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S’tuff love: A beginner’s guide to plushophilia

I’ve only come across one academic reference to plushophilia and that was in a comprehensive list of paraphilias in the 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices by Dr.Anil Aggrawal (Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, India). I also checked out Dr. Brenda Love’s (normally very reliable and all encompassing) Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices but there was nothing on plushophilia at all. Dr. Aggrawal defines plushophilia as a “sexual attraction to stuffed toys or people in animal costume, such as theme park characters”. However, other online sources simply define plushophilia as a sexual paraphilia involving stuffed animals. Sexual and pornographic activities involving animal anthropomorphism (including plushophilia), is known among the plushophile community as ‘yiffing’.

Plushophiles are often referred to as plushies, although as I noted in a previous blog on the Furry Fandom, the term can also refer to stuffed animal enthusiasts who have no sexual interest at all (i.e., people who just love cuddly toys). Because of an infamous 2001 article by George Gurley in the magazine Vanity Fair, plushophilia is often assumed to be a common practice among members of the Furry Fandom. However, survey research has shown this not to be the case. For instance, an old and unpublished survey from data collected in the late 1990s by David J. Rust of 360 members of the furry community (325 respondents from furry conventions and 25 respondents online) suggested less than 1% of them were plushophiles (0.3%).

In a more recent attempt to replicate Rust’s study, Kyle Evans carried out a survey in 2008 on 276 people who self-identified themselves as being furries and who were recruited from furry or furry-related online message boards and forums. Evans reported a much higher prevalence rate of plushophilia (7%) than the study by Rust (although this was still a low prevalence rate suggesting that the overlap between plushophilia and the Furry Fandom is minimal). Evans claimed that because the majority of Rust’s survey was conducted in person at conventions, participants were susceptible to the social desirability bias when it came to plushophilia. Many plushies do not want any association with furries whatsoever.

Many plushophiles are avid collectors of cuddly toys and many began accumulating their collections in childhood (although some have already reached adulthood before their interest in stuffed toys begins). Some plushies are said to be totally obsessed with their hobby and may share behavioural similarities with pathological hoarders. Among a small minority of plushies, the collecting may border on being an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Like many collectors, plushies may focus their collecting behaviour on very specific types of cuddly toy such as teddy bears. For some plushies, their passion for collecting may lead them to careers that involve making and/or trading plush toy animals. The online Wiki Fur website claims that:

“A common practice among plushophiles who are serious collectors is to purchase two of each plushie; one for display and use, and another for safe keeping and preservation. Many plushophiles consider their toys very dear and rarely trade or sell them, even when there are concerns such as limited space and storage”.

As mentioned earlier, a small number of furries consider themselves plushophiles. Some furries and/or plushies have specific animistic beliefs (i.e., a set of beliefs concerning the existence of non-human “spiritual beings”) that cross over into their love of toy animals. Furthermore, for some furries, toy animals are said to serve as representations of totem animals. The Wiki Fur website defines an animal totem as:

“An important symbolic object in furry spirituality used by a person to get in touch with specific qualities found within an animal which the person needs, connects with, or feels a deep affinity toward. Some Furry lifestylers find they draw spiritual energy from a totem animal which guides their lives and causes them to imitate behaviors of that animal”.

Role players among Furry Fandom members may also create characters based on the idea of living toys and stuffed animal characters. Plushies frequently enjoy interacting with furries whose primary avatar is a toy character. However, as the Wiki Fur website asserts “not everyone who enjoys playing as or with such an avatar is necessarily a plushophile or collector of stuffed animals in real life”.

The sexual element of plushophilia has been overplayed and sensationalized by both the print and broadcast media. However, there are plushie sex and dating sites (such as Plushie Love and Plush Yiff), and for those plushies where sex is an important part of their activity, their behaviour has been argued by the Wiki Fur website to be a genuine sexual paraphilia.

