Bestiality: Resources

Below are the main resources I’ve used whilst considering bestiality.  There are some additional links within the posts themselves.


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Bestiality in fairy tales

If you’ve been following my blog recently, you will have noticed the bestiality series.  And you might well be thinking ok, well that is a topic that’s for other people, it’s nothing to do with me. But this overlooks bestiality in fairy tales, in mythology and in folklore.  Think beauty and the beast.  Think Leda and the swan.

“Legends about animal deities and their sexual congress with humans can be found in ancient cultures the world over – Sumarian, Indian, Chinese, Egyptian and Babylonian”
– Tatov

“Nearly every storytelling culture maps out dating practices with animal partners”
– Maria Tatov

“Mythologies throughout the world tell of intimate kinships that people have established with animals, whether as shapeshifters in the present or as ancestors in the remote past”
– Boria Sax

Starting with mythology from Ancient Greek, we find Zeus who took the form of an eagle to rape Ganymede.  He took the form of a swan to seduce the mortal woman Leda and the form of a bull to have sex with Europa.  Then there are the centaurs, which some people point to as the result of a Centaurus interbreeding with horses and hence the result of bestiality.

“There are several old tales of sexual unions between human beings and various animals producing composite creatures.”
– Sax

This theme of Gods turning into animals to have sex with humans is found elsewhere in the world including in the Roman empire and in Hinduism where sex with an animal was thought to be sex with a god incarnated in the form of an animal.  An Indonesian myth tells of a princess marrying a dog and giving birth to a son who would become an ancestor of a particular tribe.

In an Italian folktale – the King’s Pig – a cursed man is turned into a pig who killed his first two wives who were disgusted by him.  His third wife was quite satisfied by having sex with a pig.  In a Greek folktale – the golden crab – the beautiful princess marries a crab and wants no one else.

These two examples show that bestiality isn’t always the route to a restoration of humanity, a structure we are more familiar with.  Such as in the case of a Bantu story where a crocodile turns back into a human when a maiden licks it’s face.

The latter will likely seem familiar to many readers as it fits the form of an animal bride/groom tale.  A pattern where a bride has no choice but to marry an animal, often urged on by her father.  She suffers in that marriage although there are some good moments.  Her ordeal is rewarded by riches and the animal returns to being a man.  Sometimes the gender roles are reversed but often the spell breaks when the animal proves their human worth or is loved, generally by a virgin.  And yes, this is literally the plot of beauty and the beast.  That is how interwoven into our lives, bestiality is.

In early versions of little red riding hood, the girl saves herself from being eaten by engaging in bestiality, something that is now generally lost from today’s versions.

There are also the selkie style stories where a man steals the animal’s feathers or skin in order to trick her into marriage.  In the end, she tends to find her feathers or skin and is able to return to her animal form and escapes the husband.

That these stories cross cultures and time, suggests a desire to question or interrogate something that is universal.  That may be a fear of burgeoning sexuality, concerns about forced marriages or an attempt to understand the line between man and beast.  Another argument is that it’s about understanding other humans, about building empathy and showing the flares inherent in judging someone based on their appearance.  Whatever it is, there is something in these stories of sex between human and animal that continues to appeal to us today.

Bestiality and the line between man and beast

How we define humans and other animals, and the importance of that dividing line, is crucial to understanding bestiality as a transgression of the natural order.  So often this dividing line is one that demarcates a hierarchy, with humans at the top.

Even in religions where animals are valued more than in Christianity, humans tend to be on top.  Hindus believe in reincarnation and believe that animals and humans both have souls.  Humans can be reborn as an animal and vice versa but humans are considered “to be the apex of what life should be” (DeMello) and hence are superior.  Buddhists also have the idea of karma, and consider that humans and animals both have potential to reach enlightenment but again being reborn as an animal is seen as negative.

Human exceptionalism is the belief that humans are unique in the animal world but it is not the only way to approach the world.  The human animal divide is “neither universally found nor universally agreed upon” (DeMello).  It is a social construction, dependent upon time and place.

