Borne of the science fiction and fantasy fan scene, the subculture of Furry fandom is a thriving genre in the fetish world.
We're not talking here of 'plushies', those who fetishise stuffed 'plush' animals like teddy bears. Nor are we referring to the Furries who enjoy a non-sexual devotion to cartoon animals from comic books and animated TV shows. Instead, we are looking at Furverts, the label given to people who sexualise their cartoon characters.
The Furvert scene emerged in the 1980s and, in the main, Furvert activity deals with creating or collecting illustrations of imaginary furry characters and/or role-playing in online sites like multi-user dungeons (MUD's) and other interactive fan sites.
The crucial feature of furry fandom is the anthropomorphic nature of the characters. That is, fictional animals with human traits such as walking on two feet, talking and wearing clothes. If we imagine an eroticised version of Little Red Riding Hood, where the wolf walks and talks in a human fashion, and then move on from the vicarious into role-play and sexual activity, we are very close to understanding the enjoyment of the Furvert.
Some Furries scorn the adult material and activity, claiming that it gives Furry fandom a bad reputation. This is somewhat understandable given that much of the origin of a Furverts enjoyment is in material aimed at children.
However, that is to misunderstand the subculture. Whilst many furry fans are adults who enjoy themes that are considered unsuitable for children, Furvert activity is not about paedophile behaviour. To outsiders, the combination of childhood imagery and sexuality can be disturbing but Furverts have no interest in sex with children. It is about "grown up" childhood dreams and fantasies.
As well as engaging in cybersex, for the serious Furvert there are furry summer camps and conventions, where people interact with other Furverts in role, sometimes in homemade costumes known as fursuits. Interestingly, a very high percentage of the Furvert scene is comprised of gay men. Some consider this the case because one of the original convention organizers was a gay man who promoted it to the general gay community. But, there has long been an affinity between some gay men and Disney animated movies and characters. And it should also be noted that creative costuming and performing are more acceptable among men in the gay community than in the straight community.
Increasingly, Furverts are beginning to explore BDSM scenarios and BDSM fantasies, particularly pony play, where the anthropomorphic nature of furry fandom is contradicted to the extent that it is the human taking on animal traits. However, the use of bondage and other sado-masochistic behaviours in this more extreme fetish does not reflect the Furvert subculture in general. To your average Furvert the sexualised cartoon character is enough and, despite the media focus on the more extreme aspects of furry sexuality, the wealth of material reflecting this shows that not all Furverts are engaging in furry cybersex or running through the hills in their favourite Disney costume, regardless of the highly entertaining mental image that conjures up.
Claire Gaskin is a social researcher and co-founder of two successful dating sites: http://www.fetish-mate.com and http://www.music-mate.com