September 6th, 2007

Though this article wasn’t published at American Sexuality until this past January, I wrote it about a year back. Shortly after it went up, it sparked a minor controversy and was taken down from the site. It appears here in full.

Venus in Furs
A Look at Furry Sex in Second Life
By Bonnie Ruberg

With its relative anonymity, universal access, and unique power to connect people across the world, the internet is a breeding ground for sexual expression. Websites, chat channels, and, most recently, massively-multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPs) have become the contemporary homes for all kinds of sexual subcultures still on the fringe of offline society.

Goreans, cannibal fetishists, voraphiles: these groups may seem foreign to mainstream America, but tucked away in the niches of the internet, such communities can flourish more or less free from outside scrutiny. Yet, in this age of to-each-his-own online acceptance, there’s still one group that regularly ruffles feathers: furries.

Furries are self-described “animalistic creatures with humanoid features.” Wolves, dragons, orca wales: anything goes. Like familiar cartoon characters, these animals can talk, stand upright, or wear clothes. But make no mistake: if furries–frequently shortened to “furs”–have great senses of humor, that doesn’t mean that being a lion, a mouse, even a skunk, is a laughing matter. Furs often associate closely with the animals they imitate.

Though Furry-dom isn’t sexual for everyone, sex does have a strong presence in the furry community, whose membership has boomed thanks to the internet. Online, furs can share fan fiction and art, roleplay over chat servers, or create their own animalistic avatars in virtual worlds. Which isn’t to say furries only exist on the internet. Many hardcore fans own “fursuits”� and attend real-life furry conventions.

Furry fandom has a sizable following. Yet it’s a phenomenon that, if often sensationalized, rarely gets approached constructively. Who better to shed some light on the issue than the people who understand it best, the furs themselves?

“Furries are simply those who look at ‘humanity’ as a whole and say ‘Why?’� explained “bunny” Geo Vaughan. Furry fan Solaire Epsilon agreed, “Furryness is an opportunity to escape human conventions.” As for what makes fur more attractive than human flesh, internet sexpert Noche Kandora posited, “I think the furry skin also can serve as a psychodramatic aid, something to actually help lure out the more base behavior a lot of people tend to keep buried.” In escaping “humanity”� furry-dom allows fans a chance to explore other sides of themselves.

Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about furs is that they’re somehow linked to bestiality. “While the concepts… seem similar, many furs are rather put off by the idea of sex with an actual animal�” said Vaughan. “Furries will take animal characteristics of different species and apply them to a human form, but they still mark the difference between a furry and an animal.” In fact, in a recent survey of 360 furries, only 2% expressed interest in bestiality. Instead, bisexuality and a non-judgmental attitude towards sex were the predominant characteristics.

Not that furry sexuality is without its quirks. Take, for example, the fur community in the online game Second Life. Here furries are regular faces in the crowd. They have their own areas, like FurNation, and their own hangouts, like the roman baths–where the pornographic fan art on the wall quickly sets the playful but sexy tone. In Second Life at least, the furry population is largely queer. It’s not uncommon to come across a furry who proclaims himself the only straight fur in FurNation.

Regardless of the gender of the furs involved, there are a number of things that differentiate furry sex and human sex in Second Life. First, the strong identification many furs feel with their “fursonas” and in particular their species, often transfers over into their sex lives. Canine furs have knots on their genitals to grab onto their lovers; feline furs purr with pleasure and scratch like only cats could. Though most furries don’t discriminate by species in picking their friends or sexual playmates, species pride is a given. As one rabbit boasted to another across the steam of the roman baths, “Bunnies make the best lovers.”

How do furs pick their animals selves? The choice seems to be more about self-representation than sexual taste. Kami Woebegone, a blue dragon in a bathrobe, explained, “[in real life] I’m very power hungry and egotistical… so dragons seemed like a logical choice for me. They’re revered.” Still, Woebegone admitted his slithery forked tongue had its perks.

Certain animalistic practices, like rough play or even violence during furry sex, are surprisingly toned down. This stands in contrast to Gor, an extreme form of B.D.S.M. and another popular subgroup in Second Life, which focuses on human power relations.

However the most marked trait of fur sexuality in Second Life is its emphasis on writing. All online sex that uses text chat as its medium relies on the sexual power of words. But fur sex stands alone for its attention to proper spelling, grammar, and, above all, coherent narrative.