For example, in some Native American traditions, humans, animals and plants are created together.  In this context, humans are part of the natural world, not apart.  A number of creation myths have animal creators giving birth to humans and animals and this clearly influences how we see, and treat, animals.  Notably, some animals were seen as superior to humans and there wasn’t a concept of animals as private property.

The divide between, and differential values of, human and animal likely arose with the domestication of animals.  For hunter gatherer societies, the collection of plants and hunting of animals involves an intimate interaction with nature.  On the other hand, a society that’s based around producing food involves control of, and intervention with, nature.  We can’t domesticate animals for our own use unless we create some sort of a divide.  The rise of agriculture meant a new concept of animals and humans, one where humans transcend and control.  Animals no longer exist in the same world as humans, they belong to nature which humans have been able to ‘overcome’.

The rise of Christianity also influenced this divide.  There is a concept called the great chain of being which divides beings into physical and spiritual, those who have souls or not.  Within this hierarchy, humans are uniquely placed in that they are physical and spiritual, we are the only beings with souls and hence are closer to god than animals are.  The great chain of being set out the natural order of things and if it is broken, there would be disastrous consequences, all that is secure would falter.

“God had created an orderly nature with clear boundaries between humans and beasts.  Satan, and the buggerers who served him, were challenging the boundaries and threatening to reduce everything to confusion.”
– John Murrin

As an aside, not all humans are equal within the chain, some are less human – women, children, lower classes – and in many cases were treated as animals.

At particular points in history, such as when nature seemed to be getting too close to man, it wasn’t enough to construct this divide, it had to be proven and one way was to dominate animals.  This meant that owning and controlling animals was a part of what it meant to be humans.  This is reinforced because to own and control animals, you need to divide yourself from them:

“by drawing a sharp dividing line between human and non human, a vast gap is created between subject (the free acting human agent) and object (the passive acted-upon thing)… we perceive ourselves as belonging to a totally different order: the realm of culture, while all other beings and inanimate things are only nature.”
– Barbara Noske

Within this mindset, humans having sex with animals tested the boundaries between humans and animals and gods.  It could lead to half man half beast creatures which would be placeless in the chain.  It would also reduce man to the level of animal and generally lead to chaos and confusion.

Knowing this helps us to understand the almost instinctive, strong reactions that bestiality invokes.  Sex with animals degrades humans, and humanity, and undermines the “crucial understanding that human beings are unique, special, and of the highest moral worth in the known universe… [it] is an affront to humankind’s inestimable importance and intrinsic moral worth” (Wesley J Smith)

Today we find the divide used, and reinforced, in how we talk about animals, turning them into objects by labelling them ‘breeding stock’, ‘meat’ and so on:

“when we are determined to do violence to an animal, we must first turn the victim into a despicable “thing” that deserves such treatment”
– Noske

Interestingly, this may make it easier for people to carry out acts of bestiality, seeing the animal as an object or a possession rather than a living creature with a soul.

We cannot understand behaviours and attitudes outside of the culture in which they exist and this is so true of bestiality.

Bestiality and Masculinity

One thing I have found in all my research into bestiality is that it is, predominantly, a male activity.  There are women who do it, but over and over again, the majority of what I’ve read is talking about men.  Some of this may be down to the historical importance of penetration when it came to trials but I think it goes beyond that.

Looking back in history, between 1635 and 1778, Sweden executed about 700 people for bestiality, mostly adolescent boys and young men.  At the same time, under the UK laws, penetration was necessary and hence those people prosecuted were almost always men.  There was at least one exception and that was a woman and her dog who were hanged in 1679.  Women were generally accused in a different way, through witchcraft trials.  English women on trial for witchcraft would often confess to having sex with the devil, who frequently took an animal form.

“Bestiality discredited men in the way that witchcraft discredited women”
– John Murrin

However, unlike bestiality which is a specific act and a one off incident, witchcraft tended to be vague.  Bestiality vs witchcraft is a topic that I want to look into more in the future.

At certain points in British history, abuse of an animal was considered to be a violation of the man’s property, as was the case when women were abused by men other than their husband.

When I was looking at reasons why people have sex with animals, or how they explain their actions, I focused mostly on the modern situation.  Historically, Arab men have had sex with goats, mares, sheep, sows, asses and cooperative camels.  It was believed that sex with an animal increased virility, cured disease and made their penis bigger – the latter is a belief that I’ve found replicated in different cultures.  What won’t men do for a bigger dick?