“Depending on the individual, sexual stimulation and plush toys may arise from purely sensual enjoyment, may act as an aid for fantasy gratification and physical or mental stimulation alone or with another person, or may have an animistic and spiritual component. For example, some plushophiles who make use of their toys in intimate ways do so with a partner, while others only experience such feelings toward a plush animal that they view as more than an inanimate object. A common practice among sexual plushophiles is to modify a plush toy in order to make it sexually accessible or to minimize damage to it from such use”.

However, Wiki Fur is quick to point out that not all plushies who relate to their toys sexually modify them, and not plushies actually make direct contact with their stuffed toys for intimate stimulation. One infamous plushophile is FoxWolfie Galen who has his own website was interviewed for Salon magazine. He was first asked how he had sex with a stuffed animal:

“Well, none of [my toy animals] have an SPA [strategically placed appendage]. It’s been thought of a couple of times, but part of the difficulty would be constructing one and not having it fall off the plushie. That’s a problem people have dwelled on for a long time. It’s usually just cuddling and rubbing with me. There’s usually no need for the penetration. Most of [my toy animals] don’t have an SPH [strategically placed hole], but some do. It’s not a requirement for me – if’s there I’ll use it, and if not, I’m just as happy without it. It all depends on what you allow happen to them. Some people wear condoms for complete protection”.

Galen has more than a 1000 stuffed animals and he was asked how he chooses his “sexual partners”. He said:

“It’s basically the same as with people,” Galen says in explaining how he chooses his lucky winners. Some you’re attracted to sexually and some you’re not. I’m not interested in just human-human [sex]; it’s gotta be human-plushie-human. The person would have to be interested in plush”.

Academic research is beginning to be carried out on plushophilia (but only in relation to Furry Fandom and/or zoophilia). There are some aspects of plushophilia that might have psychological resonance with pathological collecting and hoarding, but most research is likely to examine the more sexual elements of plushophiles’ lifestyle.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Evans, K. (2008). The furry sociological survey. Located at:

FoxWolfie Galen’s Plushie Page (2012). Definitions. Located at:

Gerbasi, K. C., Paolone, N., Higner, J., Scaletta, L. L., Bernstein, P. L., Conway, S., & Privitera, A. (2008). Furries from A to Z (anthropomorphism to zoomorphism). Society & Animals, 16(3), 197-222.

Hill, D. (2000). Cuddle time: In the world of plushophiles, not all stuffed animals are created equal. Salon, June 19. Located at:

Rust, D.J. (2001). The sociology of furry fandom. Located at:

Wiki Fur (2012). Animal totem. Located at:

Wiki Fur (2012). Plushophilia. Located at:

Blown away: A brief overview of balloon fetishism

Balloon fetishes are (unsurprisingly) sexual fetishes that feature balloons as the source of sexual arousal and pleasure. Such individuals are known as ‘looners’. David Kerekes (editor of Headpress – The Journal of Sex, Death and Religion) wrote that some balloon fetishists “revel in the popping of balloons and [others] may become anxious and tearful at the very thought of popping balloons”. In her book Deviant Desires, Katharine Gates also notes that other looners enjoy particular aspects of balloons such as blowing them up and/or interacting with them (e.g., rubbing up against balloons, sitting and/or lying on balloons, etc.). A quick look at a few balloon fetish websites also indicates that some looners like watching people inflate them until they burst whereas others like gigantic balloons that they can stick their head inside them (for instance, check out the pictures here which also claim that the smell or the colour of the balloon may be an important part of the fetish).

