There are three terms that are most commonly used in regards to the subject: zoophilia, bestiality, and zoosexuality. The terms are usually relatively interchangeable. Zoosadism, sodomy, zooerasty and zooerastia are other terms closely related to the subject but are less synonymous with the former terms and/or are not commonly used. “Bestiosexuality” was discussed briefly by Allen (1979), but never became established.
The term “zoophilia” was introduced into the field of research on sexuality in Psychopathia Sexualis (1886) by Krafft-Ebing, who described a number of cases of “violation of animals (bestiality)”, as well as “zoophilia erotica”, which he defined as a sexual attraction to animal skin or fur.
Zoophilia can refer to sexual activity with non-human animals (bestiality), the desire to do so, or to the paraphilia (atypical arousal) of the same name which indicates a definite preference for animals over humans as sexual partners.
Some zoophiles and researchers draw a distinction between zoophilia and bestiality, using the former to describe the desire to form sexual relationships with animals, and the latter to describe the sex acts alone.
Bestiality is frequently misspelled as “beastiality”. Even when spelled “bestiality”, the word has two common pronunciations, (/ˌbestʃiˈæləti/ or /ˌbistʃiˈæləti/), with the first syllable sounding either like “best” or “beast”, The latter is more frequently used in the United States.
Masters (1962) uses the term “bestialist” specifically in his discussion of zoosadism, which refers to deriving sexual pleasure from cruelty to animals. Stephanie LaFarge, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the New Jersey Medical School, and Director of Counseling at the ASPCA, writes that two groups can be distinguished: bestialists, who rape or abuse animals, and zoophiles, who form an emotional and sexual attachment to animals. Colin J. Williams and Martin Weinberg studied self-defined zoophiles via the internet and found they saw the term as involving concern for the animal’s welfare and pleasure, and an emphasis on believing they obtained consent, as opposed to the zoophile’s concept of bestialists, who zoophiles defined as a group who focused only on their own gratification. Williams and Weinberg also quoted a British newspaper as saying that zoophilia is the term used by “apologists” of bestiality.
The term “zoosexual” was cited by the researcher Miletski in the year 2002. It was seen as a value-neutral term which would be less susceptible to being loaded with emotion or rhetoric. Usage of the noun “zoosexual” can be applied to both a “zoosexual (person)” which is synonymous with zoophile, and a “zoosexual act”, meaning a sex act between a human and an animal. The term “zoosexuality” is often used by zoophile forums and support groups, which manifests as a person being romantically and/or sexually attracted to animals.
Zoosadism and zooerasty
Ernest Bornemann (1990, cited by Rosenbauer 1997) coined the separate term “zoosadism” for those who derive pleasure from inflicting pain on an animal, sometimes with a sexual component. Some horse-ripping incidents may have a sexual connotation.
Krafft-Ebing, the same author who introduced the term zoophilia, used the term “zooerasty” for the paraphilia of exclusive sexual attraction to animals, but the term has fallen out of use.
Extent of occurrence
The Kinsey reports rated the percentage of people who had sexual interaction with animals at some point in their lives as 8% for men and 3.6% for women, and claimed it was 40–50% in people living near farms, but some later writers dispute the figures, because the study lacked a random sample in that it included a disproportional amount of prisoners, causing sampling bias. Martin Duberman has written that it is difficult to get a random sample in sexual research, and that even when Paul Gebhard, Kinsey’s research successor, removed prison samples from the figures, he found the figures were not significantly changed.
By 1974, the farm population in the USA had declined by 80 percent compared to 1940, reducing the opportunity to live with animals; Hunt’s 1974 study suggests that these demographic changes led to a significant change in reported occurrences of bestiality. The percentage of males who reported sexual interactions with animals in 1974 was 4.9% (1948: 8.3%), and in females in 1974 was 1.9% (1953: 3.6%). Miletski believes this is not due to a reduction in interest but merely a reduction in opportunity.
In one study, psychiatric patients were found to have a statistically significant higher prevalence rate (55 percent) of reported bestiality, both actual sexual contacts (45 percent) and sexual fantasy (30 percent) than the control groups of medical in-patients (10 percent) and psychiatric staff (15 percent). Crépault and Couture (1980) reported that 5.3 percent of the men they surveyed had fantasized about sexual activity with an animal during heterosexual intercourse. A 1982 study suggested that 7.5 percent of 186 university students had interacted sexually with an animal.
Sexual fantasies about zoophilic acts can occur in people who do not have any wish to experience them in real life. Nancy Friday notes that zoophilia as a fantasy may provide an escape from cultural expectations, restrictions, and judgements in regard to sex. A frequent interest in and sexual excitement at watching animals mate is cited as an indicator of latent zoophilia by Massen (1994). Masters (1962) says that some brothel madams used to stage exhibitions of animals mating, as they found it aroused potential clientele, and that this may have encouraged the clients to engage in bestiality.
