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:
- It ruptures the natural, God given order of the universe
- It violates the procreative intent of sex
- 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.