There has been very little empirical research carried out on looners and much of what is known is based on anecdotes and hearsay. Anecdotal case studies suggest that the etiology of the fetish varies from one person to the next although some claim that the behaviour can be explained by sexual imprinting where specific sexual preferences may be acquired through exposure to particular stimuli during a specific period early in life. Some looners recall that in childhood they remember being sexually aroused when they saw balloons being popped by the opposite sex (or people they had a crush on). It has also been alleged that – somewhat paradoxically – looners may have phonophobia (i.e., a fear of loud sounds) as a result of being in the vicinity of balloons popping loudly. As Dr. Ilana Simons claims in a Psychology Today article, there is an unexplained link between fetishes and phobias:

There is a deep connection between phobias, fetishes, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. In each, someone has an emotion that threatens to overwhelm her… A person with a fetish handles the monster of desire by focusing not on whole people but on parts – just a shoe, or the butt, or the slit in skirts. Focus on one thing organizes or restrains multiple feelings. A person with a phobia is similarly able to contain anxiety by condensing emotion to one target”.

In an online essay (So hot and ready to pop: The world of looners), balloon fetishists comprise poppers (where popping the balloon is essential to the fetish) and non-poppers (who avoid the bursting of balloons in all instances). Katherine McIntyre recently published a paper on balloon fetishes (Looners: Inside the world of balloon fetishes) and interviewed a number of looners. One of her interviewees claimed that poppers are generally more dominant and non-poppers more submissive. However, sex therapist Paul Abramson claimed the distinction was trivial and “like trying to distinguish Miller from Bud drinkers”. McIntyre also noted that:

“The balloon fetish community extends beyond porn. Looners share stories and ask questions about their fetish on Facebook, Twitter and other Internet sites. About 1,200 people are regular members of Balloon Buddies, a popular listserv in the looner community where otherwise uncomfortable and often ashamed balloon people gather and discuss their preoccupation. Balloon Buddies was started as a pen pal group in the 1970s by a man from Maine nicknamed Buster Bill. Several thousand people have circulated through over the years”.

Even among looners who don’t have a balloon phobia, it has been claimed that may have no desire to burst the balloon because they have an anthropomorphized emotional attachment to the balloon (i.e., they attribute human characteristics to the balloon). The article also claims that balloon fetish is indirectly related to latex fetishes. Just like latex, balloons are “tactile and supple and imitate the consistency of human skin”. However, balloons have extra properties such as the ability to expand and is said to be akin “the swelling of primary and secondary sexual organs during arousal”. A Wikipedia entry on looners also claims that:

“One hallmark of the distinction between poppers and non-poppers may be in seeing balloons’ bursting either as a metaphor for orgasm, or as a metaphor for death…for fetishists the adrenaline rush associated with the ‘danger’ that a balloon will pop produces a sexual response. This helps to explain why even non-poppers who have an intense phobia of balloons popping in non-sexual contexts may be aroused by the possibility within safe sexual contexts. It may even suggest that balloon fetish, for poppers and non-poppers alike, is part of the BDSM [Bondage, Dominance, Submission, Masochism] spectrum of fetishes in which a controlled amount of danger is used to elicit a pleasurable fight or flight in participants”.

In an article for The Wave Magazine, entitled “Fetish Confessions”, Sandy Brundage interviewed self-confessed looner ‘Mike D’ about his balloon fetish. Brundage simply wanted to know why looners are so sexually aroused by balloons. Mike D – who now runs the balloon fetish video site Mellyloon that has sent out over 1,000 balloon fetish films to the Middle East, Asia, South and North America – said:

 “I’m not sure I have the answer to that. There’s always something that goes back to your childhood. Like your babysitter blew up a balloon or your mother popped your balloon. Then along comes puberty and these things that made such an impression on you as a child turn into something erotic….I’m still phobic [about balloons]. That’s where my whole fetish derived from, that fear”.

McIntyre interviewed another male looner (Shaun) who was particularly aroused by balloons because of their smell. He said:

“The smell of a room that has a lot of balloons, especially after they have oxidized over a period of a couple days, is nearly indescribable. Each brand possesses a smell as distinct to looners as perfume. The odor is subtly sweet with a hint of rubber. One sniff can identify a Rifco brand product because its latex smells slightly of chocolate chip cookies. The aroma adds to the experience, as does the feel and sound of balloons. The sensation of swimming through hundreds of balloons in my bedroom was overwhelming and amazing”.

