Furries and Erotic Target Identity Inversion

In a recent article for [adjective][species], I wrote about a 2009 paper that presented an origin theory, of sorts, for furry. The author, Dr Anne Lawrence, proposes that furries (she uses the term “furverts”) are all plushophiles, that fursuiting (“fursuitism”) is a fetish activity, and that furry identity is an attempt to turn ourselves into the object of our supposed desire. We are, she concludes, autoplushophiles.

To put it simply, the paper is balls. I won’t rehash any of the reasons here, except to note that it is possibly the first peer-reviewed scientific paper in history to cite an episode of Entourage.

Yet Dr Lawrence’s paper uses an interesting approach. We here at [adjective][species] are interested in exploring furry, and while Dr Lawrence is factually wrong, the general idea—erotic target identity inversion, or ETII—is one that can provide useful guidance to the big question: why are we furries?

Dr Lawrence’s article has inspired at least one researcher—who has been in contact with [adjective][species] (and others)—to look at furry from a sexology perspective. The idea is based on the hypothesis that furries may be categorized as having ETII.

Of course, there is never going to be a successful one-size-fits all furry origin theory. Furries find our community through different routes, and participate in our community for different reasons.

In general, ETII may be applicable to those furries who personally identify with a furry character, avatar, or fursona. This is today’s furry mainstream: if you roleplay as an anthropomorphic character, or think of yourself as an animal-person in some contexts, you probably fit in this group. Consumption of furry pornography is not a requirement. You might not fit into this group if you don’t have a furry identity, or if you only use a furry identity as a convenient way to participate in mainstream furry culture.

ETII is a subset of “erotic target location error”, which is the topic of Dr Lawrence’s paper. It’s a theory that may explain the origin of sexual fetishes.

There is value in research that explores the source of fetishistic behaviour. Firstly, research can provide psychological insight into human beings and human society. Secondly, it can provide a basis for therapy for people looking to understand and control sexual impulses. Of course, that’s not to say that someone with a fetish requires therapy—we’d need a lot of doctors!—just that there may be value for some people.

Dr Lawrence’s “erotic target location error” theory claims that the target of a fetish originates from its association with a real erotic target. The archetypal example is a straight man who gets sexual enjoyment from wearing women’s underwear. The theory suggests that this man—I’m going to call him Panty Dad—is attracted to women, but his sexual focus is subject to a “location error”: something associated with women has become his erotic target.

In the case of Panty Dad, he has inverted the sexual interest, applying it to himself. This is ETII (erotic target identity inversion) – he is sexually interested in the idea of himself in panties, an interest fundamentally founded in his desire for sexy mums and his daughter’s friends from college.

That is a very simplistic example, but I’m sure you get the idea. In general, ETII is not really about sex. Panty Dad may feel sexy when he wears those panties to the office, but he is not attracted to men in panties. He is interested in women but some part of that interest is inverted, so it applies to his own behaviour and—importantly—his personal identity.

This explanation for fetishistic behaviour isn’t widely accepted by sexologists, although ETII does have some high-profile advocates. Like all ideas in a scientific but fundamentally uncertain field (like psychology and sexology), mainstream acceptance tends to wax and wane. Scientific dialogue often takes the form of idea advocacy—Dr Lawrence is nothing if not a culture warrior—with support provided by clinical anecdotes.

Dr Lawrence provides one excellent, elegant example to demonstrate the value of ETII. It’s taken from a 1977 article (ref), describing an 18-year-old man who had his first homosexual experience with a uniformed soldier. Following this, he displayed a clear fetish for military uniforms. His behaviour included an incident where he broke into a dormitory of Italian bersaglieri (sharpshooters), and masturbated in uniforms laid out for the next morning.

It’s easy to see a common thread in the behaviour of Soldier Boy and Panty Dad, and Dr Lawrence cites a few other illustrative examples. Drawing on research (by others) on fetishes and sexual interests, she identifies a few apparent patterns:

  • Fetishistic behaviour, and possible erotic target inversion, is more commonly observed in men than women.
  • People with fetishes display a disproportionate tendency towards other, coincidental fetishes.
  • It’s common for people to dress up as part of their expression of the fetish.
  • Fetishes can manifest as self-focussed experience (such as a masturbatory aid) or as a feeling of identity.

The final point is an important one. People with ETII tend to see their fetish as part of their personal identity, rather than a sexual interest. (For example, Soldier Boy claimed his behaviour was due to his desire to become a soldier himself.) People will commonly feel that the identity-related aspects of their interest are the most important aspect.

This is a problem for researchers, because they cannot hold much stead in self-reporting of identity inversion. People tend to deny the erotic component completely, or claim that the erotic component is secondary to personal identity.

It’s reasonable to say that the demographics of Dr Lawrence’s ETII groups match with the general furry population. I have also, anecdotally, been told by researchers that fetishes seem to be more common in people who work in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), which also fits in neatly.

Furries also tend to claim that identity aspects are more important than erotic aspects. Yet this is only on a personal level: furries think that sex is much more important to the community as a whole.

