What Is the Difference Between Bestiality and Zoophilia?

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Not all aspects of sexuality are pleasant to talk about.  When confronted with one of these more difficult topics it can feel easier just to sweep it under the rug, or to talk about it as quickly as possible and move on.

Bestiality and zoophilia are two such topics, ones that for most of us, we'd rather not even think about, let alone have to talk about.  But the problem with not talking about something is that it makes it much harder to figure out exactly what it is, why some of us do it, and how we might go about changing it.

For years researchers have been hampered in their quest to understand those who sexuall offend against children because the public (understandably) wants to think of them simply as monsters, and doesn't want to waste their tax dollars researching the why of pedophilia.

To some extent the same is true of people who have sex with non-human animals.


Definitions

Many people confuse the terms bestiality and zoophilia. They are related, but different.

Bestiality has always referred to the act of a human having sex with a non-human animal. The sexual activities may or may not involve penetration, but they are sexual behaviors done for gratification.

Zoophilia was first used in clinical literature by the sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing, who used the term to describe a human being who is sexually aroused or inspired by an animal. Today zoophilia is still used to describe the feelings of erotic or sexual attachment to, and/or a sexual preference for, non-human animals.

The easiest way to distinguish bestiality and zoophilia is to say that bestiality is a practice -- it's something people do. Zoophilia is a preference or experience, something people feel. Not everyone who engages in bestiality is a zoophile, and not all people who identify or would be classified as having zoophilia actually have sex with animals.

Another important distinction to make is that only having erotic feelings or fantasies involving animals is not against the law, whereas in many places, having sexual relations with a non-human animal is illegal.

Can Animals Consent?

From an ethical perspective this question lies at the heart of whether or not bestiality is wrong.  The question isn't one that science can answer.  It is clear that some animals are capable of consent (like humans).  Anyone who has lived with a dog or cat as a pet will tell you that animals are also capable of demonstrating pleasure and resistance (have you ever tried to give a cat a bath?)

From my perspective as a sex educator the question isn't so much can the animal consent as can the human know for sure that there is consent.  After all, whoever you are having sex with, if you can't clearly confirm consent, you shouldn't be having sex with that person.  

Since there is no way of knowing for sure what an animal is thinking or feeling, my position is that it's not possible to confirm consent and therefore it is not ethical to have sex with non-human animals. 

 

Sources:

Krafft-Ebing, R. Psychopathia Sexualis New York: Paperback Library, 1965.

Miletski, H. Understanding Bestiality & Zoophilia Bethesda: East-West Publishing, 2002.