Could Owning a Cat Be a Gateway to BDSM?

Research suggests that their litter boxes could play a role.

Medically Reviewed
a woman with a cat in bed
A common bacteria, often carried by cats, may pique an interest in BDSM.Deborah Jaffe/Getty Images

Living with a cat could make?engaging in?BDSM?more enticing, according to research involving 36,564 Europeans. The?study?was published in the July-September 2016 issue of the journal?Evolutionary Psychology.

It’s not the cats?themselves?that ignite a hankering for nontraditional sexual experiences, say the researchers, but?a tiny parasite called?toxoplasma, which?can be transmitted to humans through cat feces, which pet owners are abundantly exposed to through litter boxes. (It can also be transmitted via infected raw meat, tainted drinking water, or eating fruits or vegetables exposed to infected water.)

Toxoplasma causes an infection known as toxoplasmosis. It is common — more than 40 million people in the United States may currently be infected with it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — and generally considered harmless to humans except for those who are immunocompromised or pregnant.

However,?according to Jaroslav Flegr, PhD, parasitologist?and evolutionary biologist at Charles University in Prague, and Radim Kuba, a researcher at Charles University,?toxoplasma?raises brain levels of?dopamine,?a neurotransmitter known to enable communication between neurons and fuel cravings. The researchers speculate that this parasite, like others, is capable of changing behavior. Their assumption was based on the fact that mice and rats infected with it switch from being afraid of the smell of cats to being drawn to the aroma.

The researchers speculated that people who are infected with the parasite might be similarly affected.

In the study, the researchers looked at?36,564 people, some of whom were infected with toxoplasma, and some of whom were not. They found that infected subjects were, indeed, more likely to be aroused “by their own fear, danger, and sexual submission” than noninfected subjects.

The researchers stress that while “toxoplasma?infection explains only a small part of the variability in BDSM-associated traits,” it does shine a light on how exquisitely sensitive and complex a web of factors go into forming a person’s sexual behaviors, desires, and preferences.

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