For example, take the following encounter between Mynx and Kiatta, two particularly well-spoken feline furries. After a flirtatious run-in on the beach, Mynx has playfully thrown Kiatta over his shoulder and taken her back to his Second Life home, where he has locked her in a sling. Though Second Life does have pose balls–small, floating circles that, when clicked, allow characters to act out motions–the vast majority of these actions are only take place in text. An excerpt from their transcript looks like this:

Mynx frees your tail and begins to use it to tickle your rump.
Kiatta squirms and twists around, giggling…..
Mynx grins and teases your petals with your tail, feeling his sheath swelling up. “Mmm. I can taste that lovely scent.

Even as the situation gets more heated, Mynx and Kiatta’s language stays tight–as if their performances for one another, instead of showing off sexual prowess, are demonstrating under-pressure writing skills:

Mynx pants hotly into your neck, holding you tightly as he continues to pump… growling gently and feeling veins pop to the surface of his shaft to caress your insides… he murrs, claws stroking over your nipples and under the curves of your breasts…
Kiatta shivers, her fur bristling as your clawtips tease her soft nipples, and her sex wettens with excitement as you slide in and out of her rear entrance, her back arching. She arches her hips back, moaning helplessly…

For readers of erotica or erotic fan fiction, these transcripts might not seem particularly impressive. But compare Mynx and Kiatta’s encounter to samples of non-furry text-based sex in Second Life (Character names have been changed to protect the anonymity of the research alt.):

Martin: oh yeah babydoll do it like that i love feelin your tits
Sally: up then down on me. i ur pussy, but no rubbing.
George: Ooooo ooo. U want it on ur knees? Im gonna give it to u hard. But come on tell me r u wet?

Speaking, of course, from generalization, furs seem more likely to avoid the written sloppiness typical of online chat. Whereas, in the non-fur excerpts, capitalization, spelling, grammar, and vocabulary take a back seat to rudimentary communication of desire and/or a sexual act, attention to language comes first in the furry transcript. The two types of text also differ greatly in approach. During sex, in the furry example, direct speech is rare (“I put my paw on your waist.”). Much more common is narration in the third person (“He put his paw on her waist.”). This creates a sense of collective storytelling. As a result, the transcript from the fur encounter more closely resembles a piece of written erotica–or perhaps a piece of the fan fiction that’s so integral to furry culture–than an impromptu sexy dialogue.

But why is furry text-based sex so different? Perhaps it’s become, as anthropomorphic animals, furries have father to stretch their imaginations than normal players. It’s this heavy reliance on roleplaying that resurfaces in fur sex as narration. Or maybe, since furry-dom is so inextricably linked to imagination, it attracts more creative, language- and narrative-oriented participants in the first place.

If there’s one thing furry sexuality can teach mainstream America, said Epsilon, it’s that “sexual deviance is not a reasonable basis for guilt. Being different is not a crime or a sin.” Which is true for all furries–all people–regardless of sexual activity. “In Second Life there are a lot of furries who only want to have sex,†� reminded border collie Gin Clayton, “but there’s also a lot who just like to talk.†� To really understand furry-dom, explained Ian Soulfox, “Basically just picture reality, the same problems and pleasures, but probably with ears and a tail.”

Tags: avatars, fetishes, furries, my articles, reprinted articles, sex

17 Responses to ““Venus in Furs” Reprinted”

  1. Cybersexy Says:

    In SL, I’ve had my share of furry sex. The only difference I see between furry sex and bestiality is that furry sex is between two intelligent beings.

    That said, furry sex is a lot of fun. ;)

  2. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    I have a lot of respect for it myself. The thing I’m really curious about re: furries is the conventions, and whether there’s a manifest sexual aspect there, too? Ever been to one?

  3. Cybersexy Says:

    I can’t say I’ve ever done anything in RL with furries, including conventions.

  4. Rynna Says:

    I think the primary thing about Furries which really makes it difficult to grasp it all is that, because it incorporates so much, there are very few generalizations that apply to all those within it. About the only one I can really think of would be that it is an above-average interest in anthropomorphization of animals.

