I believe that bestiality is always wrong (as is zoophilia that goes beyond fantasizing).
The issue is not just that we can never assume consent from an animal in the way that humans define it, but that there is a massive power imbalance between humans and animals. It is hard to believe that a mutually loving and respectful relationship can occur between two individuals when one:
- depends entirely on the other for food, water, shelter, medical treatment, etc.
- depends entirely on the other for any form of positive social interaction
- cannot tell others or seek help if they find the experience unpleasant
- can be killed at any point in time by the other with no repercussions
Furthermore, the assumption of consent based on the animal’s reactions is inherently problematic. Just like animal actors can be trained to growl without actually being aggressive, animals used for sexual purposes can express arousal during acts they may be reluctant to participate in. I am reminded of the horrific case of Pony the orangutan- used for prostitution, the orangutan had been raped so many times by human men that when someone entered the room she automatically turned around and began gyrating. Is this a sign of consent?
There is a correlation with those who practice human sexual abuse and those who practice violent animal sexual abuse, but no such correlation with self-identified zoophiles who emphasize animal “pleasure and consent.” However, many of these zoophiles indicate on surveys that they believe that sex with animals is more rewarding than sex with humans because “animals cannot judge you” or “animal love is unconditional.” Paired with what I mentioned above, about the power imbalance in the human-animal relationship, zoophilia begins to look strikingly predatory. An animal certainly cannot judge you if it cannot speak.
Some of the arguments I have heard from zoophiles (yes, they have appeared in my inbox before) include the idea that animals don’t ask each other for consent, and the idea that we do many things to animals without their consent, including slaughtering them or even artificially inseminating them.
The first one I find very easy to counter: animals don’t ask each other for consent, but humans do. Act like a human, please.
The second is more complex, and I admit that it really depends on the amount of anthropocentrism you align to your own morality. Many vegans, for example, would argue against ANY act carried out towards animals without their consent, including breeding and slaughtering; I would assume that it goes for human-animal sex as well.
My own personal tipping point is that I draw lines based on the benefit to humans first (for example, harming animals for food or medical research is sometimes permissible by my own moral code) and then other animals (feeder mice for reptiles are an example of animals harmed for the benefit of other animals, or the captive chimps used to develop vaccines for wild chimps).
This is a complex mire of issues to navigate, and I won’t say that my mind will never change. However, since I believe that it is impossible to live without harming any other organism, I argue that the best practice is to cause harm only when the perceived benefit outweighs it. This differs greatly from person to person; however, since I believe there is a strong chance for harm to result from human-animal sex acts, I don’t consider the sexual satisfaction of one individual a large enough benefit to outweigh it.
This is a big chunk of words, and thanks to everyone who stuck with me through it. It is very interesting to look at how perceptions of bestiality and zoophilia have progressed through human history, both in terms of how acceptable it is and in terms of how milder forms of it pervade our culture. I’m not just talking about sexy cartoon animals (Babs Bunny?) but how we apply bestial concepts to human sex acts: “sexy kitty,” “hung like a stallion,” etc. I think it’s a form of fantasizing that won’t go away, and isn’t necessarily harmful. (See: the fact that I have zero issues with furries that draw sexually explicit art.)
But I would argue that zoophiles are actually still just continuing that fantasy when they engage in sex with animals. Surveys indicate that they heavily anthropomorphize the actions of their animal partners, as well as the aforementioned tendency to claim that sex with animals involves unconditional and/or more “pure” love. In the same way that many humans idealize aspects of their pets, zoophiles may idealize aspects of the animals that they use as their sexual partners, maintaining the delusion that everything is “perfect” with a partner that cannot say no.
Beetz, A. M. (2005). Bestiality and zoophilia: Associations with violence and sex offending. Anthrozoos-Journal of the International Society for Anthrozoology,18, 46-70.
Bolliger, G., & Goetschel, A. F. (2005). Sexual relations with animals (zoophilia): An unrecognized problem in animal welfare legislation. Anthrozoos-Journal of the International Society for Anthrozoology, 18, 23-45.
Duffield, G., Hassiotis, A., & Vizard, E. (1998). Zoophilia in young sexual abusers. The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, 9(2), 294-304.
Maratea, R. J. (2011). Screwing the pooch: Legitimizing accounts in a zoophilia on-line community. Deviant Behavior, 32(10), 918-943.
Williams, C. J., & Weinberg, M. S. (2003). Zoophilia in men: A study of sexual interest in animals. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32(6), 523-535.