(Above: Check out Umi’s self-portraits and photography here.)
I was on Scuff a few weeks ago and saw a handsome gentleman from the global feed. He looked like my friend Eric, Mr. Los Angeles Leather 2014 (pictured below from his photo shoot with Eric Schwabel), but it wasn’t — it was his doppelganger and a handler of sparky, submissive pups. I barked at him — at least over text.
I love pup play and have talked to a few friends about it. One asked if it was the same thing as bestiality. I can understand the confusion — let me disambiguate. “Bestiality” is the practice of humans having sex with animals, which is actually legal in Alabama. “Puppy play” is a kink practice between two humans and does not involve any actual canines.
Pup play is a form of “pet play,” which is a fetish role-play that is often sexual. It’s on the kink/BDSM spectrum because it involves a power relationship, in this case between a human “pup” and his or her human “handler” or “owner.” Most role-play, sexual or otherwise, involves people impersonating nurses, doctors, cops, or some other fetishized profession. Pet play is where people act like their animal counterparts.
There are different kinds of pet play — kitty play, pony play, and more — and sex usually goes with it. Pups enjoy roughhousing, licking, getting petted, getting “rewarded” for good behavior, or “punished” for playful disobedience. I’ll be honest, the word “pup” is new to me. When I first got into this, my sir at the time called it “dog training,” and I still prefer the word “dog.” I also understand that “dog,” when applied to the context of role-playing, delineates a rougher, more hardcore BDSM scene, with spanking, verbally abusive tops, hard service, rough sex, and more.
This is generally the scene I go for, and this scene is different from many guys out there who call themselves “pups.” The pup scene is gentler, sweeter. You get petted by your master, and many consider it more of an erotic headspace than a BDSM practice (you wouldn’t, they argue, beat or whip your actual dog). Dog play is an older scene rooted in degradation. Pup play is a newer scene rooted in playfulness, community building, and letting people feel protected and cared for. The tops in dog play are sadistic, dominating alphas. The tops in pup play are kind and caring handlers — people you trust for discipline and affection, caring and training.
Why do people do this? Well, because it’s fun. But I also think there’s more to it than that. I’m tempted to say that pet play — and kink in general — comes from something deeper in the human psyche.
I believe that uman sexual practices are more than surface detail. Someone who has allowed themselves to experience and enjoy BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism) has discovered a healthy outlet for the violent urge in our species — a way of releasing and exploring that urge, and an intense way of destressing. You leave a good kink session feeling like you’ve meditated for hours, like a weight has been lifted from your body, like you’ve been cleansed.
Most people don’t want to admit their need for violence. But from rugby to bar brawls, there is endless capacity for violence in humans — an urge for control, subjugation, and dehumanization that so often reveals itself in our most unforgivable acts of depravity: people ganging up on a gender-ambiguous person in broad daylight, prisoner torture at Abu Ghraib, and teenagers suddenly attacking an old man.
We like hurting each other, and sometimes we like getting hurt — because it feels good. BDSM lets people explore these feelings and sensations safely, smartly, and with a community of others who share their interests and can teach each other.
During one of my hardest sessions, I felt myself feeling angry at my father. I realized that I hold a great deal of pent-up anger against him that never is released in my daily life. When the scene was over, I felt like a weight had been lifted from me. It was like yoga, except with rope and sex toys.
If BDSM is my way of releasing anger, what is dog play, and what does it reveal about me? I think the answer to that is simple. I want to shed the stress, responsibility, and control that come with being an active, busy, socially engaged person.
I don’t believe in god, but it took me a while to call myself an atheist. I dabbled first through Buddhism and Islam, then through Pagan and mystic philosophies, before I realized religion and faith were not for me. That trend of disbelief and questioning continued into ethics, law, culture, and the basic assumptions of man-versus-animal, right-versus-wrong, and male-versus-female that are ingrained in our society.
In the end, I believed almost nothing. Today I believe man is an animal with thumbs and good brains. My religion became a journey of breaking down assumptions and cultural constructs and discovering the animal in me — permitting my carnal desires to be what they are — and this is why I love kink.
The sex I love connects on a deep level with my more animalistic, carnal desires. It lets me bark like a dog and growl and be rough. And that’s beautiful to me. Sex is the only religion I care to practice, and it’s delivered me to a new and better community of practitioners, companions in the hunt for our truer selves. Underneath social norms and practices, we are dangerous animals, and I like to remember that when I get on all fours.