“Sex between humans and nonhuman animals remains a typically male activity”
– Christine Overall

There are also parts of the world where sex with animals has been, and still is, a male rite of passage.  Whether that’s penetrating a donkey, or sticking your penis into a pig’s mouth

Some cultures also view young men having sex with animals as a part of learning about sex and sexuality.  It is also a way of demonstrating man’s control and domination over nature.

We have to consider this topic within the context of the patriarchal society we live in, where women are still so often considered objects, there for the amusement of men.

“The privileged expectation in male dominant societies [is] that men shall have sexual access to the bodies of women as a right”
– Sheila Jeffreys

This attitude around the right to sex, sex entitlement, certainly has a role to play and as we saw in the justifications section of this series, some people have sex with animals because they can’t have sex with women.

“Animal sexual assault is the product of a masculinity that sees women, animals and nature as objects that can be controlled, manipulated and exploited.”
– Pier Beirne

We see this when we look at male sexist language.  Calling women bitches, birds, chicks, foxy, fresh meat etc creates emotional distance between man and ‘prey’, making women less than and hence easier to abuse without guilt.  If this is the case, then surely within this construct, it’s not much of a stretch to abuse animals.

As I said at the start, women do engage in bestiality and I don’t want to portray this as a purely masculine behaviour but it is something to keep in mind in this conversation.

Bestiality: the arguments against

Ok, so we’ve now looked at the history of bestiality, the ways people explain or justify it and the consequences of it.  Now we’re going to look at it from the other side of the fence, the reasons why people disagree with bestiality.

When I’ve mentioned this blog series to people their initial reaction has been that it’s clearly wrong, but when pressed, it’s hard to find reasons for this instinctive pushback.  There’s the issue of consent and pain but the repulsion doesn’t seem to be proportionate to this.  Having looking into the topic, I feel that it is part, probably a very big part, down to the social conditioning and the history of living in a culture heavily influenced by Christianity.

I challenged the idea about consent in a previous post and I hope that’s got people thinking, wherever they land on it.  Another mind exercise is to think about horse riding, a very socially acceptable activity, but some people get sexual pleasure from it.  If you think that’s ok, why is it different from sex acts with animals?

Whilst we’re hanging out in the grey area, I also think there’s a major difference between sex with a large animal vs a small one (think horse vs hamster), and whether physical restraint or force is involved to keep the animal still.  The same feels to be true for people approach the act as reciprocal and who treat the animal as if they are in a loving relationship, caring and looking after it, vs those people who force their sexual urges onto or into animals.

But now, let’s move out of the grey zone and see what arguments people have against bestiality.

“all acts of bestiality are immoral because human relations to domesticated animals is one of master to slave.  Domesticated animals who are subject to bestiality are neither free to choose or able to act on their own interest… Domesticated animals have been bred to allow human control.”
– Kamran Nayeri

A lot of animal sex seems to involve domesticated animals which are, by definition under our control, often eager to please us and thus it’s a relationship of actual or potential coercion.  The relationship is one that’s already a major power imbalance, they are dependant on us for food, for shelter and so on.  Within that relationship, is engaging in a sex act without kicking up a fuss enough to say that the animal is consenting?

Additionally, not all animals are “equipped to resist human sexual advances in any meaningful way owing to their docile and often human bred natures” (Piers Beirne).

“That zoophilic relationships can be mutual and that animals can develop strong affections for people, including a sexual component, is not disputed.  It does not appear to be difficult for some animals to enter into an intimate relationship with a person, and it can be quite easy to sexually arouse and satisfy a male animal… However, in general, an animal only does this if it is used to such behaviour, that is, it has been trained to perform this behaviour.”
– Gierie Bolliger and Antoine F Goetschel

This quote suggests a self-perpetuating loop; you have sex with the animal, the animal sees it’s made you happy and then next time is more on board with it because it’s associated with human praise.