Data from the 2012 Furry Survey
Data from the 2012 Furry Survey

Data from the Furry Survey shows that people rate the importance of sex within furry to be lowest for them personally, and higher for other furries (and higher again for public perception). Logically, the importance of sex to each furry, collected together, must be the same as the importance of sex for furry as a whole. The estimates are therefore wrong: furries either underestimate the importance of sex to themselves, or they overestimate the importance of sex to others.

This is an interesting result, and we have tended to explain it here at [a][s] by looking at the friendship paradox, and the differences between internal and external judgements. The friendship paradox shows that our friends, mathematically, are more likely to have more friends, be richer, be happier, and have more sex (ref). This is in addition to the tendency for people on social media to discuss positive things, which makes our friends seem less bogged down in the minutiae of life and therefore more happy/rich/sexual, all of which combines to make furry for others appear relatively more sexual than it really is.

The ETII theory gives us another reading of this result. We may naturally consider identity to be the major component of our own furry experience, yet we can see the importance of the sexual aspects of furry when we remove ourselves from the judgement. We can see the pornography, the flirtatiousness, the openness, the sex positivism—all things we may personally appreciate and enjoy to some degree—and conclude that it is particularly important to the furry community. But when we look at ourselves, we think of our furry identity first and foremost, with sexuality (and everything else) a secondary component.

Dr Lawrence directly mentions furries in her paper, however her analysis focusses on plushophilia, which is a marginal interest within furry (around 8% identity as plushophiles). And as I wrote in my previous article on Dr Lawrence’s paper, her analysis of furry is problematic. However her approach towards a different group may be relevant to furry: zoophiles.

Her analysis is particularly interesting because she notes that a significant number of zoophiles report that they personally identify with the target of their sexual attraction. Dr Lawrence then goes on to describe behaviour that is recognizably furry: she mentions fursuiting as an expression of animal-identity, and also touches on body modifications such as those of the late Stalking Cat. This section is short, but with its mention of animal-person identity it provides clues as to how the ETII might apply to furries.

Perhaps surprisingly, a fair bit of research on zoophilia and zoosexuality has taken place over the last 15 years or so. The seminal work is a book written by a sexologist, Dr Hani Miletski, in 2002. Dr Lawrence quotes statistics from Dr Miletski’s research, noting that 20% of the zoophiles who participated in Dr Miletski’s study reported it was ‘completely or mostly true’ that they identified as a non-human species: in this case, the animal they are attracted to.

The identification with animals sounds like a furry trait, and in fact Dr Miletski’s work shows that the furry community is fairly well known among zoophiles. I have written about the cross-over between zoophile and furry groups before on [adjective][species]: around 20% of zoophiles feel their identity can be expressed as an animal-person, and around 15% of furries self-report as zoophiles. You can read more on the topic here.

The existence of a larger zoophile group is key for the application of ETII to furry. ETII requires that the inversion takes place for a minority of the group, hence there must be a non-inverted majority. So if we hypothesize that furries can be described as zoophiles with ETII, there must be a lot of non-furry zoophiles (i.e without ETII). Evidence indicates that this is indeed the case, with the zoophile population roughly estimated to be in the 0.1-1% range, and furries perhaps (and very roughly) 0.01-0.1%.

A second criterion for ETII is that it usually comes with a fetishistic behaviour focussed on items that represent the original erotic target, for example Panty Dad and his lady underwear. Dr Lawrence drew a blank on this one, saying “I have not found descriptions of fetishism for items associated with animals or animals’ body parts“, and supposing this might be because animals tend not to wear clothes.

Had Dr Lawrence been a more diligent researcher, she would indeed have found evidence of fetishistic behaviour focussed on animals’ body parts, in the furry community. She could simply point towards the fine selection of products offered by Bad Dragon.

Furries meet several of the criteria required for us to be considered, at least in part, as zoophiles with ETII. However the idea would undoubtedly meet a lot of resistance from many furries. Most of us, myself included, would deny that furry is fundamentally zoophilic. Furry, we might say, is about identity as an animal-person.

This is a catch-22, because that’s exactly what we’re expected to say. ETII tends to manifest as identity rather than sexuality, and so we are not really in a position to make a judgement. As Dr Lawrence says:

“ETII can superficially appear to be ‘disorders* of identity’ primarily, and erotic phenomena only secondarily, if at all. Many persons with putative ETII tend to emphasize the identity-related aspects of their feelings and deemphasize the erotic aspects”


* Note that Dr Lawrence use of the word “disorder” here is misleading. It signifies a psychological divergence, not a psychological problem.

There is also the well-understood fact that people will tend to misrepresent themselves if they have a non-mainstream sexual interest. People tend to deny fetishes, sexual fantasies, and non-heterosexual sexual orientation. For example, in its comprehensive household survey, the UK Office for National Statistics found that 1.5% of Britons admit they are gay, whereas less direct methods (where sexual orientation is inferred rather than directly asked) from government agencies place the actual number at 6%.

In short: we can’t be trusted. Our opinion on whether furry has any connection with zoophilia isn’t reliable. And regardless of how it feels from the inside of furry, from the outside there are good reasons to connect the two.

