. Again, how the play is interpreted is entirely up to the people involved.
Some people believe that they have certain animal 'instincts' and through animal roleplay can let them out. This is especially true in the BDSM communities, where some people 'live' as their chosen animal 24/7. This type of mentality goes beyond roleplay and becomes a full lifestyle for the parties involved. There are also 'hybrids'. These are humans who live part time as one type of animal, and part time as another. This is usually determined by the situation.
There seems to be a growing trend among the BDSM scene in animal roleplay, especially pup and kitten play. Playing the role of a pup or kitten is one of giving over complete control over to another, while the 'Master or Handler' expects only unconditional love and obedience from his/her animal.
Ponyplay is sometimes referred to as "The Aristotelian Perversion," in reference to legend that Aristotle had a penchant for being ridden like a horse. Ponies (people involved in ponyplay) generally divide themselves to three groups, although some will participate in two or perhaps all three:
- * Cart ponies: usually pulling a sulky with their owner.
- * Riding ponies: used to be ridden, either on all fours or on two legs, with the "rider" on the shoulders of the "pony" (also known as Shoulder riding). Note that a human back is generally not strong enough to take the weight of another adult without risk of injury, so four-legged "riding" is generally symbolic, with the "rider" taking most of their weight on their own legs.
- * Show ponies: just showing off their dressage skills and often elaborate harnessess, plumes and so on.
A documentary film Pony Passion was produced by British pony play club De Ferre in 2003 showing their club's activities and Born in a Barn, a 2005 documentary film, depicted the lives of several ponyplay enthusiasts. Madonna and her back-up dancers simulated ponyplay during her performances on tour in 2006.
Pup play or dog play is sometimes (though not always) associated with leather culture. at least one of the participants acts out canine mannerisms and behaviors, or simply imagines such behaviors or identities, and attempts to assume the mental state of a dog. Pup-play does not require any involvement with bestiality. The dominant role is taken by a "Handler," "Trainer," or a "Master." The submissive may be called a "pup," a "dog," a "stray," or in the case of a more aggressive or dominant participant that still identifies as a dog, an "alpha." In the pup-play community, biological canines are referred to as "canines," to differentiate between them and human role players (the pup, dog, or alpha). Pup play is more about being a playful, goofy being on all fours who shows his/her Master their love and devotion. Instinct also plays a big role in pup play.
Similar to the above, but the bottom assumes the less serious role of a pet that keeps some independence and - as part of the fantasy - might retaliate against the partner trying to tame him/her. Kitten play is less well known than Pony or Puppy play, although with recent years is growing in popularity.
Miss Absinthe BDSM fetish model sporting a kittenplay outfit
Miss Absinthe BDSM fetish model sporting a kittenplay outfit
Some would consider Costume Play, or cosplay, Anime Catgirls to be a form or look of pet play as well, because these are generally young female characters that have the combined aspects of females and cats (generally a human girl with cat ears, a tail, fangs and a propensity for catlike affection or curiosity). Examples would be Cat Girl Nuku Nuku, Pink from Dragon Pink and others. Some superheroes, heroines and villains could also be classified as related to pet play, such as DC Comics's Wildcat, Catwoman and Vixen, Marvel's Tigra, Man-Wolf and Black Cat, or even Nastassja Kinski's Irena Gallier in the 1982 film Cat People (a remake of the 1942 Simone Simon film), and Miss Kitty from the Brendan Fraser movie Monkeybone. All involve animal qualities taken on by a human. Some would even count the enactment or spiritual belief in therianthropy (werewolves, werecats, etc) as falling under human animal roleplay or transformation play as well.