We can’t discuss bestiality without considering the harm to the animal.  Beirne argues that bestiality should be understood as interspecies sexual assault, that human animal sex almost always involves coercion.  That the nature of bestiality can cause animals pain and even death and “animals are unable either to communicate consent to us in a form we can readily understand or to speak out about their abuse.”

We’ve already seen that it has health implications for humans but inevitably it also has health impacts on the animals.  Zoonotic diseases pass from animal to human but also the other way round.

“A study of non-accidental injury in small animals in the UK… identified 6% of the 448 reported cases as being sexual in nature.”
– H M C Munro and M V Thursfield

The study cases included 21 dogs and 5 cats and some injuries were extreme, even fatal.  There was bruising and internal bleeding.  And whilst we can detect physical harm and abusive practices, psychological suffering and a sense of violation is harder to identify and measure.

Another big concern is that studies show people who rape animals are more likely to rape people.  In ‘Arrest and Prosecution of Animal Sex Abuse Offenders in the US, 1975-2015’ M Jenny Edwards looked at 456 arrests for bestiality related incidents:

“The results suggest that animal sex offending may be linked to other criminal behaviour, and involves a spectrum of sexual acts, including coercive, violent, and non-violent penetration; solicitation for sex with an animal; and deviant behaviour including torture and necrophilia.”

31.6% of the offenders in the study had also committed sexual offences against children and adults.  52.9% had a prior or subsequent criminal record involving human sexual abuse, animal abuse, interpersonal violence, substances or property offences.

Bestiality can play a role in domestic abuse; the perpetrator will often sexually abuse the family pet, or force the woman to have sex with it as an act of humiliation; in World War Two, Klaus Barbie forced female prisoners to perform sex acts with animals as a way of degrading them.

There is a strong masculinity aspect to bestiality and the limited statistics we have show it’s predominantly men who engage in it and in parts of the world it’s a male rite of passage.  I know I’ve been saying this a lot, but I’m going to look at that in another post…  There is a lot more to bestiality than you’d think…!

Traditionally, religion has been used to control social behaviour and managed human activity.  In England we have a long history of Christianity which still infiltrates society today.  From this point of view, the 3 religious reasons why bestiality has been condemned are that:

  1. It ruptures the natural, God given order of the universe
  2. It violates the procreative intent of sex
  3. It produces monstrous offspring that are the work of the devil

Related, bans on bestiality have been justified because they protect society from the breakdown of marriages and family life, they protect against falling population rates and they mean we don’t run the risk of the deterioration of human dignity.  Sex with animals is an offence to our status as humans and will disrupt the natural order of the world.  It crosses a strict boundary between man and beast and this line is incredibly important to some societies.  Historically it was the violation of this line that was the concern and the reason for the laws.

I will be considering the boundary between humans and other animals in a separate post as it’s another huge topic.

We can learn a lot about bestiality by looking at the more modern motivation for laws.  In the UK, the animal’s inability to consent is centred whereas in Switzerland it’s the dignity of the animal that’s at the forefront.  In Denmark, the ban on bestiality was driven by a desire to curb bestiality porn and bestiality tourism.

When looking at the laws in the US, we can see that motivations for the laws have moved from the moral outrage of history towards animal cruelty and:

“California and Oregon have gone beyond this by calling the act “sexual assault of an animal.” This change may reflect these states’ assessment that animals are incapable of consenting to such acts. In some states, offenders may be subject to sexual assault registry laws.”
Rebecca F.Wisch

To add another layer to the bestiality debate, next time I’ll be looking at the role of animal sex in folklore and mythology.  Regardless of what you think and feel about bestiality, I hope you’ve come to realise that there is merit in unpicking and interrogating the topic.

Bestiality: the consequences

Note, this is the consequences for the humans involved. The consequences for animals will be covered when I look at arguments against bestiality.

Bestiality has often been met with severe penalties which “both reflect and seek to impose particular conceptions of humanity and animality” (Rebecca Cassidy).

In many parts of the world, bestiality is illegal and has historically resulted in execution for both human and animal.  Whilst you may not get the death penalty today, jail time is still a very real consequence for people found to be engaging in bestiality.  For those who love their animals, the risk of the animal being put down is very real and painful.

