Humans having sex with animals is called bestiality.
Zoophilia refers more to the bigger picture of people who have a desire to form sexual relationships with animals. Not all zoophiles necessarily engage in acts of bestiality, but the vast majority do, hence the two terms often being used interchangeably. The most common animals involved are dogs, followed by horses. Other farm animals such as donkeys, sheep, camels, and even chickens are also popular choices. Both male and female animals can be involved depending on the preferences of the human regarding penetrating or being penetrated.
Why engage in it?
- It is a fetish for some people.
- Medical comorbidities: There are no known general medical conditions that are clearly associated with bestiality or zoophilia. Some case reports have described the initiation of bestiality in response to treatment with pro‐dopaminergic agents for Parkinson’s disease. Hypersexuality is thought to be a side effect of using such medications, hence bestiality.
- Psychiatric comorbidity: some researchers have said bestiality or zoophilia could be a result of a mental disorder or breakdown.
So, why is it wrong?
Despite the not-insignificant numbers who engage in such acts, it is still considered highly taboo in most, if not all, societies. However, on a legal level, there have been several candid discussions and debates about the actual legality of zoophilia. In countries like South Africa and the UK, it has been illegal for centuries and it is unlikely a challenge to this ruling would be brought in front of the courts. However, in countries where there are no laws regarding zoophilia, getting it outlawed, as many animal rights groups are seeking to do, is a slightly more difficult prospect.
The key debate on the subject is whether the animal finds the experience harmful in any way, or, conversely if they actually find it pleasurable.
Virtually all countries have laws against cruelty to animals and most arguments for the criminalization of zoophilia are centered around the fact that it causes pain, both physical and mental, to the animals and is thus clearly illegal under the aforementioned laws.
The waters are muddied somewhat by counter-arguments from zoophiles who posit that they don’t simply have a sexual relationship with their animals but a romantic one and thus hurting the animal is totally against their intentions. This is in contrast to purely-sexual bestiality which can often involve non-consensual sex with animals and even drugging the animals beforehand so that they cannot resist. There is little in the way of support for the latter, either in legal or social realms.
Some prominent activists go as far as to say that animals actually derive sexual pleasure from the experience and that this effectively negates any claims of animal cruelty. Again there is little scientific evidence to support or deny this, and it is unlikely that there will be in the foreseeable future.
Even religions vary in their tolerance of bestiality. All branches of Christianity and Judaism, for example, completely forbid sex between humans and animals, which goes some way to explaining why it is so taboo in western nations. Islam, however, has no specific prohibitions against such acts and, in practice, Islamic countries have been lenient in punishing those found to be engaging in them, provided the animal is not harmed. The same goes for Hinduism, a religion that deifies a number of animals, in 2003 a story came to light in which a girl in rural India married a dog as part of a religious ritual. Many more ancient religions that have since largely died out, such as Norse and Ancient Egyptian theology featured frequent mentions of human-animal copulation.
Outside of the direct pain caused by sex between two mismatched species, though, there are several other ways in which zoophilic activities can have negative effects on the animal and the human.
For starters, there is the issue of the transmission of diseases from one party to the other. While most illnesses are not contagious cross-species, there are many that are, and some can be quite dangerous.
Conditions that can be transferred from a human to an animal are referred to as anthroponotic diseases and can often cause serious harm as animals generally receive a much lower standard of care than humans.
In the opposite direction, there are a number of diseases humans can catch through sexual intercourse with animals, some of the more dangerous include:
- This is carried by, amongst others, dogs, horses and sheep and can be transmitted through any contact with an animal’s sexual organs. The infection generally leads to meningitis and about 10% of cases are life-threatening.
- This is carried by cats and dogs and involves the transmission of parasitic worms from the faeces of the animal. The onset of this disease often has no symptoms and this phase can last for a year, complicating diagnosis. Eventually, cysts will begin to grow in the liver, brain, and lungs, as well as other organs. If left untreated, the disease can be fatal.
- Present in the saliva of cats, dogs, and horses, rabies is probably the most severe disease a zoophile can catch. In unvaccinated humans, the disease is almost always fatal if treatment is not undertaken swiftly.
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, penile erectile dysfunction, and so on.
There is also the threat of physical damage that can be caused by intercourse with animals of vastly different size to a human. One of the most famous cases is the so-called Enumclaw horse sex case in which a 45-year-old man died after receiving anal sex from a stallion. The horse’s large penis perforated the man’s colon and he died several hours later, as reported in the Seattle Times. Video footage of the intercourse was spread widely via the internet. As a result of the publicity the trial received, the state of Washington outlawed humans having sex with animals early the following year. This happened in 2005, and the victim was an aerospace engineer for Boeing.
Zoophilia falls under the category of paraphilias, which are defined as sexual preferences that are highly unusual. Besides zoophilia, these include relatively tame fetishes such as an attraction to older women, or the desire to have sex on camera, to extreme outliers such as anthropophagolagnia which is the desire to rape and then eat another human being. How people come to develop paraphilias is a matter of debate, with both genetic and environmental causes being posited.
Like all paraphilias, zoophilia is unlikely to simply die out regardless of societal and legal opposition. (These conditions can be treated, provided psychiatric help is sought.) Indeed, it is quite likely that at some point in your life you will know someone who has engaged in zoophilic activities, though you will almost certainly not know it.