For starters, animal-person identities (and art and porn and everything else) have one thing in common: the animal aspect. Furry can be seen as essentially defined by the animalization of human beings, and much of the scope for expression of identity within furry is based on how far along that spectrum we each like to go. We might have feral characters, or taurs, or be digitigrade, or have different types of genitalia, all the way from “mostly animal” at one end through to “mostly human” at the other. We could equally be called zoomorphic humans as anthropomorphic animals.

The link with furry has not been lost on researchers into zoophilia. A draft classification for zoophiles was published in 2009, and furries are specifically mentioned. The author proposes that “human-animal roleplayers”—a shorthand description for furries if I ever heard one—be considered “Class I zoosexuals”. Of course, publication in a peer-reviewed paper doesn’t make it true, but it does demonstrate that it’s a reasonable way to look at the furry phenomenon.

All this is evidence to support the idea that furry may have its origins in zoophilia, and that the mechanism of ETII has led each of us to personally identify as an animal-person. In sexologist-speak, the furry identity may be autozoophilia.

Of course, furry is a broad church, and there is no simple definition that can cover the entire community. However, ETII may explain why so many of us find value in our expression of furry as an identity, and may well be the engine that drives furry’s growth as a worldwide phenomenon.

There are some aspects of ETII that don’t appear to be supported by furry behaviour. The most obvious is gender. If ETII dictates that we identify as the target of our attraction, then we would expect, in general, furry expressions to match the target’s gender. This is true for some furries but not others:-

Those attracted to animals (or anthros) of the same gender—homozoophiles if you like—can be expected to dress up and fursuit as a furry of their own gender. This is indeed usually the case. Heterozoophiles, on the other hand, would be expected to dress up and fursuit as the opposite gender, a bit like a Furry Panty Dad. Yet for all the heterosexual furries out there—usually men attracted to female anthros—we don’t really see fursuit cross-dressing or furry genderfuckery from otherwise cisgender furs. This doesn’t seem to be consistent with ETII, especially considering that, for all of the range of sexual orientations in furry, heterosexuality is still more popular than homosexuality (although it’s pretty close).

This is an issue to be addressed with data, and as far as I am aware there is insufficient research to draw any sort of conclusion. Certainly, I am not aware of any formal research on the gender preferences of zoosexuals, which seems like an obvious starting point.

It’s also worth noting that not all seemingly obvious examples of ETII turn out to be correct, following investigative research. This may well be the case with furries, and the furry-as-autozoophilia hypothesis may be demonstrated to be wrong. In any event, the psychological origins of furry, whatever they are, don’t inform the day-to-day furry experience. For all the psychology jargon and the 3000 words or so it’s taken me to reach this point, the value of the idea doesn’t amount to much.

The real value is to help us think about and understand our own drivers. If we can gain understanding of what makes us furry, it can help us find personal meaning in being a furry. As ever, in our extraordinary community, thinking and being furry can help us achieve greater self-acceptance and happiness.

About JM

JM is a horse-of-all-trades who was introduced to furry in his native Australia by the excellent group known collectively as the Perthfurs. JM now helps run [adjective][species] from London, where he is most commonly spotted holding a pint and talking nonsense.

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24 thoughts on “Furries and Erotic Target Identity Inversion

  1. This is an interesting article. Fear of linking myself with zoophilia was a major factor that kept me out of the fandom until 2012, despite becoming aware of it 17 years earlier. The idea that furry could have a ubiquitous, latent zoophilic connection, one that furries themselves are incapable of evaluating objectively, makes me uncomfortable.

    But then, I’m aware of some minor zoophilic tendencies within myself (I like centaurs; it’s pretty much a given), but they’re overwhelmed by other factors which include, among other things, my desire for intellectual connection with potential partners. And what you wrote makes me wonder if this isn’t the case with a majority of furries.

    The reality is probably much more complicated, but it’s still something to contemplate.

    (no hatred intended for actual zoophiles; they didn’t get to choose their attractions, just like the rest of us)

    1. Tehrig, thanks for the kind comment. I knew that the content of this article is going to make some furries uncomfortable, and I was a bit concerned about the tone of responses it might see. It’s nice to see your thoughtful approach. Thanks.

  2. An interesting idea, but if furry is a ETII of zoophilia I would not expect there to be any furry zoophiles (would I be right in my expectations?). Also, which species would dragon furries be lusting after? It might explain some of us, though.

    1. Hi Whitepaw. I think you’re suggesting that furry zoophiles wouldn’t feel the strong identity aspects of furry?

      It’s an interesting idea, and one that I can’t really answer. However it’s certainly true that a significant proportion of zoophiles do feel their identity relates to the animal of their attraction, and that’s at least part way along the road towards furry. And the furry community has a high profile among zoophile groups, so it may well be an option where many zoos can socialize with some acceptance a little more openly.

      I’ll add this quote, which is from a zoophile, pulled by Dr Miletski’s book “Understanding Bestiality and Zoophilia”:

      “I know personally a furry would be the end all, be all of attractions for me as they combine the aspects of both human and animal in one. … I am not sure, but a few zoos I know personally share the same attraction and feelings about them.”