But it’s not just the legal side of things, there is the impact of living in a society which holds this behaviour as taboo.  There is the isolation, loneliness, depression and even suicide which can arise as a result of feeling attraction to animals or because it’s become publicly known.

Being “outed” can lead to the loss of friends, family, jobs as well as being ostracised by your community.  All of this clearly has a massive impact on your quality of life and ability to lead a “normal” life.

Being exposed seems to be a very real concern, and obviously ensuring law enforcement doesn’t find out would be important.  The online forum had a very detailed thread about protecting yourself.  There was advice about how to cover your tracks on the internet, how to protect yourself in the act – watch out for cameras, close the curtains, lock the door.  Never engage in sex on someone else’s property or with someone else’s animal.  With all of this, it was stressed that zoosex is not an easy way out of engaging in human society, it’s a much harder way to live.

Other risks include risks to the health of the human; allergies to non-human sperm which can even lead to anaphylaxis, diseases passed from animal to human, the physical dangers involved in kicking hooves and so on.

According to the Journal of Biological and Medical Sciences, the three most dangerous diseases passed through sexual contact with animals are:

  • Leptospirosis: Any contact with the sexual organs of dogs, cattle, pigs, horses and sheep can transmit this bacterial disease to humans. Leptospirosis can cause Meningitis which leads to death in about 10% of the cases.
  • Echinococcosis: Parasitic worms from the feaces of dogs, cats, and sheep can cause this disease. The worms cause cysts in lungs, liver, brain, spleen, heart, and kidneys. If not treated, this disease can be fatal.
  • Rabies: One of the most severe of zoonoses, rabies is transmitted from the saliva of cats, dogs and horses. This is a viral infection which affects the central nervous system and is almost always fatal if not treated soon after the exposure.

Further there are risks for urological diseases, penile cancer and venereal diseases.  Physical injuries can arise as a result of sex organs that are just not designed to go together.  In 2005, Kenneth Pinyan actually died as a result of injuries received during sex with a horse.

This really does beg the question, why?  Why do people have sex with animals when there are such real and awful consequences? I can only that in at least some cases, it must be a powerful drive and attraction.  There will of course be some people who enjoy domination and who relish inflicting cruelty but this isn’t the only driver.

The next post I think will be looking at the case against sex with animals.

Bestiality: the justifications

Before we dive into the reasons why people engage in sex with animals, we need to note that it’s inevitably just a few voices that we hear because of the underground, taboo nature of the activity.  To compile this post I have looked at academic writing but I also felt it was necessary to look at online forums around the topic to try and get a more balanced perspective.  Acts of bestiality occur across a spectrum and hence so do the motivations or justifications for it.  With this in mind, these are a variety of motivations and justifications and won’t all apply to every person who does have sex with an animal.

I have used a lot of different books and papers to put together this series and whilst I’d normally link to resources at the end of each post, for space reasons I’m going to compile a list in a separate post once I’ve finished the series.

Sexual contact with animals has different forms and different motives and Massen proposed that there were nine basic forms of zoophilia:

  1. Incidental experience and latent zoophilia
  2. Zoophilic voyeurism
  3. Frottage
  4. The animal as a tool for masturbation
  5. The animal as a surrogate object for a behavioural fetishism
  6. The animal as a fetish
  7. Physical control and affection
  8. The animal as surrogate for human sex partner
  9. The animal as deliberately and voluntarily chosen sex partner

Primarily I’m looking at the last form.  A study by Hani Miletski looked into the motives for sex with animals and found that they included, in descending order of popularity:

  • Sexual attraction
  • Wish to express love and affection to the animal
  • Animals are accepting and easy to please
  • The animal wants it
  • Relieving sexual tension
  • Feeling animals are more trustworthy
  • Wanting to experience something different
  • Identifying with the animal
  • Seeing it in porn
  • Loneliness
  • No human partner
  • Too shy to have sex with humans
  • “If I did to humans what I do to animals I’d be arrested”

The last motive being especially concerning but it’s really hard to find out much more about that because of the consequences for the human.

The points about loneliness and not being able to have sex with humans for whatever reason doesn’t seem to be a driver for many people.  Indeed, a lot of people I’ve read about have a wife or a husband who may or may not be into animal sex as well but who is often aware of what’s happening.  In the survey, only 12% of people said they had sex with animals because of a lack of human partners and 7% said it was because they were too shy.

It has been argued to be a form of sexuality, akin to homosexuality etc (please please note that I am not saying homosexuality is the same as sex with animals).  Those arguing this suggest it is how someone is born and whilst I don’t feel comfortable with this argument, I have read a lot of accounts where those struggling with attraction to animals experience a lot of the same emotions and experiences as those of us who’ve been through accepting same sex attraction and coming out.  There does seem to be issues around self acceptance and feeling ‘wrong’ for their attraction.

A study that attempted to consider whether zoophilia was a sexuality showed that some people report feelings of love and affection for their animals, have sexual fantasies about them and say they are sexually attracted to animals.  However it did have a number of limitations and inevitably there is a very small sample pool to use for research.

Along with the “it’s natural” justification, we find that prehistoric depictions of bestiality have been used as evidence of the innateness of it.  That animals have allegedly instigated sex has also been used as justification as has that it’s a way of meeting the animal’s needs.

Some people see the animal as an equal partner, that they are in a relationship and that it’s much more than just sex – they are in love with the animal, as opposed to loving the animal.  The idea is that the animal isn’t getting hurt, they wouldn’t tolerate it is tied in with this.  As long as the animal sticks around during sex, it’s ok – if they weren’t enjoying it they’d bite or kick or leave.

“I wish I could fit inside my female lab.  Tried a few times fooling around but that’s just not going to happen without hurting her and I care more about her than anything”
– online forum

On the forum, in documentaries and in an online article, you do get a strong sense of concern for the animal.  The forum had a number of threads that did echo this, including a board about animal health and welfare, threads about how best to do x,y or z.

But it’s a complicated world, as Piers Beirne demonstrates when he writes about watching ‘Barnyard Love’.  The animals had varied reactions – sometimes the dogs seemed to be enjoying it whereas horses seemed bored, indifferent or unaware and that seems understandable because of size differences… With the latter, it’s hard to argue that the animal is enjoying it or actively engaging in sex with humans.

When asked about issues of consent, there are a couple of responses.  One being that the animal would disengage as we’ve discussed, another is that no one asks animals if they want to work for us, be food for us and so on and why is this any different?

One argument I have seen a lot is that it’s no worse than what happens on farms etc and those practices are sanctioned.  Sexual manipulation is routinely practised on farms with chickens, pigs, cows and so on.  As an example, it’s common for pigs to be turned on when you’re artificially inseminating them so that her uterus pulls in the semen.

It could then be argued that animals are routinely abused more brutally by the farm industry than they are in a sexual relationship where the human loves the animal and cares for it as if it were an equal partner.

Having considered this, it seems that the intention of the human is important – if it’s about sexual gratification for the human, that seems to be automatically more abhorrent regardless of the level of cruelty involved.

In my next post I’m going to look at the consequences for the human, of which there are a number, and it does make you ask why, with all these risks, someone would engage in sex with animals unless those rewards were high enough to justify it.

Bestiality in history

“Human sexual relations with animals, a behaviour known as bestiality, have existed since the dawn of human history in every place and culture in the world.”
– Bestiality and Zoophilia, Edited by Andrea M Beetz and Anthony L Podberscek

Going back over 25,000 years ago, we can find cave paintings and carvings which show sex with animals moving forward, we find 7th century BC cave paintings showing a man’s penis being inserted into vagina/anus of a donkey.

King Hammurabi, who lived between 1955-1913 BC, stated that anyone engaging in bestiality should be killed.

In 13th century BC, the Hittites had rules about which animals you could have sex with and which were forbidden and punishable by death.  For comparison, at the time, manslaughter might be punishable by a fine.

In ancient china men were having sex with geese.  Just before orgasm, they’d break their necks causing the cloacal sphincter to constrict and spasm and clamp down on their penises.  This practice was also present much later in Parisian brothels, but using turkeys.

In ancient Egypt, we find bestiality recorded in hieroglyphics and some rulers had a reputation for animal sex.  Despite it being punishable, it’s known that men had sex with cattle and other large, domesticated animals and women had sex with dogs.

“Egyptians are reported to have mastered the art of sexual congress with the crocodile.  This was accomplished by turning the creature onto its back, rendering it incapable of resisting penetration.  This form of copulation was believed to bring prosperity and restore the potency of men.”
– Hani Miletski

In ancient Greece we find mythology featuring sex between animal and human such as Leda and the swan and the story of Pasiphae who fell in love with a bull – she hid inside a wooden cow and copulated with the bull.  Bestiality took place during religious ceremonies and celebrations and we have explicit imagery of men and women having sex with animals. It was believed that bestiality was a cure for nymphomaniacs (as was the case in ancient Egypt) and unusually, bestiality was never punishable by death in ancient Greece.

In Rome, we again find bestiality in mythology and it was widely practised amongst shepherds.  Women were known to keep snakes that were trained to coil around their thighs and slide past the lips of their vulva.  In keeping with their other awful amusements, they also invented the idea of animals raping women for so called entertainment.  At the start of the roman empire, bestiality was only illegal in the case of sodomy but it was later distinguished from sodomy and made punishable by death.

As Christianity grew, the bible and other teachings started to have more influence over societal attitudes.  It was taught that man must conquer his beast instinct in order to be closer to god, that sex with animals would upset the natural order of things and that Satan may appear as a beast thus tricking you into sleeping with the devil.

I’d also like to make a note that in the early Christian church, sex with a Jew was considered to be a form of bestiality and was punished accordingly.

Briefly looking at other religious views we find that for Hebrews, sex with animals was a form of worshipping other gods and hence heretic.  The human and the animal would be killed.  Amongst Hindus, bestiality was common, with portrayals appearing in temples.  Sex with an animal was thought to be sex with a god incarnated in the form of an animal.  Sex with a scared cow or monkey was said to bring good fortune.

“Tantrism often portrays man as a rabbit, bull, or horse, and the woman as a doe, mare, or female elephant, and among the supernatural powers promised to practitioners of various yogic disciplines are those by which a person could become a beast, so that he could have sex with an animal and thereby experience sex in its totality.”
– Miletiski

Under Islamic law, the penalty for bestiality is death and in ancient times, the man and beast would be stoned to death.

Moving back to Christianity, bestiality was a crime against God as opposed to a crime against the animal and the human engaging in it was reducing themselves to the level of beasts.  Generally, however, in 6th and 7th century Europe animals were viewed as objects which meant that bestiality was no worse than masturbation, although that in itself was a Christian sin by this point.

In the middle ages, bestiality was widespread and accepted, even thought to be healthy and a cure for many diseases.  The Christian church was very concerned about this and the potential for the devil to appear to a man in animal form and hence bestiality could lead to half demon babies.  Laws against it became to appear and the role of the animal shifted.  They were seen less as an object – and hence a masturbation tool – and more as an active partner, hence the animal was as guilty as the human.  At this time in history, animals were put on trial in the same way that humans were and could then be hung for their crimes.  Even if not found guilty, you couldn’t use the animal as food because of a belief that bestiality “left something human in the animal”, hence to eat it would run the risk of cannibalism.

In the renaissance era, there was active prosecution of people engaging in sex with animals and the high point of bestiality trials coincided with the high point of the witch hunts.

In the UK in 1533 bestiality became a felony without benefit of clergy and was described as ‘that detestable and abominable vice’, so much so that it was the sin that wouldn’t be named.  Committing this atrocious crime was not just breaking the law of the country, but was breaking the law of god and the natural order of things.

“this concern with the human-animal boundary has also been used to explain medieval European’s fear of werewolves and their preoccupation with monsters and mythical beasts.”
– Margo DeMello

This sudden change in attitudes to bestiality came when assumptions about humanity were threatened and the categories of human and animal crept closer and closer.  This meant that animals became a threat to the boundary between man and beast and bestiality could obliterate this line altogether.  ‘Evidence’ such as the pig-man said to be born in Brussels in 1564 and the pig-faced woman from Holland in the 1600s, showed that sex with animals would create half human, half beast creatures.  This would pollute the human species and thus was considered very dangerous.

