Your Cat’s Parasites Could Make You More Into Bondage

Toxoplasma gondii may cause people to become aroused by bondage and sadomasochism. nito/Shutterstock

Catching a common parasite carried by cats could change your sexual preferences by muddling up your brain circuitry, according to a study in the journal Evolutionary Psychology. The culprit, known as a Toxoplasma gondii, has previously been linked to schizophrenia and excessive rage, and new evidence shows that it can increase a person’s proclivity for bondage, sadomasochism, and other more unusual sexual scenarios.

Because Toxoplasma needs to land in cats in order to reproduce, it infects rodents and alters their behavior so that they become attracted to the smell of cat urine, rather than repelled by it, often leading them to their death at the hands of feline hunters. In previous studies, researchers discovered that the parasite alters the expression of certain genes so that instead of cat pee activating fear circuits in the rodents’ brains, it activates those involved in sexual arousal.

The team therefore decided to investigate if this microscopic menace has a similar effect in humans, causing us to become sexually attracted to situations that usually inspire fear.

Using an online survey consisting of more than 700 questions about sexual preferences and behaviors, the researchers collected data from 36,564 participants in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, 741 of whom were infected with Toxoplasma gondii.

Interestingly, results indicated that infected subjects “expressed higher attraction to bondage, violence, zoophilia, fetishism, and, in men, also to masochism, and raping and being raped.”

Paradoxically, however, those who carry the parasite were less likely to actually engage in these behaviors. The study authors speculate that this may be due to the fact that Toxoplasma stimulates the secretion of dopamine in the brain, which causes people to become more considered in their actions and less impulsive or prone to novelty seeking.

According to Seeker, study co-author Jaroslav Flegr insists that “Toxoplasma is definitely not responsible for sadomasochism.” Instead, he claims that the parasite merely “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.”

Indeed, previous studies have found that 12 percent of women and 22 percent of men are aroused by the idea of sadomasochism, and Flegr says that Toxoplasma infection probably only has a small effect on a person’s propensity for such activities.

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