McIntyre also noted that some looners care more about the balloon’s size, colour and brand. Some prefer solid colored balloons and others prefer transparent balloons. One looner said that size was crucial (“the bigger the better”). This particular looner claimed he could orgasm simply by blowing up a balloon until it popped.

McIntyre also interviewed Lynda, a 55-year-old teacher from Los Angeles who said that balloons were “more sensual than sexual” for her. She and her partner own three helium tanks and they sometimes fill their bedroom, living room or shower with balloons. Lynda says she traps herself in a cage she built with balloons, turns on a large fan, and allows the balloons to move around her. This she says stimulates “her senses to invigorating heights” and equates the feeling to a junkie’s high (“so intense, so wild and awesome”), and “collapses in ecstasy afterward like one does after incredible sex”. Lynda says her partner accepts her balloon fetish because “it’s not immoral, not fattening, it’s relatively cheap and brings a smile to her face”.

McIntyre also claimed in her article that most looners grew up ashamed with the belief that no-one else in the world had their sexual fetish. It was only when they found other like-minded people online that they realized they were “not alone”. This helps eliminate the looner’s feelings of isolation. This then becomes easier to tell potential partners about their fetish and helps looners to keep their behaviour under control.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Brundage, S. (2002). Fetish Confessions: Telling loved ones about your fetish is as easy as solving fractured quadratic equations. The Wave Magazine, July 31. Located at:

Gates, K. (2000). Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex. New York: RE/Search Publications.

Kerekes, D. (2010). Headpress: The Journal of Sex, Death and Religion, 21, 142.

Malfouka (undated). So hot and ready to pop: The world of looners. Maximum Awesome. Located at:

McIntyre, K.E. (2011).  Looners: Inside the world of balloon fetishism. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, 27 April. Located at:

Simons, I. (2009). On fetishes and clean pencil tips. Psychology Today, March 8. Located at:

Wikipedia (2012). Balloon fetish. Located at:

Animal magnetism: Inside the world of the furries

Back in the early 1995, one of my good friends (who knew that I had an academic interest in sexual paraphilias) asked me if I knew of any psychological research on ‘furries’. He told me that his girlfriend preferred to have sex with him when she was dressed up in animal clothing (in this case, a fox). At the time I knew absolutely nothing about the ‘furry fandom’ community but I always kept an eye out for academic research on the topic.

It wasn’t until 2001 that I saw the first article on the phenomena – a journalistic feature by George Gurley in Vanity Fair. Gurley proclaimed “This is no hobby. It’s sex; it’s religion; it’s a whole new way of life”. Although I didn’t know anyone personally in the furry community, I was led to believe that they weren’t very happy with the way that Gurley had portrayed them. My next memory of furries in the mainstream was when I watched a 2003 episode of ‘CSI: Crime Scene Investigation’ (called ‘Fur and Loathing’) where furries were the main focus of the show when a man was found dead fully dressed as a raccoon.

The furry fandom community has also developed its own vocabulary including words such as ‘fursona’ (furry persona), ‘plushie’ (person who loves cuddly toys), ‘fleshie’ (a non-furry person), fursuiters’ (people who dress in animal costumes), ‘yiff’ (furry pornography), and ‘skritching’ (scratching and grooming). It should also be noted that the word ‘plushie’ has also been used to describe someone who has a sexual paraphilia concerning sexual arousal to stuffed animals. However, an old and unpublished survey from data collected in the late 1990s by David J. Rust of 360 members of the furry community (325 respondents from furry conventions and 25 respondents online) suggested less than 1% of them were plushophiles (0.3%). It was also reported that 2% of the sample were also zoophiles.