    There are those who are into the sex, those who reject it; the ones who consider themselves animals reincarnation, those who merely feel they identify with something to a large degree; it’s really grown so large that when I read over the Geo comments I chuckle somewhat, because while they do apply to some, it’s not at all part of the whole. Thing of the matter is, though, there are quite a large number who…being generous, are a bit dramatic, or tend towards creating drama. These are also the ones who typically end up under the public spotlight, and thus create the reputation, especially online among non-furries, and plenty of furries as well, that as a whole many of them are, quite simply, deviant nuts.

    Whether or not this is true of the whole is largely irrelevant; in gaining acceptance, perception becomes truth, and changing it is rather difficult. The person who mentioned BDSM acceptance is largely right, and the intellectual in me is curious to see whether the same will occur on a larger scale given that the advent of online networking has led to such an upsurge in visibility for numerous sexual fetishes.

    And with the fairly strong anti-furry sentiment present in many places, those of us who really aren’t into being flamed/publicly targeted tend to remain quiet and unheard of outside our own circles, which doesn’t help raising awareness. But then, it also seems to me that the best way to do it is to make sure you control the environment, which to a large degree makes text mediums ideal, since there is generally a greater amount of time to think out one’s response.

  5. Cybersexy Says:

    Rynna, I have to second your statement. From my experience with them online, furries come in a lot of different types. I’ve dabbled in it myself, but I think I would fall more properly under the “deviant nut” classification. :)

  6. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    Rynna, I’m sure you’re right about furries defying categorization, generalizations, etc. From an outsider standpoint, it is interesting to look for patterns, but of course it’s a huge (and hugely diverse) community.

  7. Anne Packrat Says:

    I get called a furry a lot at anime conventions, mainly because I do mascot cosplay. And when I explain why I’m not one, (I don’t have an uncommon attraction to anthropomorphic animals), I just get glazed over looks in response.

    There’s been a fair amount of furries at anime cons. Some are nice, some are dicks, just like with every group.

  8. Rynna Says:

    Well, I suppose I should clarify – Personally, I find nothing wrong with naughtiness, given I quite enjoy it myself ^^

    What I was more meaning is that so often the public face is generated by the far wing of a community; for perhaps a better analogy, it’s like saying the religious right exemplifies conservatism as a whole, or that the ALF or some such represents all of liberalism. While most are fine, they aren’t the ones who are going to generate news =)

    Of course, Bonnie, if you are looking round for furry-ism sexplay done via text, I’d recommend checking Tapestries out if you haven’t already; for the most part, it’s rather rich in detail and foreplay, which is what makes it so fun =^.^=

  9. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    Tapestries, huh? I’ll definitely check it out!

  10. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    Rynna, so I’ve been reading about Tapestries. It sounds like a great place (any community that wants to make a safe space for BDSM play is my kind of spot :). But it also sounds like it’s entirely furry–which is totally fine, except I wonder if a furry newb like me (to be honest, I’ve never role-played a furry myself, only played with ones) would be welcome… Any thoughts as someone who’s been?

  11. Rynna Says:

    Oh, you’d be fine. The only real hard rule is no humans, but demihumans such as elves are fine. If you want to investigate it further, it’s fairly painless to register, and I’m round there rather often, so if you wanted a tour guide I’d be interested in showing you around =)

  12. Rynna Says:

    Oh, and I’m guessing you can actually see the contact e-mails listed here, just not others, so if you do want any further information/help/whatever about Taps, I definitely get e-mail notice much quicker than refreshing here, since my multi-day delay was from accidentally closing out the firefox window and then being unable to remember what it was I closed until just now >.

  13. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    Hey, Rynna. Sounds great. I’ll definitely send you an email as soon as I get some time to explore!

  14. Rynna Says:

    Looking forward to it, then!

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  17. Becca Says:

    I think the narrative quality of furry cybersex in SL is due to most of furry history having been on online text based games (MUCK, MUSH, MOO, etc). I’ve never really been involved with the furry community, but I was involved in the larger MUSH community. Since these games exist exclusively to do community narrative, they encourage strongly a certain kind of interaction. (Otherwise you may as well have been on IRC.)

    One other thing I find interesting is that until I discovered cybersex, I hadn’t seen this “second person narrative” style that you quote in your article. (That is, when I’m writing, using third person for myself and second person for my partner.) It does seem to ratchet up the intimacy of the scene, for whatever reason.

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