Several studies have found that women show stronger vaginal responses to films depicting bonobo copulation than to non-sexual stimuli. Zoophiles have been described as “occupying [many] different demographic categories: white, black, Asian, Mormon, Amish, Catholic, atheist, pagan, Jewish, male and female.”. In addition, people who “grew up in the country around animals were no more likely to become zoophiles than those who grew up in the city without them.”
Perspectives on zoophilia
Psychological, psychiatric, and research perspectives
Zoophilia has been partly discussed by several sciences: Psychology (the study of the human mind), sexology (a relatively new discipline primarily studying human sexuality), ethology (the study of animal behavior), and anthrozoology (the study of human-animal interactions and bonds).
The nature of animal minds, animal mental processes and structures, and animal self-awareness, perception, emotion in animals, and “map of the world”, are studied within animal cognition and also explored within various specialized branches of neuroscience such as neuroethology.
Zoophilia is placed in the classification “paraphilias not otherwise specified.” in the DSM-III and IV. The World Health Organization takes the same position, listing a sexual preference for animals in its ICD -10 as “other disorder of sexual preference”. The DSM-IV (TR) (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association) recommends that the individual does not receive treatment of zoophilia, as with most other paraphilias, unless it is accompanied by distress or interference with normal functioning on the part of the individual.
Zoophilia may also be covered to some degree by other fields such as ethics, philosophy, law, animal rights and animal welfare. It may also be touched upon by sociology which looks both at zoosadism in examining patterns and issues related to sexual abuse and at non-sexual zoophilia in examining the role of animals as emotional support and companionship in human lives, and may fall within the scope of psychiatry if it becomes necessary to consider its significance in a clinical context. The Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine (Vol. 18, February 2011) states that sexual contact with animals is almost never a clinically significant problem by itself; it also states that there are several kinds of zoophiles:
Additionally, zoophiles in categories 2, 3, and 8 (romantic zoophiles, zoophilic fantisizers, and regular zoophiles) are the most common, while zoophiles found in categories 6 and 7 (sadistic bestials and opportunistic zoophiles) are the least common.
Zoophilia may reflect childhood experimentation, sexual abuse or lack of other avenues of sexual expression. Exclusive desire for animals rather than humans is considered a rare paraphilia, and sufferers often have other paraphilias with which they present. Zoophiles will not usually seek help for their condition, and so do not come to the attention of psychiatrists for zoophilia itself.
The first detailed studies of zoophilia date from prior to 1910. Peer reviewed research into zoophilia in its own right started around 1960. However, a number of the most oft-quoted studies, such as Miletski, were not published in peer-reviewed journals. There have been several significant modern books, from Masters (1962) to Beetz (2002); their research arrived at the following conclusions:
- Most zoophiles have (or have also had) long term human relationships as well or at the same time as zoosexual ones, and that zoosexual partners are usually dogs and/or horses (Masters, Miletski, Beetz)
- Zoophiles’ emotions and care for animals can be real, relational, authentic and (within animals’ abilities) reciprocal, and not just a substitute or means of expression. Beetz believes zoophilia is not an inclination which is chosen.
- Society in general at present is considerably misinformed about zoophilia, its stereotypes, and its meaning. The distinction between zoophilia and zoosadism is a critical one to these researchers, and is highlighted by each of these studies. Masters (1962), Miletski (1999) and Weinberg (2003) each comment significantly on the social harm caused by misunderstandings regarding zoophilia: “This destroy[s] the lives of many citizens”.
- Most zoophiles have (or have also had) long term human relationships as well or at the same time as zoosexual ones, and that zoosexual partners are usually dogs and/or horses (Masters, Miletski, Beetz)
Beetz also states the following:
“The phenomenon of sexual contact with animals is starting to lose its taboo: it is appearing more often in scholarly publications, and the public are being confronted with it, too.[…] Sexual contact with animals – in the form of bestiality or zoophilia – needs to be discussed more openly and investigated in more detail by scholars working in disciplines such as animal ethics, animal behavior, anthrozoology, psychology, mental health, sociology, and the law.”
More recently, research has engaged three further directions – the speculation that at least some animals seem to enjoy a zoophilic relationship assuming sadism is not present, and can form an affectionate bond. Similar findings are also reported by Kinsey (cited by Masters), and others earlier in history. Miletski (1999) notes that information on sex with animals on the internet is often very emphatic as to what the zoophile believes gives pleasure and how to identify what is perceived as consent beforehand. For instance, Jonathan Balcombe says animals do things for pleasure. But he himself says pet owners will be unimpressed by this statement, as this is not news to them.