      Zoophiles, even those who experience the full range of romantic attraction towards non-human animals, still require human relationships in the way we all do. We are a social animal, and there is a depth to human relationships that can’t be met with the (relatively) one-way communication between human and non-human animals. That need might also be a reason why zoos might consider themselves furry? I don’t know: one for the researchers I suspect.

      Thanks for the engaging comment.

      1. > I think you’re suggesting that furry zoophiles wouldn’t feel the strong identity aspects of furry?

        Only if the ETII hypothesis was true. I’m saying the existence of furry zoos implies that ETII isn’t true.

        That quote you gave could easily be from the zoo we discussed over email who was seeking advice about their relationship with a human woman, except that the book predates them acknowledging their sexuality.

        1. Yeah, in fact this article was mostly written at around the same time as our exchange over email. I was referring back to Dr Miletski’s book as part of my research & the zoo we discussed would have fit right in with many of her case studies. I dare say that informed my email to you.

          I don’t think that the existence of furry zoos would necessarily disprove the application of ETII to furry, but I do think you have an important point, one that I missed. I can think of reasons why zoos might be interested in furry, such as the example zoo I quoted in my previous response.

          But (I think) it’s fair to say that furry zoos should have a different furry experience from non-zoo furries for ETII to apply. I dare say that could be a key part of any research into the phenomenon.

          1. Just coming back to this after an unrelated discussion/argument about comparing autozoophilia and furry. This time the angry came from one zoo who was very upset about furries trivialising their sexuality. The more I learn about autozoophilia, I think both that it perfectly describes some parts of the furry community, and yet also has an inherently misleading name in the ears of most people. Of course, “zoophilia” itself has an inherently misleading name, as none of the zoos who are willing to admit that about themselves to me match the stereotypes implicit in the word.

  3. So let me get this straight. On the basis of an assertion about the origins of fetishes sourced from one article by someone who, by your own admission in the previous essay you linked to, is a crank who has no idea what it means to be furry, you’ve completely swallowed the Big Lie that the dogfuckers have been telling about us since the beginning of the fandom, that they know far more about what goes on in our heads than we ever could, and that they just know we’re all really just dogfuckers who are in denial about being same…. and you think Anne Lawrence is the one who makes us look bad?

    I cannot believe I ever thought there was anything of value on this site.

    (p. s. Being furry most certainly is a greater part of one’s identity than just a fetish, because there’s more than just a sexual dimension to it. Inflation would be a good example of a fetish, because it’s something that I stop really caring about after I cum. But being furry always stays with me, no matter what.)

    1. Hi Polkakitty, thanks for taking the time to comment on something you disagree with and obviously have had a bit of an emotional reaction to. Your distaste for zoophiles is a bit knee-jerk, but it’s very common, and I don’t blame you for the way you’ve expressed it. In fact it feels very much like my own reaction when I started reading on the topic and educating myself.

      Furry is about identity and it’s not a fetish. I completely agree with the point you’re making on your postscript, and I guess it’s a failure of my piece that didn’t come through. (The challenge with writing about ETII is that identity elements are inherent, so I need to talk about that without downplaying how important those elements are.)

      Just to clarify a couple of points: ETII doesn’t come from Dr Lawrence, although I did use her (poor) article as a natural starting point for this piece. I could have started with Dr Blanchard’s 1993 article but I felt that Dr Lawrence’s was more appropriate given she’d talked about furries (and zoophiles), and I’d written about it a few weeks back.

      I also haven’t “swallowed” a “Big Lie” – this article is written from a neutral standpoint as far as I could manage, and I’ve tried very hard to keep my own opinions out of it. I know it’s a controversial idea, so I’ve focussed on the science. I haven’t drawn any of my information from zoophile groups, or anywhere that’s not written by an expert and published in a peer-reviewed journal. I’ll add that furries and ETII is the subject of ongoing research. It’s controversial but there are good reasons to write about it.

      But more to the point, it is the identity aspects of furry that make furry worthwhile. I’m interested in the furry phenomenon, and of course that’s driven by my own identity as a furry. It’s something which is important to me, and it’s why I try to review and discuss furry as seen from an outside expert point of view here in [a][s], regardless of whether I agree with them or whether they match up with the furry mainstream. I’m curious, and I enjoy being challenged by new ideas. But none of that changes the way that I, or you, or anyone else, experiences furry.

  4. Is the implication of the research paper that furrydom itself is a fetish? Or is there a recognition that there is a community of people, some of whom may have a fetishistic interest in animals/fursuits/anthropomorphism/etc?
    To distinguish, it may be that ‘furverts’ are a subset of furry, and that ‘furverts’ may be affected by ETII, without drawing any conclusion about the furry community as a whole.

    1. Dr Lawrence’s paper on furry—which I wrote about in detail here http://www.adjectivespecies.com/2015/03/30/furry-research-autoplushophilia-and-erotic-target-location-error/ —categorizes furry as a fetish. But Dr Lawrence’s paper is wrong in all sorts of ways, including that point. She makes no comment about the community aspects of furry, and implies that all furries are “furverts”. As someone else pointed out, her use of that term tells you all you need to know about the quality of her research and point of view.

