SEXUAL CONTACT WITH ANIMALS
The myths and folk tales of many cultures contain references to sexual intercourse between human beings and other species of animals, such as bears, wolves, horses, snakes, and crocodiles. Very often these animals are objects of sudden human passions, but ancient Greek and Roman writers also tell of some cases in which an animal takes the initiative. For example, in a famous story by Aelian, a dolphin falls in love with a beautiful boy and, after an intense courtship, makes him his lover. The Greeks also believed that Zeus, their highest God, occasionally assumed the form of an animal in order to win the sexual favors of an otherwise inaccessible human female. Thus, he approached Europa as a bull and Leda as a swan. Greek mythology further tells us that Pasiphae, the queen of Crete, had intercourse with a bull and then gave birth to the Minotaur, a human monster with a bull's head. Similar tales were told by various "primitive" peoples in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. For instance, a certain Eskimo tribe believed that the white human race resulted from sexual intercourse between a woman and a dog.
To this day, human sexual contact with animals has also held great interest for painters and sculptors. In fact, some of the greatest masterpieces in the history of art are devoted to this subject. It is interesting to note, however, that in the overwhelming number of cases the artists have chosen to depict the human participant in the act as a woman. Artistic representations of men having sexual contact with female animals are quite rare. The same is true for live stage shows that can be seen in some countries. They usually present women having sexual intercourse with dogs, pigs, or even donkeys or horses. Comparable public displays with men are practically unknown. It seems that such shows (as well as the paintings and sculptures) are created largely to satisfy certain male fantasies, and not to answer any genuine female needs.
In our Judeo-Christian culture, even the criminal law has often concerned itself with sexual activity between humans and animals. As we can read in the Bible, the ancient Hebrews expressly prohibited such activity under the penalty of death (Leviticus 20). The Talmud did not even allow a widow to keep a pet dog for fear that she might use it for sexual purposes (Abodah Zarah 22b; Baba Metziah 71 a). These negative Jewish attitudes were later adopted by the Christian churches which, in turn, influenced the secular law in most Western countries. Indeed, in a deeply ironic turn of history, these laws were eventually used against the Jews themselves. Some medieval theologians declared that a Christian's sexual contact with a Jew or Moslem was the moral equivalent of "unnatural" intercourse with an animal "inasmuch as such persons in the eyes of the law and our holy faith differ in no wise from beasts." The crime was considered very serious. Throughout the Middle Ages, and even well into modern times, men and women were buried alive, burned at the stake, or hanged for having had sexual contact with animals. In some cases, the animals were executed along with them.
Today, very few people would still approve of such drastic punishment. In fact, recent decades have seen the complete abolition of laws against sexual contact with animals in several European countries and some states of the United States. Nevertheless, most states still have such laws, and the prescribed penalties may be very severe. (In some states, the possible maximum sentence is life imprisonment.)
For a long time, these religious and legal traditions were also reflected in Western medical thinking. Thus, behavior that appeared sinful and criminal to clergymen and legislators was readily denounced as sick by psychiatrists. Innumerable psychiatric texts devoted considerable space to sexual intercourse with animals, which was labeled as a symptom of a "disorder", "aberration", "abnormality", or "perversion". What the church and the state had called "sodomy" and a "crime against nature", psychiatry hastened to condemn as "zoophilia" or "bestiality". People who engaged in such behavior were to be considered mentally ill. (See also "Conformity and Deviance.")
Today, after exhaustive studies of the statistical frequency of human sexual contact with animals, it seems rather odd that eminent religious, legal, and psychiatric authorities should ever have bothered to pay any attention to it. We now know that this type of sexual activity is actually very uncommon. It is quite rare among men, and even rarer among women. In short, it is of no real social significance. We therefore have to assume that its strong social condemnation originally served only certain symbolic religious purposes.
In modern Western countries, human sexual contact with animals occurs, if at all, mostly in rural areas. For instance, boys who grow up on farms may observe the mating of cattle and thus become tempted to engage in some sexual experimentation of their own. They may attempt coitus with calves, ponies, sheep, pigs, dogs, and even ducks or chickens. Usually these attempts are not repeated more than a few times, although in some exceptional cases a boy may, for a while, establish a regular sexual relationship with a particular animal. Coitus is, of course, not the only possible form of sexual contact. Some boys simply masturbate the animal (as farmers may do in order to obtain semen for artificial inseminations), or they let the animal lick their penis or their anus. Corresponding techniques are also used by girls or women, although, as already mentioned, for females sexual contact with animals is even rarer than for males.
If sexual intercourse between humans and animals is relatively rare, it is not so very unusual between animals of different species. In some cases (horse and donkey, or lion and tiger), such interspecific mating may even produce offspring (mules, "ligers"). The human animal has, of course, no really close relative among the other mammals, and this may be reason enough to limit sexual contact with them. Obviously, such contact can also never lead to either a human or an animal pregnancy.
It is likely that, in the future, the legal and medical authorities in our society will be much less preoccupied with sexual contact between humans and animals. After all, as long as the animal is not hurt or mistreated, there is no need for social interference. It is also unreasonable to attach psychiatric labels to isolated attempts at such contact. Only men and women who always prefer animals to human partners can really be considered sexually maladjusted. In this case, as in all other cases of exclusive or compulsive sexual behavior, professional help may very well be recommended, (Also see "Sexual Maladjustment—Problematic Sexual Behavior.")