Beetz described the phenomenon of zoophilia/bestiality as being somewhere between crime, paraphilia and love, although she says that most research has been based on criminological reports, so the cases have frequently involved violence and psychiatric illness. She says only a few recent studies have taken data from volunteers in the community. As with all volunteer surveys and sexual ones in particular, these studies have a potential for self-selection bias.
Medical research suggests that some zoophiles only become aroused by a specific species (such as horses), some zoophiles become aroused by multiple species (which may or may not include humans), and some zoophiles are not attracted to humans at all.
Passages in Leviticus 18 (Lev 18:23: “And you shall not lie with any beast and defile yourself with it, neither shall any woman give herself to a beast to lie with it: it is a perversion.” RSV) and 20:15–16 (“If a man lies with a beast, he shall be put to death; and you shall kill the beast. If a woman approaches any beast and lies with it, you shall kill the woman and the beast; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them.” RSV) are cited by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theologians as categorical denunciation of bestiality. However, the teachings of the New Testament has been interpreted by some as not expressly forbidding bestiality.
In Part II of his Summa Theologica, medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas ranked various “unnatural vices” (sex acts resulting in “venereal pleasure” rather than procreation) by degrees of sinfulness, concluding that “the most grievous is the sin of bestiality.” Some Christian theologians extend Matthew‘s view that even having thoughts of adultery is sinful to imply that thoughts of committing bestial acts are likewise sinful.
Historical and cultural perspectives
Masters feels that in antiquity bestiality was widespread, and believed it was often incorporated into religious ritual. He believes it to have taken place in ancient Egypt, claiming that the zoomorphic forms of Ancient Egyptian gods ensures that bestiality would have been part of their rites. There is no evidence that the presence of gods with zoomorphic attributes ensures this in itself. However, Pindar, Herodotus, and Plutarch claimed the Egyptians engaged in ritual congress with goats. Such claims about other cultures do not necessarily reflect anything about which the author had evidence, but be a form of propaganda or xenophobia, similar to blood libel.
Bestiality was accepted in some North American and Middle Eastern indigenous cultures. Sexual intercourse between humans and non-human animals was not uncommon among certain Native American indigenous peoples, including the Hopi. Voget describes the sexual lives of young Native Americans as “rather inclusive,” including bestiality. In addition, the Copper Inuit people had “no aversion to intercourse with live animals”.
Several cultures built temples (Khajuraho, India) or other structures (Sagaholm, barrow, Sweden) with zoophilic carvings on the exterior, however at Khajuraho these depictions are not on the interior, perhaps depicting that these are things that belong to the profane world rather than the spiritual world, and thus are to be left outside.
In the West, the most explicit records of sex involving humans and animals activity are associated with reports of the murderous sadism, torture and rape of the Roman games and circus, in which some authors estimate that several hundreds of thousands died. Masters believes beasts were specially trained to copulate with women: if the girls or women were unwilling then the animal would attempt rape. A surprising range of creatures was used for such purposes, and taught how to copulate vaginally or anally. Representations of scenes from the sexual lives of the gods, such as Pasiphaë and the Bull, were highly popular, often causing extreme suffering, injury or death. On occasion, the more ferocious beasts were permitted to kill and (if desired) devour their victims afterwards.
In the Church-oriented culture of the Middle Ages zoophilic activity was met with execution, typically burning, and death to the animals involved either the same way or by hanging, as “both a violation of Biblical edicts and a degradation of man as a spiritual being rather than one that is purely animal and carnal. Some witches were accused of having congress with the devil in the form of an animal. As with all accusations and confessions extracted under torture in the witch trials in Early Modern Europe, their validity cannot be ascertained.
In many jurisdictions, all forms of zoophilic acts are prohibited; others outlaw only the mistreatment of animals, without specific mention of sexual activity. In the UK, Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (also known as the Extreme Pornography Act) outlaws images of a person performing or appearing to perform an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal (whether dead or alive). Countries such as Belgium, Germany, and Russia are somewhere in between: they permit sexual activity with animals, but prohibit the promotion of animal-oriented pornography.