In a more recent attempt to replicate Rust’s study, Evans (2008) carried out a survey on 276 people who self-identified themselves as being furries and who were recruited from furry or furry-related online message boards and forums. Evans reported much higher prevalence rates of both plushophiles (7%) and zoophiles (17%) than the study by Rust. Evans claimed that because the majority of Rust’s survey was conducted in person at conventions, participants were susceptible to the social desirability bias when it came to zoophilia and plushophilia.

Despite the existence of the furry fandom community being around for over the years, it took until 2008 before the first peer reviewed academic paper was published that included some primary data on furries. The research was led by Dr Kathy Gerbasi (Niagara County Community College, New York State, USA). She carried out research on the topic, and the paper was published in the journal Society and Animals.

Before presenting their findings, Dr Gerbasi and colleagues overviewed the cultural, media, and minimal academic writings on the topic (such as a passing reference to Shari Cauldron’s discussion of furries in her 2006 book ‘Misfit furries: Who are you people?’), as well as defining two central concepts as defined by the American Psychological Association:

  • Anthropomorphism: “The attribution of human characteristics to nonhuman entities”
  • Zoomorphism: “The attribution of animal traits to human beings, deities, or inanimate objects”

There is no official definition of what a ‘furry’ actually is although most furries would agree that they share an interest in fictional anthromorphic animal characters that have human characteristics and personalities and/or mythological or imaginary creatures that possess human and/or superhuman capabilities. Furthermore, furries are often said to identify with (and may even desire to assume) characteristics of non-human animals. Given the lack of official definitions, Gerbasi and colleagues gave this detailed description of furries and furry fandom:

“A furry is a person who identifies with the Furry Fandom culture. Furry Fandom is the collective name given to individuals who have a distinct interest in anthropomorphic animals such as cartoon characters. Many, but not all, furries strongly identify with, or view themselves as, one (or more) species of animal other than human. Common furry identities (“fursonas”) are dragon, feline (cat, lion, tiger), and canine (wolf, fox, domestic dog) species. Some furries create mixed species such as a “folf” (fox and wolf) or “cabbit” (cat and rabbit). Furries rarely, if ever, identify with a nonhuman primate species. Many furries congregate in cyberspace, enjoy artwork depicting anthropomorphized animals, and attend Furry Fandom conventions”

This study’s aim was to explore the furry identity. The participants comprised a convenience sample of 217 furries and 29 non-furry individuals that attended the world’s largest annual furry convention (plus a small comparison group of 68 students). The research team was helped by the fact that the conference chairman supported the study being undertaken. A lot of data were presented throughout the paper and I will only report a few of the main findings here.

In relation to gender, the majority of the furries were male (86%). In relation to their sexuality, male furries were 31.5% homosexual, 28%, heterosexual, and 40.5%, bisexual. (These findings were also similar to unpublished surveys of socio-demographic among 600 furries carried out by the University of California Davis Furry Research Team. This same survey reported that only 18% had a fursuit and that 76% were in a relationship with another furry). Among female furries, none were homosexual, 58.3% were heterosexual, and 41.7 % were bisexual. In relation to preferred species identity, furries were most likely to report being wolf, fox, lion, tiger, folf (fox/wolf), and cabbit (cat/rabbit hybrid).

The researchers were also interested in either confirming or disconfirming some of the stereotypes surrounding the furry fandom (many of which emanated from their journalistic and media portrayal in the early 2000s). Below is a list of the main stereotypes followed by the extent to which Gerbasi and colleagues data either confirmed or disconfirmed them.

