II. Fandom Participation
Across numerous studies, we have asked furries three questions pertaining to the length of time they’ve been associated with the furry fandom: (1) how many years they’ve self-identified as a furry, (2) at what age did they first self-identify as a furry, and (3) at what age did they discover the furry community? The results of several of these studies are displayed in the table below.
Identification and Affiliation with the Furry Fandom Across Multiple Samples
|How many years “furry”||6.6||7.0||7.7||8.6||6.6—8.6|
|Age first identified as “furry”||16.0||16.8||17.1||17.2||16.0—17.2|
|Age first found furry fandom||17.1||18.7||19.2||N/A||17.1—19.2|
When compared to members of other fandoms (see figure above), furries seem to be pretty comparable with regard to the number of years they’ve been a fan, with the exception of convention-going anime fans who, on average, have been in fans for almost 50% longer than furries. These findings can be explained in the figure below: on average, furries become furries in their mid-to-late teens, whereas people are far more likely to become anime fans in their early teenage years. This may be due, in part, to the fact that a growing amount of anime television programming is targeted toward a younger audience (e.g., Pokémon), whereas, for furries, the discovery of the fandom is often attributed to stumbling upon it on the internet. In stark contrast, fantasy sport fans, as a group, don’t seem to become interested until well into their 20s.🐾
In recent years, we’ve begun asking furries about their projected trajectory in the fandom. Furries are asked to draw, on the figure below, a line indicating how involved in the fandom they were at each of the points in time.
The first uses of this measure were pen-and-paper, requiring our research assistants to use rulers to assign numbers to the level of involvement at each of the seven time points on a scale from 0 to 100, with 0 representing “No Involvement” and 100 representing “Very Involved.” From there, our sample was split into three groups, based on age (see figure below).🐾)
The first noteworthy characteristic of the figure is that most furries are currently highly involved in the fandom. Another is the steady increase in involvement leading up to the present time; most furries indicate some past interest in furry content, which has steadily increased to the present day, regardless of age group. Perhaps most interesting, however, is furries’ projection of future involvement: despite evidence strongly suggesting that many furries leave the fandom by their 30s 🐾, most furries nevertheless assume that they will maintain their current level of fandom involvement into the future.
We also divided the data based on the length of time participants had been in the fandom (see figure below). A similar pattern was found, with the exception that furries who have been in the fandom for more than 10 years were, unsurprisingly, more involved in the fandom 10 years ago than furries who have not.🐾
On the graph below, we calculated the hypothesized trajectories for all 246 participants in one study. A straight, horizontal line indicates the belief that one’s involvement in the fandom will not change in the next year. An upward line indicates a belief that one’s involvement in the fandom will increase in the next year, while a downward line indicates a belief that one’s involvement in the fandom will decrease in the next year. With only a few exceptions, most furries indicated that they expected their involvement in the fandom to stay about the same or increase in the future.🐾
One of the most difficult samples to obtain is a sample of furries who have left the fandom. While we know that many furries do eventually leave the fandom, we have little about why they do. Given the difficulty of studying furries who have already left the fandom, the next best thing may be to identify furries who anticipate leaving the fandom. In fact, furries’ estimates about their anticipated future trajectory positively correlate with their presently-felt identification with the furry community. To put it another way: furries who plan to become less involved in the furry fandom are already identifying less with the furry community.(FF14)
In future studies (including our ongoing longitudinal study), we hope to test the accuracy of furries’ predictions about their future involvement and to see whether or not expectations of reduced future involvement predict leaving the fandom. To date, we’ve asked furries in this longitudinal study, over two periods with a year separating them, to indicate how positively or negatively they felt about the fandom on a scale from 0 to 100, with 0 indicating “Very Negative,” 100 indicating “Very Positive,” and 50 indicating “Neither Negative Nor Positive.” There are two competing hypotheses: on the one hand, the data above suggest that furries become more involved in the fandom and anticipate remaining involved in the fandom, which may mean that their attitude toward the furry fandom should become more positive over time. Moreover, psychological theories (e.g., social identity theory) suggest that we are biased to see our groups in a positive manner, which may also lead to more positive attitudes over time. On the other hand, as a person spends more time in the fandom, it may be the case that, like in relationships, they lose the “rose-colored glasses” that bias their perception, and become aware of less desirable aspects of the fandom, which may reduce their evaluation of the fandom over time.
When these competing hypotheses were tested, the data seemed to support the second one: furries in Wave 1 rated the fandom 78.8/100 on average, while the same furries rated the fandom nearly ten points lower, at 69.8/100 approximately one year later, a difference that was statistically significant.🐾 Put simply: furries were more likely to see the fandom less positively the more time they spent in it. However, it’s important to remember that furries in Wave 2 did not rate the fandom negative—just “less positive,” supporting the idea that furries “lose the rose-colored glasses,” rather than “starting to hate the fandom.” These findings may contribute to our understanding of why furries may eventually choose to leave the fandom, as having a decreasing opinion of the fandom may make furries less motivated to devote time and energy to it. Ultimately, future research on this subject is needed to test such mechanisms.
Given the diversity of the furry community, it is unsurprising that there are disagreements about what furries actually do. Based on the suggestions from furries gathered at conventions and fur meets, a list of 14 different furry-related activities was created. We asked participants to identify, on a 7-point scale, the extent to which they believed that each item was a significant part of what furries do (1 = completely disagree to 7 = completely agree). As the figure below illustrates, there are several activities which are nearly-universal aspects of the fandom (e.g., “Art,” “Community,” “Acceptance”).🐾 Contrary to popular stereotypes about the furry fandom, “Drama” and “Sex” were not considered focal or important activities in the furry fandom.
Data from another study similarly reveal that there are a broad range of interests within the furry fandom, some of which (e.g., playing games, science fiction) are more popular than others 🐾. We discuss the specifics of several of these subgroups in greater detail elsewhere (Greymuzzles,🐾 Fursuiters,🐾 Artists and Writers,🐾 Therians,🐾 Bronies.🐾)
Most Popular Furry Websites and Content Creators
|8||Funday Pawpet Show||Rukis|
|9||Bad Dragon||Kyell Gold|
In a series of studies we asked participants from different fandoms (furries, online anime fans, convention-going anime fans, and fantasy sport fans) about the fan-related media they owned. In addition to asking about the amount of each type of media owned, we also asked them to rate the media they owned on several dimensions. The results are displayed in the figures below, with differently-colored bars being statistically significantly different.🐾
Much of the anime fandom is organized around studios and companies that put out animated television shows and movies. As such, it is unsurprising that anime fans, whether online or convention-going, own far more video-based content than either furries—whose content is largely produced by independent artists—or fantasy sport fans—whose interest in sports manifests as watching games and managing fantasy teams, not collecting and watching videos about sports. In contrast, print media, which includes magazines, books, and visual artwork, are much more prevalent in all three fandoms than videos. In this regard, convention-going anime fans stood out, suggesting that buying manga and artwork may be something more available to convention-going anime fans, who may have more expendable income than online anime fans. However, this would not account for the difference between convention-going anime fans and furries who, in this sample, were also convention-going. It is possible that the inclusion of “manga” in this category—something present in anime culture but which is largely absent in furry culture, accounts for the difference.
Given the diversity of the furry fandom, as illustrated by the number of different panels at furry conventions, as well as the potential for overlap between the furry fandom and related fandoms, we tested the extent to which furries were members of other fan groups or had an interest in other fan groups.In one study,🐾 we asked furries to indicate, on a 7-point scale, their interest in a number of related fandoms (1 = not at all to 7 = very much). As the figure below illustrates, there were a wide range of interests, though some (such as science fiction, video games, cartoons and webcomics) were more common than others (e.g., sports).
In another study🐾 we asked furries whether or not they identified as members other fan communities. Nearly half of furries (44.0%) were anime fans, and about 1 in 5 were bronies (fans of My Little Pony, 21.1%). Consistent with the findings above, only 10.5% of furries considered themselves to be sport fans.
Given the nearly universal nature of fursonas,🐾 which involve creating a character to represent oneself, we were interested in the extent to which furries engaged in other role- playing activities. Specifically, we asked furries to indicate, on a 7-point scale (1 = not at all to 7 = all the time) how frequently they engaged in various role-playing activities. From the table below, it’s apparent that no one activity was distinctly popular or universally engaged in.🐾 That said, tabletop gaming, online RPGs, and role-playing in MUCKs and chatrooms seemed to be among the most popular roleplaying activities for furries.
Follow-up analyses conducted found that the more strongly a person identifies as being furry, the more they engaged in roleplaying activities. More strongly identified furries were also more likely to say that they were easily transported into fictional narrative. Taken together, and in conjunction with other findings,🐾 furries, as a group, seem to more readily and more often immerse themselves in fiction. This may be due to the regularity with which interact with others as their fursonas, although the reverse is also possible: furries may find it natural to put themselves in the mind of their fursonas because they easily immerse themselves in fictional worlds.
