I’m the guy who’ll often talk about things others hesitate to bring up. I got pretty used to it as a reporter covering crime and government. In the personal realm, I’m also the guy who’ll gleefully obliterate stereotypes and people’s assumptions about men. For one, I love cats. For another, I admitted to the world that I have a celebrity crush on Jackson Galaxy, another cat guy who I’m often told I resemble.
Weird? Maybe. But if that’s weird, then today’s topic will probably qualify me for some Freak-a-Zoid Hall of Fame. But I hope it doesn’t. In fact, that’s part of my point. Maybe today’s topic is something some of you have considered, or talked about with your significant other or your cat-loving friends, and maybe you don’t think it’s weird at all.
What is it? It’s the idea of having sex when your cat is in the room — or even when your cat is in the same bed as you, maybe seeming to enjoy what’s happening and wanting to stay close. It’s also wondering what you should do (if anything), whether it’s okay (for you and the person you’re with) or normal (for the cat). Is it a health or behavior concern?
Some background: Earlier this month, Sassafras Lowrey (who’s a dog trainer as well as a sexuality educator) posed a similar question on Dogster. After the post went live, Social Media Manager Liz Acosta noted that it generated some good discussion, and she suggested I pursue a similar column for Catster.
So here we are.
As it turns out, I had considered writing about this. I’m not a cat behaviorist, but I’ve lived with numerous cats in the context of romantic relationships, and some of them have shown distinctly positive responses when their humans engage in love and pleasure. What’s more, I also have experience in educating people on human sexuality through several organizations and publications in California, and many of my friends do this full-time. Plus, I’m a journalist, so when I’m curious about something, I interview people who know more than I do, which I’ve done for this post.
I’ll start with my own experience.
I’ve told you that Thomas and I have a stronger bond than any I’ve shared with an animal. Now consider that my girlfriend, Daphne, and I have a stronger bond than I’ve shared with any other human, and that Daphne and Thomas share a strong connection too. These bonds get stronger, deeper, and more mysterious the more time we’re all together. So what I’m about to write shouldn’t surprise you.
Sometimes when Daphne and I are, uh, engaged, Thomas is nearby, either on the perch next to the bedroom window, on the bed, or just walking in and out of the room. But sometimes, afterward, when the room is all warm and yummy, the bed a mess, the air filled with playful pheromones, Thomas gets close to us and starts what I call "Desperate Biscuits."
He starts kneading — making biscuits — on a warm plush fuzzy blanket. His eyes go wide. His ears go back. His hips start to tremble and his demeanor gets quite intense.
Sometimes Thomas goes on like this for 10 minutes or longer. He’s obviously getting physical pleasure from it. Sometimes after a while we gently move him elsewhere. Sometimes we leave him there. But the cat, even though he’s fixed, appears to be getting some sexual pleasure.
About 15 years ago, Daphne and I lived with a cat named Cleo who Daphne got from a shelter in Oregon. This long-haired tuxedo Norwegian Forest Cat was rather particular about happenings on the bed. If Daphne or I were close to her and moved so much as a couple of inches not to her liking, she would shoot us a vengeful look and fly off the bed like a bullet train.
But things were different when love came to town. Cleo would tolerate the most disruptive of movements in the context of sexual activity. The bed could be rocking like a lifeboat in an Arctic storm, and Cleo would stay exactly where she was, purring. It was clear that she loved being close to us.
I put this question to Carol Queen, who I’ve known since 1998. Queen is a staff sexologist at sex-toy company Good Vibrations, which for years has had a division devoted to sex education. Carol is also co-founder of the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco, a nonprofit group also devoted to educating people on human sexuality. Carol has owned cats since 1977. With the recent passing of Bracelet and Teacup, who she and her longtime partner Robert Lawrence lived with for years, her home is without a furry four-legged mammal for the first time in a while.
Queen said that the mere acknowledgment of a pet’s sexuality can get thrown in the "bestiality" box because so many people are uncomfortable on the very topic of sex, but we have to figure out a way to acknowledge and navigate this.
"The human impulse to think that animals don’t have a sexuality, or that it’s strictly reproductive, flies in the face of the evidence," Queen said. "We’re sexual beings, and even if our animals are fixed, they might have some of that left regardless.
"Noticing that a cat wants to cuddle during the afterglow doesn’t make you a pervert."
Still, it’s okay if you want some intimate time away from your cat. If, for example, a partner is freaked out by the cat’s presence, you probably want to call a boundary with the animal. This probably won’t come as a great shock to the cat, Queen said, because he or she has probably been turned out of bed previously for "making biscuits on you when you’re trying to sleep."
If there’s discomfort from a partner, you can also reassure that person that cats and humans develop deep connections, and a cat looking at you during sex is more about curiosity and companionship rather than judgment or ridicule.
That said, a person’s reaction to your cat is something to watch, Queen said, noting that she has heard from some people whose partners express pretty intense jealousy over a cat.
"It feels like the issue that sometimes comes up when someone gets a vibrator," she said. "As in, ‘Wait a minute! Don’t pet that thing! You’re mine, all mine, and that’s it!’"
She doesn’t suggest that we limit our relationships only to humans who get our cats’ approval, but the way a person engages with your cat might tell you about him or her.
"Cats are an emotional read for people," she said. "Some of us who appreciate the ways that cats are mysterious can dig what happens when a cat tells us something about a person."
Next I turned to Dr. Eric Barchas, author of Catster’s weekly Ask a Vet column, with the above questions. He said that spay/neuter dramatically reduces an animal’s sex drive, but it doesn’t completely eliminate it.
"Is the cat truly pleasuring himself in that way?" Barchas mused. "Only the cat knows. But it’s not a sign of a behavior problem, in my opinion."
He echoed something Carol brought up: Cats can become jealous of affection between people.
"With sex, they might want attention but not a true piece of the action," Barchas said.
I then wondered about safety — which is to say, if you and your partner fall asleep in the afterglow, without stowing any toys, condoms, or personal lubricant you’ve used, are those items dangerous to cats?
"Plain, water-based lubricants are generally safe for cats," Barchas said. "But stay away from flavored/heating ones."
With regard to sex toys, unless a cat bites into an electrical cord, there’s probably not a problem, he said. Queen said that even if cat-safety is not a concern, the longevity of a toy might be. Some sex toys with softer, skin-like surfaces can be damaged by claws. She also said certain devices can benefit cats. For example, she has known people to put very small vibrators on low settings under blankets in a kitten bed, because the devices mimic purring.
"I’ve seen cats cuddle up with vibrators," she said.
What’s your experience with your cats when love comes to town? Does it make you feel weird if they’re in the room, or is it okay for you? Have you had a partner freak out about it? Has your cat given you good advice on a partner?
The Cat Dandy is always full of surprises:
About Keith Bowers: This broad-shouldered, bald-headed, leather-clad motorcyclist also has passions for sharp clothing, silver accessories, great writing, the arts, and cats. This career journalist loves painting, sculpting, photographing, and getting on stage. He once was called “a high-powered mutant,” which also describes his cat, Thomas. He is senior editor at Catster and Dogster.