Why would anyone want to have sex with an animal? The psychology of bestiality

It's still legal in a surprising number of places around the world

Earlier this week, Denmark passed a law making bestiality a criminal offence from July 1st in a move to tackle animal-sex tourism. Bestiality (also known as zoophilia) is typically defined as relating to recurrent intense sexual fantasies, urges, and sexual activities with non-human animals. At present, there are still a number of countries where zoophilia is legal including Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, Finland, Hungary, and Romania. In the US there is no federal law against zoophilia although most states class it as a felony and/or misdemeanour although in some states it is technically legal (for example, Texas, Kentucky, Nevada, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Wyoming, West Virginia, and New Mexico).

Over the last few years I have written articles on the psychology of many different types of zoophilia including those who have engaged in sexual activities with dogs (cynophilia), cats (aelurophilia), horses (equinophilia), pigs (porcinophilia), birds (ornithophilia), dolphins (delphinophilia), lizards (herpetophilia) and insects (formicophilia). Dr. Alfred Kinsey shocked the US back in the 1950s when his infamous ‘Kinsey Reports’ claimed that 8% of males and 4% females had at least one sexual experience with an animal. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was a much higher prevalence for zoophilic acts among people that who worked on farms (for instance, 17% males had experienced an orgasmic episode involving animals). According to Kinsey, the most frequent sexual acts that humans engaged in with animals comprised calves, sheep, donkeys, large fowl (ducks, geese), dogs and cats.

In the 1970s, world renowned sexologist Professor John Money claimed that zoophilic behaviours were usually transitory occurring when there is no other sexual outlet available. However, research carried out in the 2000s shows this not be the case. Up until the advent of the internet, almost every scientific or clinical study reported on zoophilia were case reports of individuals that has sought treatment for their unusual sexual preference. However, the internet brought many like-minded people together and there are dozens of websites where zoophiles chat to each other online and share their videos including the Beast Forum, the largest online zoophile community in the world with tens of thousands of members.

Almost all of the recently published studies have collected their data online from non-clinical samples. All of these studies report that the overwhelming majority of self-identified male and female zoophiles do not have sex with animals because there is no other sexual outlet, but do so because it is their sexual preference. The most common reasons for engaging in zoophilic relationships were attraction to animals out of either a desire for affection, and a sexual attraction toward and/or a love for animals.

For instance, a study by Dr. Hani Miletski surveyed 93 zoophiles (82 males and 11 females). Only 12% of her sample said they engaged in sex with animals because there were no human partners available, and only 7% said it was because they were too shy to have sex with humans. For the females, the main reasons for having sex with animals was because they were sexually attracted to the animal (100%), had love and affection for the animal (67%) and/or because they said the animal wanted sex with them (67%). Most of Miletski’s sample preferred sex with dogs (87% males; 100% females) and/or horses (81% males; 73% females). Only 8% of males wanted to stop having sex with animals and none of the females. Unlike case study reports of zoophilia published prior to 2000, the studies published over the last 15 years using non-clinical samples report the vast majority of zoophiles do not appear to be suffering any significant clinical significant distress or impairment as a consequence of their behaviour.

 

 

 

In 2011, Dr Anil Aggrawal published a comprehensive typology of zoophilia in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine. Dr. Aggrawal’s claimed there were ten different types of zoophile based on both the scientific and clinical literature, as well as some theoretical speculation. For instance:

  • Human-animal role-players – those who never have sex with animals but become sexually aroused through wanting to have sex with humans who pretend to be animals.
  • Romantic zoophiles – those who keeps animals as pets as a way to get psychosexually stimulated without actually having any kind of sexual contact with them.
  • Zoophilic fantasizers – those who fantasise about having sexual intercourse with animals but never actually do.
  • Tactile zoophiles – those who get sexual excitement from touching, stroking or fondling animals or their genitals but do not actually have sexual intercourse with animals.
  • Fetishistic zoophiles – those who keep various animal parts (especially fur) that are used as erotic stimuli as a crucial part of their sexual activity (typically masturbation).
  • Sadistic bestials – those who derive sexual arousal from the torturing of animals (known as zoosadism) but does not involve sexual intercourse with the animal.
  • Opportunistic zoosexuals – those who have normal sexual encounters but would have sexual intercourse with animals if the opportunity arose.
  • Regular zoosexuals – those who prefer sex with animals than sex with humans (but are capable of having sex with both). Such zoophiles will engage in a wide range of sexual activities with animals and love animals on an emotional level.
  • Homicidal bestials – those who need to kill animals in order to have sex with them. Although capable of having sex with living animals, there is an insatiable desire to have sex with dead animals.
  • Exclusive zoosexuals – those who only have sex with animals to the exclusion of human sexual partners.

Personally, I don’t view human-animal role players as zoophiles as this would include those in the furry fandom (individuals that dress up and interact socially as animals). There is no official definition of what a ‘furry’ actually is, although most furries would agree that they share an interest in fictional anthromorphic animal characters that have human characteristics and personalities and/or mythological or imaginary creatures that possess human and/or superhuman capabilities. The furry fandom has also developed its own vocabulary including words such as ‘fursona’ (furry persona), ‘plushie’ (person who has sex with cuddly toys), and ‘yiff’ (furry pornography). A study by David J. Rust of 360 members of the furry community suggested less than 1% were plushophiles and that 2% were zoophiles.

Many zoophiles believe that in years to come, their sexual preference will be seen as no different to being gay or straight. This is not a view I adhere to especially because animals cannot give consent (although many zoophiles claim the animals they have sexual relationships with do give ‘consent’). The one thing we do know is that the internet has revolutionised the way we carry out our research and get access to ‘hard to reach’ groups. Thanks to online research, zoophilia is just one of many sexually atypical behaviours that we now know more about both behaviourally and psychologically.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Chartered Psychologist, Psychology Division, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

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