  • “Males are more likely to be furries than females” (Confirmed)
  • “Furries recall liking cartoons more as children than others” (Confirmed)
  • “Furries like science fiction more than others” (Confirmed)
  • “Common furry species are wolf and fox” (Somewhat confirmed)
  • “Male furries wear both beards and glasses more than other males” (Not confirmed)
  • “Furries are employed in computer or science fields” (Somewhat confirmed)
  • “Furries wear fursuits” (Somewhat confirmed)
  • “A preponderance of male furries are homosexual” (Not confirmed)
  • “Furries consider themselves less than 100% human” (Somewhat confirmed)
  • Furries would be 0% human if possible” (Somewhat confirmed)
  • “Furries are perceived as having behaviors common to personality disorders” (Not confirmed)
  • Furries have specific kinds of connections to their species which parallel aspects of gender identity disorder” (Somewhat confirmed)

For me, the most interesting part of the published research was the creation of a “furry typology” based on participants’ responses to furry-identity questions. Basically, being furry means different things to different furries. More specifically, furries were asked to respond either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the following two questions:

  • “Do you consider yourself to be less than 100% human?”
  • “If you could become 0% human, would you?”

These give rise to two independent dimensions of (i) self-perception (undistorted versus distorted) and (ii) species identity (attained versus unattained). Approximately 25% of the furries responded positively to both of these questions. The research team claimed that these responses meant the furries in this particular grouping had “distorted and unattained” identities (i.e., what could possibly be termed a “species identity disorder”). The implication of this finding has lead to some debate as Gerbasi and colleagues speculated that this particular type of furry that has ‘species identity disorder’ has certain characteristics that parallel individuals that have gender-identity disorder (GID).

“For the largest group of furries, the undistorted attained type, being furry may simply be a route to socializing with others who share common interests such as anthropomorphic art and costumes. For distorted unattained furries, the similarities between their connections to their species and aspects of GID are striking. For these furries, considering the self as less than 100% human and wanting to be 0% human is often accompanied by discomfort with their human body and feeling that they are another species trapped in a human body. These connections parallel criteria for the diagnosis of GID”

This has led to some debate as Dr Fiona Probyn-Rapsey (University of Sydney, Australia) contested the ‘species identity disorder’ versus ‘gender identity disorder’ analogy in a short 2011 paper also published in the journal Society and Animals. Her main argument was that GID is itself a highly controversial diagnosis that has been criticized for pathologizing homosexuality and transgendered people. She also tried to argue that the constructs used were based on unexamined assumptions about what constitutes “human” identity and regulatory fictions of gender identity. Predictably, Gerbasi and colleagues provided a vehement response to Dr Probyn-Rapsey and claimed that Probyn-Rapsey’s focus on gender identity disorder completely missed the main point of the study (which was in essence to report the first ever empirically published data on the often misrepresented subculture of furry fandom).

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

American Psychological Association. (2007). APA dictionary of psychology. (2007). Washington, DC: Author.

Caudron, S. (2006). Misfit furries: Who are you people? Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books.

Evans, K. (2008). The furry sociological survey. Located at:

Gerbasi, K. C., Paolone, N., Higner, J., Scaletta, L. L., Bernstein, P. L., Conway, S., & Privitera, A. (2008). Furries from A to Z (anthropomorphism to zoomorphism). Society & Animals, 16(3), 197-222.

Gerbasi, K.C., Scaletta, L.L., Plante, C.N. & Bernstein, P.L. (2011). Why so FURious? Rebuttal of Dr. Fiona Probyn-Rapsey’s Response to Gerbasi et al.’s Furries from A to Z (Anthropomorphism to Zoomorphism). Society and Animals, 19, 302-304.

Gurley, G. (2001, March). Pleasures of the fur. Vanity Fair, 174-196.

Padva, G. (2005). Dreamboys, Meatmen and Werewolves: Visualizing Erotic Identities in All-Male Comic Strips. Sexualities, 8, 587-599.

Probyn-Rapsey, F. (2011). Furries and the limits of species identity disorder: A response to Gerbasi et al. Society & Animals, 19, 294-301.

Rust, D.J. (2001). The sociology of furry fandom. Located at:

University of California, Davis Department of Psychology (2007). Furry Survey Results. Located at: