Have you always suspected that your cat-owning friends are a little kinkier than the population at large? If you had this incredibly specific suspicion, you were right. New research suggests that a cat's parasites "can increase a person's proclivity for bondage, sadomasochism, and other more unusual sexual scenarios." This parasite can lead to sexual fantasies based in fear, submission, and other tropes associated with sadomasochism and bondage.
You may have already heard of toxoplasma gondii, the parasite commonly associated with cats. Toxoplasma gondii causes the disease toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is fairly harmless in healthy individuals. It may cause flu-like symptoms, and will usually go away on its own, but it can be dangerous to the immunocompromised.
Toxoplasmosis is the reason pregnant women shouldn't change litter boxes. The parasite is also of note because of its "fatal attraction" phenomenon, which affects many mammals, including humans, and may cause some people to become "cat crazy," though we're not sure.
Lizette Borelli at Medical Daily explains: "the parasite lives at the expense of its host, meaning it needs the host in order to produce offspring, known as 'oocysts.' Oocysts are shed in the cat's feces, with a single cat able to shed up to 100 million oocysts. If a mouse accidentally ingests the offspring, they will invade the mouse's tissues and mature to form tissue cysts. However, if the mouse gets eaten by a cat, the tissue cysts become active and release offspring to make new oocysts — completing the cycle."
The crazy part? Infected mice become attracted to the smell of cats; a smell they would normally fear. Similarly, toxoplasmosis might also cause humans to become more attracted to cats on a subconscious level.
But there's been an even more interesting development for the cat-crazy among us: A new study suggests that the toxoplasma gondii parasite might cause "sexual attraction to fear, danger, pain, and submissiveness." The study, authored by Jaroslav Flegr and Radim Kuba, proposes that "the stimuli that activate fear-related circuits in healthy rodents start to also activate sex-related circuits in the infected animals." Their study, performed on 36,564 subjects (5,087 without Toxoplasma and 741 infected with Toxoplasma) "showed that infected and non-infected subjects differ in their sexual behavior, fantasies, and preferences when age, health, and the size of the place where they spent childhood were controlled." Paradoxically, though, while the Toxoplasma-infected population was less likely to actually engage in these sexual activities, they were just more aroused by the idea of them.
Co-author Jaroslav Flegr is careful to note that toxoplasma is not responsible for sadomasochism, though. Instead, he says, it simply "succeeds in using the fact that sex-related stimuli and fear-related stimuli affect very similar circuits in the brain. Even without Toxoplasma, there will be some relationship between fear and sex."