      The ETII connection is one made by other researchers, who aren’t mentioned in my article (by request). But while such a connection might have value to understanding furry (or at least some furries), it’s never going to be able to cover such a diverse group of people, or indeed have any real insight into the community aspects. In any event, it’s a look at furry from only one angle: sexology. Furry has multitudes.

      1. Well, that certainly seems as meaningful as identifying anyone with dark skin, regardless of where they are from, their religion, nationality, even continent, or their lifestyle, politics, sexuality or any other characteristic as ‘black’.
        As a follow-on thought, it may be that ‘panty dad’ doesn’t have a panty fetish at all! Maybe he’s envious that women get to wear things that make them feel attractive, whereas the male equivalents are either utilitarian or overtly sexualised.

        1. Yeah, it’s broad stuff alright. It’s the nature of studying human behaviour I think – very difficult to draw specific conclusions w/r/t cause and effect.

          As an aside, I’ll have you know that Panty Dad is my own personal rhetorical device, and therefore he will do and think whatever I choose.

  5. I think no matter how you approached this subject, it was going to be uncomfortable. You provided evidence that suggests furries downplay the importance of sexuality when they apply it to themselves.

    Using zoophilia in the most academic sense (the sexual attraction to animal and animal features) as opposed to the colloquial usage (animal abuse) undoubtedly generates some resentment, too, but we should be able to think about difficult subjects in a positive and well-behaved manner without instantaneous spite or dismissal.

    We can also talk about the value Lawrence’s erotic target location error theory without accepting her deliberate conclusions in the same way we can talk about acellular pertussis vaccines losing effectiveness without venerating the trumpetings of Jenny McCarthy.

    1. George, thanks for the comment and I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s easy for any remotely controversial topic to be derailed by extreme arguments on either side. Zoophilia is certainly one of those that can be subject to slanging matches rather than meaningful discussion. I think that, on balance, [a][s] readers do a pretty good job of keeping it moderate.

  6. Okay… Some sorts of fetishists tend to imitate their fetish…
    And from this we can conclude what? That Cosplayers and/or Anime People are secretly fetishists? That Furries are secretly fetishists? That everyone who wants be be anything else has a fetish for that particular thing?

    Seriously… I think this is actually a weak case. I don’t really see why you would take this so seriously.

    The age correlates. That’s about the strongest point I see here. And that can be explained by a million different things, not the least of which is, that “Furry” as a recognizeable lable is relatively new and mostly availeable for the internet generation.
    Every other point is flimsy at best.

    If we would conclude that ETII has something going for it, we would have to pass the same judgement for EVERYTHING people enjoy. I don’t see any difference between “I’m a Furry” and “I’m an Otaku.” or “I’m a Star trek Fan”.
    ETII is way too broad to even be useful as speculation.

    1. Hi ES, thanks for the comment. You’ve touched on an important point, and that’s that ETII, as applied to furries, is just a theory and as it stands, one that can neither be confirmed nor denied.

      I think there is a natural reaction to disavow the idea that furry, or at least aspects of it, can be distilled down to something as taboo as zoophilia. That was certainly my initial reaction, and it seems to be the reaction of quite a few people after reading this piece. I’ve got the benefit of time—I’ve been sitting on this piece for six months—and in the end I’ve settled down a bit. Regardless of the viability of ETII in general and it’s application to furry specifically, it doesn’t impact what it means to be furry, or change anything about our community.

      I can think of two reasons why this is worth writing about. First and foremost, it’s worth writing about because researchers are interested. I try to write about any outside scientific interest in furry—I’ve read and reviewed several papers from a wide range of fields—because I’m interested in the furry phenomenon. Anything that shines a light on the origins of our community is interesting, at least to me personally, and hopefully to readers of [a][s].

      Secondly, it may help some people understand and accept their own drivers. Sexuality is a complex thing, and it’s not always easy to gain much of an understanding of what drives us. Even a bit of insight can be useful, either in a clinical context (with a therapist) or just as lay information-gathering. You can see a version of this in the first comment on the piece from Tehrig. Tehrig doesn’t seem to be suffering in any way today, but might have been 17 years ago. If Tehris was able to link furry with zoophilic tendencies, it may have helped with personal understanding, growth, and acceptance.

      ETII doesn’t have wide acceptance among experts in the field. Dr Lawrence’s (poor) paper, which mentions furries (and gets it completely wrong), was little more than a transparent attempt to push her pet theory about transgender people. However some high-profile and widely-respected sexologists think the idea has merit (without necessarily agreeing with anything Dr Lawrence writes), and Dr Lawrence is high profile enough to have motivated interest from other scientists.

      How do you test for the application of ETII? I’m not an expert, but I think you’d be looking for:
      – Statistics showing high sexual interest in the original erotic target.
      – Sex (or masturbatory) focussed dress-up behaviour that links in with identity play, w/r/t the original erotic target.
      – Clear and unambiguous case studies, and ideally clinical anecdotes, something a bit like Soldier Boy in my article.
      – Clear and unambiguous counter-examples in the group of interest, with explanations/evidence why the theory doesn’t apply.
      – Supporting and circumstantial evidence, like coincidental fetishes.