“In the words of Pare, these monsters embodied God’s attempt to display ‘his immense power… to those which are ignorant of it’… The appearance of a deformed creature… was a warning to humans from the Almighty”
– Erica Fudge

It was because of the concern over procreation that penetration was an important aspect of any trial, without it there was no crime.

The punishment of bestiality wasn’t just a UK movement.  Between 1635 and 1778, Sweden executed over 700 people for sex with animals.  In Massachusetts in 1642, Thomas Granger was accused of buggery with a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves and a turkey.  In 1679, a woman and dog were hanged together for bestiality.

It was also illegal in France but was decriminalised in 1810.  Back in England however, in 1821, a law called for the death penalty for sodomy with man or beast.  This coupling of homosexuality and bestiality is found echoing through history.  In 1861, the sentence was reduced to life in prison.  It took until 2002 for this to be reduced to a two year sentence.

There has been a flurry of laws re-criminalising sex with an animal since 2000 but this time round as an animal welfare issue rather than a moral or religiously driven one.  The recent law that came into force in Denmark, for example, was passed from pressure by animal rights groups and to discourage animal sex tourism.

I hope it’s now clear that attitudes towards, and perceptions of, bestiality are culturally specific and can’t be removed from beliefs and societal norms.  It’s also important to note that how you define humans and nonhuman animals, and the line between them, has to be considered when looking at bestiality.  As such, this is a topic I will be considering in one of my upcoming blog posts.

Bestiality: the basics

As you’d expect, this post is going to include references to bestiality, to sex with animals and animal abuse.

When I started researching bestiality, I expected to have enough material for one short blog post.  I was wrong, very wrong.  After just a couple of days of looking into the topic, I found I had enough for a short series and I know there is much more out there that I’m not going to be covering.  I also found that it’s much more complicated than I first thought.

Bestiality strikes a cord of revulsion and disgust in most people, and it is this instinctive reaction that it’s clearly wrong that limits the conversation.  Many times, it’s cast as an obvious black and white issue and in doing that, the issue can be put aside, it goes out of the way but as we’ll see, it’s not always so clear cut.

Looking into the history of human and animal sex reveals a lot about how perceptions of animals have changed over thousands of years; from the ancient idea that they were very similar to us, to the Christian approach of animals as less than man, to animals as objects through to animals as creatures with agency.

Over a number of blog posts, I’ll be looking at:

  • Definitions and statistics
  • The history of bestiality
  • Motivations and justifications
  • Arguments against
  • Bestiality in folklore and fairytales

To limit the length of these posts, I am going to focus mostly on the western world and may revisit the topic looking at other parts of the world.


  • Bestiality: the act of having sex with an animal
  • Zoophilia: a persistent sexual interest in animals that may include an emotional bond with animals, emotional involvement and perception of the animal being in love with the human
  • Zoosexuality: used to designate feelings and attractions towards animals as a sexuality, akin to homosexuality.  Tends to be used by people self identifying as zoophiles as it is a more neutral label.

Zoosexuality, as a term, seems to have emerged online during the 1980s and 90s.  By the mid 90s you could unofficially marry your animal partner at the First Church of Zoophilia.  This highlights the difference between bestiality as an act and zoophilia or zoosexuality as a ongoing thing.

Some people will engage in bestiality but not have any emotions towards the animal.  Some people will engage in bestiality and have feelings towards the animal akin to pet owners. And some people engage in bestiality and have very strong emotional feelings and attachment.

Another thing of note is that historically bestiality had been intertwined with sodomy and buggery.


It is hard to get accurate statistics because of the taboo around the issue, this means that self reporting isn’t reliable.  There is also a lack of research into the topic.

We do have statistics from Kinsey’s study in the 1940s, again self reported and obviously a number of years old now but arguably the best we have.  He found that 50% of males raised in a farming environment in US had had some form of sexual encounter with animals. Nationally the average at the time was 8% males and 3.5% females.

More recently Midas Dekkers has estimated that the percentage of humans who have sex exclusively with animals is far below 1% although the evidence seems lacking to back this claim up.

The second thing I want to consider is how bestiality has been perceived and punished throughout history and as that is going to be an epic post, I’m going to end this one here.