Animal Sexual Abuse Information & Resources

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M Jenny Edwards

SME, Animal Sexual Abuse and Exploitation

Are bestiality and zoophilia the same thing?

No. Zoophilia is the sexual attraction of a person to an animal. Bestiality is acting on that attraction.

The American Psychiatric Association defines zoophilia as a “paraphilia”, meaning it's an unusual sexual orientation. Zoophilia is not a sickness unless it's causing problems that prevent you from working, sleeping, eating, or otherwise completing daily routines.

Bestiality, on the other hand, is the term most often used in laws that criminalize sex acts with an animal. People who commit criminal behavior are often risk takers who may have other issues that could be considered a “sickness” like Antisocial Personality Disorder.

It's pretty rare, right?

It depends on what you're measuring against. It happens more often than most people realize. Click here to see some stats that might surprise you.

Why is bestiality illegal?

Sexuality is multi-dimensional. What turns us on can differ greatly from one person to another, and sex acts are not always about being turned on. Rape, for example, is more often about domination and control. Porn production (as opposed to collection or viewing) is often about making money and being turned on may be secondary, if it happens at all.The reason bestiality is illegal nearly everywhere in the world is that societies have chosen not to accept it as a sanctioned or protected sexual act. We feel the same way about pedophilia. In the US, we changed our mind about accepting same-sex unions because marriage is an act of informed consent between two individuals of legal age who make a contract with one another.

Don't animals consent?

Consent in the context of human-animal sex is a legal construct, and animals cannot make informed consent.  Informed consent means that each party understands the consequences of his or her decisions. If I offer a treat to a child or a dog because I want to have sex with him or her, the child or the dog will consent to accept the treat, but will have no idea what my intentions are or what the outcome might be. It's consent, but not informed consent.

What if the animal wants it?

First and most importantly, an animal that sniffs your crotch or humps your leg is NOT initiating sex with you. Animals have a highly developed sense of smell, and sniffing other animals as a way of identifying or greeting them. Human pheromones or bodily fluids are likely to attract their attention, but seeking out or examining the scent does not mean the animal wants to have sex with you. Finally, animals who mount humans do so either as an act of dominance or because they have have not been stopped from doing it.

Is it bestiality if the "animal" is an insect?

It depends. Generally, "animal" is defined somewhere in the law prohibiting sex acts with non-humans. If insects are not specifically excluded, it could be bestiality. If the insect is being inserted into the person's genitals, and the person objects (or is a minor), it could be considered bestiality or rape (sometimes "rape with object").

Why is bestiality "taboo"?

There is evidence that most cultures throughout history have considered bestiality an extreme (and forbidden) act. Hittite and early Christian laws considered bestiality so extreme that the penalty was death - for both the perpetrator and the victim. There is also evidence, though, that a few cultures have tolerated the practice even in the present day. Examples might be situations where an age-gender appropriate partner is unavailable: gay for the stay, guerrilla fighters in places where animals are the best available option, religions or cultures that prohibit sex with a woman before marriage.

Am I going to Hell for this?

Probably not, but Dan Savage answers this one pretty well.

What causes bestiality?

We don't really know. Assuming sexuality is a continuum regardless of the chosen partner (same gender, opposite gender, animal, body part, inanimate object), for most people it’s likely a progression. As a child, most of us explored our own body parts before playing the game of You show me yours, and I’ll show you mine. Some studies indicate that people know their sexual preference by age 5 or 6, and have had their first experience by age 13.

Based on human sex offender research, as well as my research specifically on animal sex offenders, there are likely many factors that cause an individual to veer toward more extreme sexual (and other) behavior. The common element seems to be a propensity for risk-taking, so in that regard, it is both a continuum and often a mitigating circumstance that causes a person to “cross the threshold” into a more extreme act. A serial murderer, for example, often starts out by being cruel to animals. Sexual sadists may progress from torturing animals to torturing human victims, even using the same methods of cutting or strangulation. Viewers of extreme pornography may begin by viewing adult porn, but often claim they only started viewing BDSM or animal porn after the breakup of a significant relationship.

Are the predictors different for men and women?

We don’t know yet. That’s one of the things we're currently working on. We know that the majority of animal sex offenders are White men under the age of 40, but the number of women offenders is growing. There have been a few studies concluding that male adult sex offenders are more likely to have committed childhood acts of animal (as well as human) sexual abuse, and that animal cruelty offenders are more likely to have been exposed to pornography or witnessed animal cruelty as a child.

There are few studies that focus on women specifically, and women are less likely to be asked about extreme sexual practices than men. My research thus far indicates that women who are arrested for bestiality-related acts more often offend against male animals, are more likely to act in concert with a male partner, and unlikely to view pornography of any kind.

Is there a cure for bestiality?

No. Zoophilia (the sexual attraction of a human to an animal) is not considered a mental health disorder unless it presents significant problems for the person for an extended period of time (e.g. they are clinically depressed, can’t hold a job or maintain stable relationships, frequently land in jail or have substance abuse problems). Since few zoophiles seek (or are ordered into) “treatment”, other than a few case studies there has been virtually no research on why it happens or what to do about it. There is, however, slight evidence that treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorders or for lowering libido may be helpful.

Can you get an STD from having sex with an animal?

Yes. In fact there are several diseases and conditions that can be sexually transmitted between a person and an animal. Some examples are:

•  Parasites - like fleas, ticks, and worms

•  Salmonella, giardia, and camphylobacter - from fecal-oral contact, results in a really nasty case of cramps, upset stomach, and diarrhea

•  Brucellosis, leptospirosis, and Q fever - from bodily fluids like semen or urine; each of which are harder to diagnose and treat, and can sometimes be fatal

Common Questions about Zoophilia or Bestiality

Have a question?  Click here for a personal response.