In popular culture (and sometimes in the furry community itself), furries are often reduced to “fursuiting,” with furries being defined as people who wear these anthropomorphic animal suits. It should be noted that fursuits are, for many furries, prohibitively expensive and require intensive time and skill to create and, as such, there are many furries who, despite wishing to own a fursuit, are unable to. Moreover, there are many furries whose interest in furry content simply does not manifest itself as a desire to dress up in a fursuit. Despite this, furries are routinely conflated with fursuiters, a misconception we aimed to test empirically.
In one study,🐾 participants were asked whether they owned a full fursuit (defined as including a head, paws, torso and tail, where applicable), a partial fursuit (defined as owning at least two or three of the above items), or owned furry paraphernalia (ears, tail, paws, clothes, buttons, etc.). Specifically, they were asked, for each item, whether they owned it, did not yet own it (but intended to), did not own it, did not own it and probably would never own it, or whether they did not own it and did not want to own it. The results are displayed in the figures below.
The results indicate that only about 10-15% of furries actually owns a fursuit (though the results also indicate that far more—nearly 50%—are interested in acquiring one). Additionally, only about 25% of furries owns a partial fursuit (with many more interested in owning a partial fursuit in the future). The data therefore dispel the common misconception that furries are all fursuiters.
The figure above also reveals that while most furries do not own a fursuit, most furries do, however, own wearable indicators of their furry identity.🐾 In a subsequent study, we assessed the popularity of specific pieces of furry paraphernalia.🐾 The most popular (and among most frequently worn) accoutrements were tails, though it’s worth noting that, even then, fewer than half of furries owned one. Those who owned fursuits wore them regularly (e.g., at conventions/events), which is consistent with the cost and resources required to acquire or create a fursuit.
Ownership of Different Furry-Themed Accouterments
|Item||% of furries who own||
% of owners who regularly wear
- Fursuiters do not identify any more strongly as a furry, with the furry community, or with their fursonas than non-fursuiter furries do
- Only 61% of fursuiters are men, despite the fact that men comprise more than 75% of the furry fandom. Put another way: furry women are more likely to fursuit than furry men.
- Fursuiters are no more likely to be therian than non-fursuiters; they are also no more likely to feel non-human or to want to be completely non-human if they could
- Fursuiters have been in the fandom for longer, on average, than non-fursuiters; they also have more expendable income
- Fursuiters report better psychological well-being and a better-identified sense of self than non-fursuiters; they were no more likely to experience anxiety issues or to consider themselves to be immature, though they do report experiencing more discrimination for being a furry than non-suiters
- Fursuiters like hugs just as much as non-fursuiters do. Moreover, they are less likely than non-suiters to say that they don’t get as many hugs as they’d like in their day-to-day life.
People—whether they’re furries, the media, or inquisitive observers—often ask for an explanation of where furries come from. Specifically, they want to know how a person’s interest in furry (and their willingness to seek out the furry community) came to be. To answer this question, we’ve asked furries about the origins of their interests in a multitude of ways.
In one study, we asked whether furries’ interests were driven primarily by a feeling inside of them (often expressed by statements such as “I just always was a furry” or “I was a furry, I just didn’t know it”), or whether it was something they discovered based on external influence (often expressed by statements such as “A friend introduced me to it and I was hooked” or “I discovered furry on the internet and wanted to be a part of it”).🐾 Results found 45% of furries said it was both—a combination of something within them and a catalyzing exposure to the furry community. About 33% said it was solely an outside influence, while 22% said their interests came solely from within them (3% said it was neither).
Some furries were able to identify a specific instance, experience, or influence that sparked their furry interests. For these furries, we asked them to indicate, on a 7-point scale, the extent to which different factors influenced their furry interests (1 = not at all an influence to 7 = very important influence; see figure below.)🐾 While some factors were more common (e.g., the internet, a feeling inside, exposure to artwork) or far less common (e.g., having a pet, another fandom), it seems that there are a myriad of forces that spark furries’ interests, and that no one factor “causes” furries to be furries.
There are numerous reasons to participate in the furry community, and it’s doubtless that if you were to ask furries why they participate in the fandom, you would get dozens of explanations. Fandom researchers argue, however, that fandom fulfills a number of different psychological functions, and that fandoms with dramatically different content (e.g., sports vs. science fiction) may, nevertheless, fulfill similar functions: the need to belong, self-esteem, entertainment, attention, even a psychological need for sex. To test this hypothesis, we asked furries whether they agreed or disagreed that each of several different factors contributed to their motivation to participate in the furry community.🐾 The results are displayed in the figures below, with each figure representing a different psychological need, and the bars representing the percent of participants who agreed, to varying degrees, that fulfilling that need was an important component of their fandom participation. Figures with very high bars on the right side provide strong evidence that satisfying that particular need is a powerful motivator for most furries.
