Bestiality is defined as sexual interaction between a human and an animal. Bestiality (sometimes referred to as zoophilia if the human perpetrator is emotionally attached to the animal) ranges from a human’s fondling the genitals or anal area of an animal to sexually penetrative acts, for example, a human male penetrating the vagina or anus of a mammal. Pets and farm animals constitute the most common victims of bestiality. The practice of bestiality has occurred throughout recorded history and depictions of bestiality have been found in prehistoric artwork. Some forms of bestiality result in no injury to the animal, while other forms may result in severe injury to or the death of an animal (making bestiality an animal welfare concern). In some jurisdictions, bestiality is considered a crime. Since the practice of bestiality may be symptomatic of a paraphilia, bestiality can become a human mental health issue. Currently, there is debate over whether preferential bestiality (preferring animals as sex partners over humans) should be classified as a human sexual orientation.
Little is known about the etiology of bestiality or its developmental course. Most of the research on this topic is derived from surveys of self-selected individuals who practice bestiality and who consider it an acceptable or a desirable practice. One checklist of children’s sexual behaviors asks about children touching animals’ genital or anal areas, and caregivers of children who have been sexually abused more frequently report this behavior than caregivers of nonabused children. Both juvenile and adult sex offenders as well as serial sexual homicide perpetrators admit to bestiality more often than do nonoffenders.
Since bestiality is usually perpetrated covertly and secretively, it is difficult to study objectively, especially when children are the perpetrators. Research that does exist uses the questionnaire method, asking about current behavior or past acts of bestiality, but this research focuses on adult samples.
Bestiality is sometimes coerced. For example, an adult sex abuser may require a child to engage in sex acts with animals or a batterer may force his female partner to have sex with the family pet. Bestiality is a theme in print and video pornography and can be found on numerous Web sites. The effects of exposure to bestiality (live performances or depicted acts) have not been studied.
Debates over the acceptability of bestiality often focus on the issue of consent. Given human power over animals and animals’ lack of verbal abilities, consent is difficult to establish even in cases where the animal appears to enjoy sexual interactions with humans. These debates often draw parallels between animal victims of sexual abuse and victims who are children or incapacitated adults.
Effective mental health treatments for bestiality are not specifically noted in the literature, but they may be modeled on interventions for other paraphilias.
- Beetz, A. M., & Podberscek, A. L. (Eds.). (2005). Bestiality and zoophilia: Sexual relations with animals. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press.
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