      All of this, of course, has to done without letting the target group know what you are looking for, so as to prevent bias. Not easy. Even after all of that, the results are never going to anything more than meat for discussion. Research on human sexuality is never, and probably can never be, black-or-white. But successful or interesting ideas can help therapists & their clients, who can provide feedback for potential avenues of research. (This is what has driven the last 15 years or so of research on zoophiles, and it’s what drove research on homosexuality some 50 years ago, for two convenient examples.)

      I think that the criteria necessary for ETII would rule out the other “dress-up groups” that you have mentioned. (I’m certainly unaware of any interest from researchers, although I’m sure that each of those groups has some members who are the equivalent of Soldier Boy.) I am aware of one example where ETII was suspected but ruled out after research: AB/DL people.

      The scientist who originally coined the idea of ETLE/ETII in the early 90s, Dr Blanchard, nominated AB/DL people as obvious candidates for ETII. He reasoned that they are sexually attracted to children, something which is pretty common, and the dress-up & identity aspects where a manifestation of that. Research showed that wasn’t the case (quoting directly):

      “…[they studied] men who experience sexual arousal while wearing children’s clothing and who imagine themselves to be children while doing so, but [found that the] underlying sexual orientation is not pedophilic, and who therefore [they] cannot be understood as having an erotic target identity inversion.”

      On the other hand, Dr Blanchard’s research into people who are attracted to amputees did mesh with the ETII theory. There are loads of case studies out there—really interesting stuff but not relevant to [a][s]—about men who are sexually attracted to amputees, and who often pretend that they have amputations themselves, and in some cases go so far as to get them. Work has suggested this is fundamentally sexually-driven, a conclusion that is incredibly controversial among amputee devotees (as they call themselves), as they see it as an important facet of their identity rather than something sexual.

      Anyway, this is long enough! Thanks for the interesting thoughts, and conversation over twitter. I agree with you that the idea/evidence for furry being related to ETII is flimsy, but I do think it’s worth talking about. I hope that this response comes across as engaged, skeptical, and thoughtful as your comment.

      1. Thanks for your very thougful and obviously well put reply. I’m glad you’re still open to discuss this issue.
        (And btw. I forgot to mention in the last post that I really, really admire the work you do. You’re as committed as they come, if I’m even half right about you. :) )

        And I completely see now how you could be testing for ETII. It was a lack of imagination on my part, as I suspected. ;)

        Here are my problems in a condensed manner:
        I don’t see the obvious outwardly visible difference between
        1. “Me somehow confusing a sexual target with a some trait/thing and me therefore (in a secret erotic manner, nonetheless) admiring that trait and attaching my identity to that trait.”
        2. “Me, simply liking that trait.”

        From my point of view it feels like the second one is true and since it’s the way simpler answer, I can’t imagine why one would settle for the first answer.

        You implied that maybe there simply is no difference between 1. and 2. . But if that’s true, then every “I like X.” can be exchanged with an “I have ETII, regarding X.” and then the term would loose nearly all of it’s meaning.

        An secondly. This entire way of thinking is not as free from prejudice as you might think. The prejudice is faint, but it’s there:
        I’m not confused about what I like (which the concept of ETII would imply). I know exactly what I like. I do not and did not confuse a thing. When I think about my Furryness, Confusion is the last thing I’m assotiating it with.

        I don’t even care about the zoophilia question, because the answer seems so very obvious to me.
        Zoophilia is the sexual attraction to animals. I’m not sexually attracted to animals -> I’m not a zoophile. Yet I’m a Furry. ergo: Being a zoophile is not linked to being a Furry. Zoophilia is not a shared trait amongst Furries. Bam. Simple as that.
        And “secret, subliminal zoophilia” is nothing but a talking point to me. It’s culture warriors who want to frame the issue in a certain way. There is no difference between “secret, subliminal zoophilia, resp. zoophilia wihtout visible traits” and no zoophilia at all.

        Some people may be afflicted with it.
        I’m not even judging – and maybe therein lies part of the problem…

        Let’s check your list of traits and see how well they fit Furries:
        1. Statistics showing high sexual interest in the original erotic target.
        A) Where are those?
        B) Is “High sexual interest” enough to frame an entire demograpic? “High” isn’t “absolute”. “High” is insufficient to be able to speak broadly in any way.
        C) Are Furry traits inherently erotic targets? Do you ackknowledge the difference between “aesthetically desireable objects” and “erotic targets”?

        2. Sex (or masturbatory) focussed dress-up behaviour that links in with identity play, w/r/t the original erotic target.
        A) I don’t see a lot of Furries doing sexual dress up stuff. That’s the nichiest of niches as far as I see it. It rivals the number of Furries who like peanut butter on their pizza. xD
        B) What if you mistake “a genuine erotic interest in X, expressed by dress up play” with “a genuine aesthetic interest in X, resulting in people feeling like something is missing when they’re doing it without X”?

