Anyone whose roommate has four legs, a bunch of fur and a periodic floor-shitting habit has had it happen to them — the ol' "pet-watching-me-fuck phenomenon."
There you'll be; all randy and in the well-lubed throes of things, happily pumping away at your various holes, when all of a sudden, you'll look up from your afternoon delight and BAM — your seemingly innocent, domesticated mammal is 3 inches from your face, salivating slowly while it stares so deeply into your eyes you swear it touches your soul. Its virgin ears suddenly don't seem so virgin as it blinks at you suggestively, pawing at the bed. You stop — "Babe, the cat's on the bed again" — and push it off, but it continues to watch sheepishly from a distance, the hair-covered voyeur you never asked for.
First of all, the bad news. Pets definitely know when you're fucking.
However, it's not for the reason you'd think. According to professional pet psychic and animal communication expert Amanda Reister, pets don't see what you're doing as "sex" in the conventional way people think of it. Instead, they see it as an energy exchange; a redirecting of action and attention away from them, and towards someone else.
This makes them jealous. And they start to act creepy.
"Most of our pet's strange behavior during sex comes from them being agitated because they're jealous," Reister says by phone. "Jealousy is a huge issue with animals in general. I don’t think people realize how much of a problem it really is. I’d say 75 percent of the cases I deal with are pets’ behavioral issues stemming from jealousy of the other people or animals in their owner’s lives."
It's not sexual or romantic jealousy, though. It's more similar to feeling you'd get from hearing your best friend found another new best friend — "But … what about me?"
The jealousy can also stem from the feeling of being left out in what they see as playing. To pets, your whipped-cream-and-hand-cuffs trick looks no different than a prolonged hug or play-fighting, and since those are familiar-feeling actions you've probably enjoyed with them, they want in (not the whipped cream and handcuffs; the hugging and play fighting … god).
"Pets aren’t kinky," Reister explains. "They don’t see what you're doing is erotic, or even procreative. Animals are a lot more innocent than us in that right. They think similarly to children. That's why when they jump on you, they're just trying to get in on what they see as play time, and to regain your attention because of their jealousy. It’s nothing but fun-loving and innocent."
That jealousy makes them want to insert themselves into the energy exchange in order to rebalance it in their favor. Usually, they do this by pacing, staring, pawing, sitting right by your head as you're getting plowed or meowing or barking loudly to remind you that — hey, hi — they're still alive.
However, according to Reister, animals are more than just jealous. They're also judgmental. Because they're capable of tuning into personal characteristics people tend to overlook — such as negative energy or unsafe intentions — they can often tell when someone's not right for you. So, it may be that their incessant staring during your mid-afternoon anal foray is just their way of analyzing the new person in the house and figuring out if they're trustworthy or not. More obviously, if they're actually attacking you or your partner during sex — like this author's cat does all the time — it could be their way of saying "This person's a living douche. Get them out of here."
"If your pet doesn't like someone, it's a sign you shouldn't either," says Reister.
Kate Perry, author of the book Training for Both Ends of the Leash: A Guide to Cooperation Training for You and Your Dog, tells Thrillist she deals with this issue "all the time."
"I've jokingly told my colleagues that we should make a show about it, because it's destroyed relationships," she says. Hear that? Destroyed relationships.
Perry has her own theories as to why reasons your pet might play voyeur.
The biggest is that domesticated cats and dogs operate on what's called a "primal drive," meaning they do something called "resource guarding." They see their owner as a survival resource — one that's theirs — and may interpret the sex they're so eerily eyeballing as an attack on their valuable goods. Their incessant lurking comes from them wanting to dominate that moment and take control of what's happening to what they see as their property and key to survival.
Animals are also very territorial. They view places where they carry out their daily business — like your bed — as part of their eminent domain, and when new people they don't know just rub their balls all over it, they get a little antsy. At the same time, they've been domesticated and trained to be docile and to not react to threats like this, so they react in the only way they can: to get as close to their territory as possible as to assert that it's still theirs, as doused in bodily effluvium as it may be.
"They can act out and I've had people call me and tell me "my dog won’t let my husband or boyfriend or girlfriend in the bedroom," Perry says. "So, what's really going on is that the dog's guarding their territory."
In a way, you could argue that jealousy and territorial instincts are one in the same. Both involve what the pet sees as an unfair distribution of resources it wants for itself. However, not everyone is sold on that idea.
Elise Gouge, MPH, owner of Pet Behavior Consulting, LLC and a certified animal behavior consultant, told Broadly that pet jealousy isn't a hard fact.
"The concept of pets feeling jealousy is widely debated by animal behaviorists and consultants," Gouge explains. "Some feel that pets absolutely feel jealousy, and others believe that jealousy is a term that carries a lot of negative stigma that should be separate from how we define our cat's behaviors."
However, as she continues, "It is true that if your cat is used to spending 100 percent of his time with you and suddenly another person is occupying your time and the cat now only has access to you 50 percent of the time, he will most likely show some stress behaviors."
Is that jealousy? Maybe. You'd need someone like Reister to sort that out for you and your pet.
So, what can be done to mend your pet's fragile ego?
It's pretty obvious.
"The first step is to take the pet out of the room," Perry says.
Duh. But beyond that? Not much. And don't worry about it either — there's no evidence that your schoolteacher fetish is emotionally scarring for your animal in any way.
"I've never had an animal tell me they have a problem with it [sex]," says Reister. "I’ve had them recount specific things they saw, but they don’t really hold on to them. I mean, I wouldn't necessarily want an animal watching me, but it's about as emotionally scarring for them as walking in on your parents as a three-year-old would be for you."
The more important thing, she says, is look deeper than your pets' physical reactions to your Roman orgy to figure out the underlying causes of their weird behaviors.
"Animals are so much smarter, more aware and more in-tune than we ever could be," she says. "Try to find out what they’re trying to tell you."