Laws on zoophilia are often triggered by specific incidents. While some laws are very specific, others employ vague terms such as “sodomy” or “bestiality,” which lack legal precision and leave it unclear exactly which acts are covered. In the past, some bestiality laws may have been made in the belief that sex with an animal could result in monstrous offspring, as well as offending the community. Current anti-cruelty laws focus more specifically on animal welfare while anti-bestiality laws are aimed only at offenses to community “standards”. Notable legal views include Sweden, where a 2005 report by the Swedish Animal Welfare Agency for the government expressed concern over the increase in reports of horse-ripping incidents. The agency believed current animal cruelty legislation was not sufficient in protecting animals from abuse and needed updating, but concluded that on balance it was not appropriate to call for a ban. In New Zealand, the 1989 Crimes Bill considered abolishing bestiality as a criminal offense, and instead viewing it as a mental health issue, but they did not, and people can still be prosecuted for it. Under Section 143 of the Crimes Act 1961, individuals can serve a sentence of seven years duration for animal sexual abuse and the offence is considered ‘complete’ in the event of ‘penetration’
As of 2012, having sex with animals is illegal in 37 U.S. states. Most of the individual anti-zoosexual state laws were created recently (between 1999 and 2012). Until 2005, there was a farm near Enumclaw, Washington that was described as an “animal brothel”, where people paid to have sex with animals. After an incident on 2 July 2005, when a man was pronounced dead in the emergency room of the Enumclaw community hospital after his colon ruptured due to having been sodomized by a horse, the farm garnered police attention. The state legislature of the State of Washington, which had been one of the few states in the United States without a law against bestiality, within six months passed a bill making bestiality illegal.
Joe Arpaio of Arizona, Bob Lynn of Alaska and Nan Rich of Florida were responsible for banning bestiality in their respective states. When such laws are proposed, they are never questioned or debated. Laws which prohibit non-abusive bestiality have been criticized for being discriminatory, unjust and unconstitutional.
Pornography involving sex with animals is widely illegal, even in most countries where the act itself is not explicitly outlawed.
In the United States, zoophilic pornography would be considered obscene if it did not meet the standards of the Miller Test and therefore is not openly sold, mailed, distributed or imported across state boundaries or within states which prohibit it. Under U.S. law, ‘distribution’ includes transmission across the Internet. Production and mere possession appear to be legal, however. U.S. prohibitions on distribution of sexual or obscene materials are as of 2005 in some doubt, having been ruled unconstitutional in United States v. Extreme Associates (a judgement which was overturned on appeal, December 2005).
The potential use of media for pornographic movies was seen from the start of the era of silent film. Polissons and Galipettes (re-released 2002 as “The Good Old Naughty Days“) is a collection of early French silent films for brothel use, including some animal pornography, dating from around 1905 – 1930.
Material featuring sex with animals is widely available on the Internet, due to their ease of production, and because production and sale is legal in countries such as Denmark. Prior to the advent of mass-market magazines such as Playboy, so-called Tijuana Bibles were a form of pornographic tract popular in America, sold as anonymous underground publications typically comprising a small number of stapled comic-strips representing characters and celebrities. The promotion of “stars” began with the Danish Bodil Joensen, in the period of 1969–72, along with other porn actors such as the Americans Linda Lovelace (Dogarama, 1969), Chessie Moore (multiple films, c. 1994), Kerri Downs (three films, 1998) and Calina Lynx (aka Kelly G’raffe) (two films, 1998). Another early film to attain great infamy was “Animal Farm“, smuggled into Great Britain around 1980 without details as to makers or provenance. The film was later traced to a crude juxtaposition of smuggled cuts from many of Bodil Joensen’s 1970s Danish movies.
Into the 1980s the Dutch took the lead, creating figures like “Wilma” and the “Dutch Sisters”. In 1980s, “bestiality” was featured in Italian adult films with actresses like Denise Dior, Francesca Ray, and Marina Hedman, manifested early in the softcore flick Bestialità in 1976.
Today, in Hungary, where production faces no legal limitations, zoophilic materials have become a substantial industry that produces numerous films and magazines, particularly for Dutch companies such as Topscore and Book & Film International, and the genre has stars such as “Hector”, a Great Dane starring in several films. Many Hungarian mainstream performers also appeared anonymously in animal pornography in their early careers. For example, Suzy Spark.
In Japan, animal pornography is used to bypass censorship laws, often featuring Japanese and Russian female models performing fellatio on animals, because oral penetration of a non-human penis is not in the scope of Japanese mosaic censor. Sakura Sakurada is an AV idol known to have appeared in animal pornography, specifically in the AV The Dog Game in 2006. While primarily underground, there are a number of animal pornography actresses who specialize in bestiality movies. A box-office success of the 1980s, 24 Horas de Sexo Explícito featured zoophilia.
In the UK Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 criminalises possession of realistic pornographic images depicting sex with animals (see extreme pornography), including fake images and simulated acts, as well as images depicting sex with dead animals, where no crime has taken place in the production. The law provides for sentences of up to two years in prison; a sentence of 12 months was handed down in one case in 2011.