        3. Clear and unambiguous case studies, and ideally clinical anecdotes, something a bit like Soldier Boy in my article.

        A) I don’t agree that Soldier boy is such a clear case, actually. The more I think about it, the more I’d be willing to believe him, when he tells me that his sexual interest in soldier uniforms isn’t so much a certain kind of confusion but more to the point a clear cut part of his identity (no matter where it came from).
        B) The plural of “anecdote” is not “data”. Clinical anecdotes seem to be illustrations at best. I know why it’s needed though. If you haven’t even any anecdotes. How could you possibly have a case? Anecdotes prove nothing, though.

        4. Clear and unambiguous counter-examples in the group of interest, with explanations/evidence why the theory doesn’t apply.

        A) And that is what makes it unfalsifiable. You can ALWAYS explain away any counterexamples. Seriously, try me!
        “Oh my hypothesis (not “theory”) fails here? Well… tapdance tapdance tapdance.”

        – Supporting and circumstantial evidence, like coincidental fetishes.

        A) Circumstances are random by nature and are illustrative of nothing, since they are just circumstantial. I guess the phrase “circumstantial evidence” makes no sense for me.
        (I’m not a native speaker, though. Maybe it’s a language thing)
        B) True. One can be a Furry and (to put it politically incorrect) a ‘pervert’. That doesn’t make “Furry” (the concept) a perversion, though.
        C) How does supporting the notion that fetishes are circumstantial noise prove ETII?

        I guess aside from feeling completely misrepresented, it doesn’t even make that much sense to me…
        Thanks for letting me ramble, though. I really appreciate that you took the time to answer me.

        Echte Sinte

        1. Aside: I once made a pizza with peanut butter, among furry friends too. I was thinking it’d be like satay, with chilli and sweet potato & grilled tropical fruits. It did not work at all.

          Honestly, I think I agree with just about everything you say. You have outlined a few obvious challenges of sexology, challenges that are common to many disciplines that study human behaviour.

          My shopping list of evidence—all of which has problems as you point out—is based on the sexology papers I have read. I have some expertise in the field (I’m a qualified hypnotherapist & I’ve had a small handful of papers published, although all in different fields), and in general I don’t find many of them very compelling. They rely, in general, on poorly controlled anecdotal data with obvious shortcomings. Yet such work does lead to progress – it’s easy to draw a line between Kinsey’s (deeply flawed) surveys of human sexuality in the 1940s, through to the serious scholarly studies that paved the way for gay rights in the 1980s.

          What progress might be gleaned from studying furry? I have no idea. Research doesn’t always need a goal in mind: there is nothing wrong with looking at an unusual phenomenon, like furry, and exploring its drivers and norms. Maybe we display behaviour that has commonalities with unusual human societies from the past. Maybe we are an early example of a spontaneous post-internet community. Maybe our mixing of human and non-human traits can inform animal rights. Maybe we can provide some insight into human sexuality.

          Sexologist look at furry from a sexology perspective because that’s what they do. I’m aware of sociology studies, cultural geography, feminism, futurism, and others. Sexologists gotta sexologize I guess.

          I think that your main issue is that the research looks a bit… pointless. And you may well be right. But there are researchers out there who are interested, and I’m curious to see what they come up with.

          1. I don’t actually think reasearching the furry fandom is useless, or researching fetishes is useless.
            Trying to psychologically classify an entire community of people seems absurd, though. (at first glance, that is)

            There is no “This is why people become Furries”
            It’s way, waaaay too broad.

            Out of curiosity:
            What did you think about the “I’m not confused”-point?
            Let me rephrase it so you don’t have to look it up.


            This entire way of thinking is not as free from prejudice as you might think. The prejudice is faint, but it’s there:
            I’m not confused about what I like (which the concept of ETII would imply). I know exactly what I like. I do not and did not confuse a thing. When I think about my Furryness, Confusion is the last thing I’m assotiating it with.
            Why do they use the term “Confused”, when talking about it after all? It seems slightly prejudiced.

            I cannot relate to the framing of the issue, since they are talking about people being “confused about what they like.”

            What do you think of that aspect?
            Echte Sinte

        2. (replying here because we’ve reached the maximum comment depth)

          I wouldn’t characterize ETII as “confusion” and I don’t think that the majority of sexologists would either. I see your point and I understand your reasoning, but I don’t think that any sexual interest or impulse is ever thought of as being “confused” or “deviant”. That’s the kind of thinking that has led to therapists attempt to ‘fix’ clients (ex-gay therapy comes to mind), an idea which has been long discarded by anyone remotely competent.

          Putting aside for a moment that furry can’t be summed up as a fetish or simple sexual interest, even if it were demonstrated to be ETII, that wouldn’t mean that we would all be shown to be merely latent zoophiles. We would still be furries, with all of the identity and community aspects that entails. The psychological process that led us to this point would be irrelevant.