Furries’ motivation to be a part of the furry fandom has also been studied within the context of an ongoing longitudinal study of furries, where the same furries are studied year after year to determine the factors that motivated–and continue to motivate–furries’ participation in the fandom and the decision of some to leave the fandom.🐾 The following questions were asked to several hundred furries in an open-ended fashion, and their results were coded and grouped to reveal patterns of common responses.
In this figure below, we asked furries to indicate whether they had ever encountered something that made them consider leaving the furry fandom. The most prevalent reason provided involved the negative behavior of other furries in the fandom, including furries acting in socially inappropriate ways in public or online forums. “Drama” was also frequently cited as a source of problems, as was concern about the public’s perception of furries and whether they wanted to be associated with furries as a result. In a similar vein (and in conjunction with the idea that for the majority of furries, the fandom is not a fetish), many furries found themselves put off by sexual elements within the fandom, including being put off by those who focused excessively on sexual elements, those with unusual, extreme, or illegal sexual interests, or those who emphasized sexuality in the fandom in inappropriate places (e.g., public outings).In a final set of questions, we asked participants whether they personally knew of any furries who had left the fandom; 47.6% of participants said that they did. For these participants, we asked them if they knew the reason why these people left the fandom. In line with the above question, the most prevalent reason for furries leaving the fandom seems to be conflict with other furries or negative interactions with others in the fandom. Also in a similar vein, “drama” was frequently associated with people’s chosen reason to leave. When it comes to actually leaving the fandom, however, we see that more mundane explanations are also commonly associated with furries leaving: job or time constraints, feeling a sense of distance from the furry fandom (commonly due to furries getting older and identifying less with younger members of the fandom), and simply losing interest in furry-themed content.
We asked furries and non-furries whether they believed that someone has control over whether they are a furry or not, with the options of “yes,” “no” or “I don’t know.” In the figure below, furries were twice as likely as non-furries were to say that furry was not a choice.🐾 This may highlight a potential point of tension between furries and non-furries who may hold negative attitudes toward furries: to the extent that non-furries believe that a person who chooses to be furry could simply “stop being furry” to avoid social stigma, they may feel even more negatively about that person. Conversely, to the extent that a furry feels that they are unable to change who they are (i.e., what they find interesting), they may feel powerless against stigma or feel compelled to conceal their furry identity.🐾
Given the importance of belongingness and community to the furry fandom,🐾 we felt it was important to study the ways in which the furry community maintained this sense of community—that is, the way they interacted with one another. After all, despite the relative rarity of furries (compared to the population in general) and the spatial characteristics of the fandom (international in scope), furries nevertheless maintain a strong, closely-knit community.
In one study, participants rated their agreement on a 7-point scale with a number of items (1 = completely disagree to 7 = completely agree) about to the nature of their interaction with the furry community.🐾 They indicated that the majority of their interactions with other furries were online (M = 5.55) as opposed to at local furmeets (M = 2.98) or conventions (M = 3.16). Additionally, many furries agreed that the majority of the furs they knew did not live in the same city as they did (M = 5.08).
The same participants were also asked a series of questions assessing the frequency with which they interacted with furries in a number of different contexts. About 25% of furries regularly attended a local furry meet-up, while 50% of furries regularly attended furry conventions, though the sample was obtained from a combined online and convention-going population.
Evident from the tables below, the majority of furries’ interactions are online, either through instant messaging programs, or online forums.
Finally, we found evidence that approximately 40% of furries interacted with one another with at least some frequency on sites such as Second Life or IMVU, with such near-daily interactions being a part of the social lives of 15-20% of furries.
In sum, these data suggest that the furry fandom has a strong, vibrant presence on the internet and that, for many furries, online interaction is a crucial part of their interaction with the furry community.
On average, about half of a furry’s friends are furries themselves. This is comparable to members of other fandoms, although convention-going anime fans report having significantly more friends who are also anime fans. This may be due, in part, to the fact that the interests of anime fans are more mainstream than those of furries, making it easier to find friends in the fandom and publicly share one’s interest in anime.🐾
Follow-up analyses suggest that furries and convention-going anime fans did not differ in the number of friends that they had (and, indeed, both groups reported having significantly more friends than online anime fans or fantasy sport fans). As such, the difference in proportion of friends who are fans between the two groups is driven by the fact that convention-going anime fans have more anime fan friends, not by simply having fewer friends.