          In general, sexologists (and researchers in the wider field of human behaviour) try very hard to be non-judgemental, and on the whole do a good job. Dr Lawrence is a rare example of someone who uses prejudiced language from time to time, such as her use of “deviant” in the quote I pulled, and even she doesn’t refer to ETII as “confusion”. I guess it’s difficult to talk about sexuality in a way that’s free of society’s various biases about what’s good and bad, and equally difficult to read about it without mentally referring back to those biases.

          Like you, I don’t feel in any way confused about my furriness. I’m aware that it’s unusual, but that doesn’t mean that I could or would change anything about it. It’s an important part of who I am; to be confused about furry is to be confused about the way I relate to myself, something entirely personal and unconfused almost by definition.

  7. “Had Dr Lawrence been a more diligent researcher, she would indeed have found evidence of fetishistic behaviour focussed on animals’ body parts, in the furry community. She could simply point towards the fine selection of products offered by Bad Dragon.”

    In fairness, Bad Dragon often depicts the whole of the fantasy animal in their promotional material, which suggests that the fetish for purchasers is as likely to be for that animal as it is for certain of their body parts which one might interact with.

  8. I’ve read this article and found it pretty interesting.
    There are a couple of observations I’d like to point out

    1 – quoting the article: “This explanation for fetishistic behaviour isn’t widely accepted by sexologists, although ETII does have some high-profile advocates. Like all ideas in a scientific but fundamentally uncertain field (like psychology and sexology), mainstream acceptance tends to wax and wane. Scientific dialogue often takes the form of idea advocacy—Dr Lawrence is nothing if not a culture warrior—with support provided by clinical anecdotes.”
    For all those years, scientists have tried to set up a classification of fetishes and what causes them. Still, i feel like there’s something missing. Do we really need to classify them as fetishes in any case? Because (almost) nobody makes a distinction between “light fetish” and “heavy fetish”, and this applies to common people as well. We’re pushed to believe that a fetish is a “deviation” from normality under any circumstance.
    We have already experienced a “sexual deviation” being turned into normality, and that happened when Homosexuality stopped being considered “wrong” in DSM III (1973). Hopefully, what will happen in the future will be switching from a “deviation” point of view to a normality-pathological point of view in which a fetish is a normality but turns pathological when it damages the person (mentally or physically, in the true meaning of “disease”).

    2- Zoophilia. Zoophilia is always a hot topic. quoting from the article “The identification with animals sounds like a furry trait, and in fact Dr Miletski’s work shows that the furry community is fairly well known among zoophiles. I have written about the cross-over between zoophile and furry groups before on [adjective][species]: around 20% of zoophiles feel their identity can be expressed as an animal-person, and around 15% of furries self-report as zoophiles. You can read more on the topic here.”
    I think this point is worth a discussion along the “chicken or the egg” line. It’s really hard to tell if the whole zoophilia thing goes toward a direction or another. “I’m a furry, then I became a zoophile” or “I’m a zoophile, then I became a furry”?.

    About this, I would like to notice how the reaction toward some particulars changed over the years. For example, when it comes to adult art, it was almost a blasphemy to draw an animal penis in the early days of the fandom. Nowday, dog or equine penises are seen almost everywhere and sold as fancy dildos.

    3 – Real Vs Imagination.
    From a survey I ran a couple years ago about fetishes among the Italian fandom, an interesting result was that there’s a difference between what one likes and what one would do in real life. Some may find sexual interest in a fetish, yet would never practice it for real. I think it’s worth researching why it’s this way.

    4 – confidence.
    quoting “There is also the well-understood fact that people will tend to misrepresent themselves if they have a non-mainstream sexual interest. People tend to deny fetishes, sexual fantasies, and non-heterosexual sexual orientation.”
    That’s almost true, and I think it’s all about social environment and conditioning.
    Sometimes I feel like a “bad fetish” becomes “less bad” when a key figure in a community or a group of people has that specific fetish and is totally confident with it.

    1. Hi again Kinase. Thanks for the comment, and thanks for engaging with the topic – which is a controversial and personal one for many people – in such a positive and thoughtful way.

      I agree with everything you say, and you’ve brought up a few things that crystallise some ideas I’ve had floating around in the time since I researched and wrote this. I will add a couple of things:

      – On (1), I think we’re always going to see fetishes being classified as something deviating from “normal”, simply because our researchers are sexologists. As sex-positive as they must be, I can’t see them essentially denying the value of their speciality. I think you’re right that sexual interests don’t inherently imply a problem, and so therefore they shouldn’t be classified as such, such as in the DSM. But that’s one for the psychologists, not the sexologists.

      – On (3), we have this information in the works. The latest version of the Furry Survey (www.furrypoll.com) has a new section on sexual interests and behaviour, and we do ask about both interest and activity. I’ve seen some early results and I can confirm that there are big differences for some – but not all – the 20 or so options. We’ll have final data sometime next year.

      I’ve been mulling a third article on ETII/ETLE, looking at some of the points you bring up, as well as a more critical look at the point of view of the ongoing research. It’s been muddied a bit though… the researcher in question was reported to their ethics board (by myself among others) for a few issues, some related to consent of human (i.e. furry) subjects. I haven’t heard from them for a while despite following up, and of course as the expert, their opinion is one I’d like to get. Watch this space I suppose.

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