History of zoophilia  

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This article covers the historical and cultural aspects of zoophilia and zoosexuality (also known as bestiality), from prehistory onwards.



Prior to and outside the influence of the major Abrahamic religions (Judaism and Christianity), sex with animals (also known as zoophilia, or bestiality) was sometimes forbidden, and sometimes accepted. Occasionally it was incorporated into religious ritual. The Abrahamic religions by and large forbid it, and declared it a sin against their God, and during the Middle Ages in Europe people and animals were often executed if found guilty. With the Age of Enlightenment, bestiality became subsumed into sodomy and a civil rather than religious offence.

Separately, Western cultures have at times reacted to other negatively-viewed sexual and lifestyle activities, with moral panic. For example, the Rev. Jerry Falwell speaking on "The Early Show" (CBS, 2004) was one of many American community and political leaders who justified a stance that gay marriage was unthinkable, by arguing that if gay marriage became approved, it could lead to legally sanctioned incest or bestiality.

Since the 1980s, many alternative sexualities have formed social networks, and zoosexuality (a more modern name for the spectrum of affinity and attraction to animals) is no exception to this. Although society in general is hostile, several decades of research seem to form a consensus that it is commonly misunderstood and mistaken for zoosadism. (Main article: Research on zoophilia)

Regardless, although there might be minor indications of slow changes in cultural attitudes over decades, it is usually considered a crime against nature and illegal in most modern countries, and for that reason it is not much evidenced other than online, in private, and in the light of prosecution.

Zoophilia through history

Ancient, Greek and Roman

Caveat - It is important to be aware that some of the descriptions in antiquity may have been written from a political agenda, that is, with the intent of portraying a given target group intentionally negatively. Reader judgement is necessary when considering such source material.

  • Prehistoric man probably was not bound by any self-image in regard to sexuality, and "was likely to have made many such attempts". In general, "[b]estiality... existed as a rather widespread practice in all the nations of antiquity of which we have adequate records. Where it is not specifically mentioned, it may be legitimately inferred on the basis of the over-all evidence." (The Hidden World of Erotica: Forbidden Sexual Behaviour and Morality () by Robert Masters)
  • A open-air rock engraving (photograph) probably 5000 years old in the Northern Italian Val Camonica (Located at "Coren del Valento" in Val Camonica. Raymond Christinger contributed, at the 1st Valcamonica Symposium, that this scene might display a socially reprehensible sexual intercourse remaining the privilege of the chief of the tribe.) "It depicts a man complete with full erection standing behind a donkey. The viewer is left in no doubt that he intends to have sex with the donkey. Other people think that one cannot say if our prehistoric artist depicts himself, or something which he has observed someone else doing. What we can deduce however is that he has an intimate knowledge of the external sexual organs of this animal, and that it was made before any known taboos against sex with animals existed." (Cited to "Dr. Jacobus X.", said to be a nom-de-plume for a French author: Abuses Aberrations and Crimes of the Genital Sense, 1901.)
  • The Sagaholm is a Swedish barrow with zoosexual carvings that dates to the early Nordic Bronze Age.
  • In ancient Egypt, the animal aspects of the gods ensured that bestiality would be practiced both for religious and magical purposes. Herodotus states religious bestiality was practiced in Egypt - the most famous example being of course the copulations of women with goats. Voltaire spoke of sexual relations between Egyptian women and sacred goats, citing Plutarch and Pindar as his sources (Strabo and Plutarch both confirm Herodotus' mention [Bk 2, § 46] of an Egyptian woman having public sex with a goat). The scholar and anthropologist Lang states that the Egyptian women submitted to he-goats while the "men committed the sin of impurity with she-goats." (See: Goat of Mendes). At El Yemen, trained baboons were popular sex partners with men and women alike. Similarly, in the Nile and Indus Valleys, monkeys were instructed in the art of manipulating the genitals of both sexes. It is recorded that dog-faced baboons once fornicated with women "throughout Egypt and the length and breadth of the Arab world". Finally it is often related that the Egyptians "mastered the art of sexual congress with the crocodile" by turning it on its back. (Masters)
  • In ancient Greece, Xenophon records sex with goats. Norman Haire (Hymen) states "since the Greek myths contain many stories of gods who assumed the shape of animals in order to mate with mortals, we may judge that even bestiality was not regarded as revolting."
  • Plutarch and Virgil state of Greece, that: "it commits very frequently and in many places great outrages, disorders and scandals against nature, in the matter of this pleasure of love; for there are men who have loved she-goats, sows and mares," (Discourse on the Reason of Beasts, xvii) Pliny states that Semiramis prostituted herself to her horse, and Venette says that "there is nothing more common in Egypt than that young women have intercourse with bucks."
  • Robson, in "Bestiality and bestial rape in Greek myth" (1997) suggests three points of departure for analyzing Greek myth: 1) sex with animals as pornography, 2) as part of hunting ritual, and 3) as bestial myths and/or male initiation rituals.
  • Martial and other writers state that in Roman times, women sometimes inserted snakes into their vaginas. Curiously, this is reported to have been both for sexual purposes and also as a means to keeping cool and deodorizing that part of the body in the heat of summer. Lucian comments that snakes were taught to suckle on women's nipples. Juvenal states in the Mysteries of the Bona Dea, that "if... men are wanting, she [the Roman woman] does not delay to submit her buttocks to a young ass placed over her." Roman society had around 12 formal categories of prostitute, the lower of whom performed with animals.
  • Interestingly, the Jewish code of law (the Talmud) found it necessary to proscribe specifically women from being alone in the company of animals, in order to rule out suspicion (Muth 1969, Christy 1970).

Roman Games and Circus

Bestiarii, She-goat

The most explicit recorded incidents of public sex involving humans and animals activity are associated with the murderous sadism, torture and rape of the Roman games and circus, in which it is estimated that several hundreds of thousands died. Robert Masters reports: "Beasts were specially trained to copulate with women: if the girls or women were unwilling then the animal would attempt rape. A surprising range of creatures was used for such purposes - bulls, giraffes, leopards, cheetahs, wild boar, zebras, stallions, jackasses, huge dogs, apes, etc. The beasts were taught how to copulate with a human being [whether male or female] either via the vagina or via the anus." Representations of scenes from the sexual lives of the gods, such as Pasiphaë and the Bull, were highly popular, often causing extreme suffering, injury or death. On occasion, the more ferocious beasts were permitted to kill and (if desired) devour their victims afterwards.

Chimpanzees and mandrills, both in fact ferocious and very powerful species of primate: "made drunk by wine and inflamed by the odor of females of their kind, were loosed upon girls whose genitals had been drenched with the urine of female chimps and mandrills." The victims were often virgins and not infrequently young children. One spectacle is said to have included "a hundred tiny blonde girls being raped simultaneously by a horde of baboons."

(Masters, "The Prostitute in Society")

Europe: Middle Ages

In the Church-oriented culture of the Middle Ages, zoosexual activity was met with execution, typically burning, and death to the animals involved either the same way or by hanging. Masters comments that:

"Theologians, bowing to Biblical prohibitions and basing their judgements on the conception of man as a spiritual being and of the animal as a merely carnal one, have regarded the same phenomenon as both a violation of Biblical edicts and a degradation of man, with the result that the act of bestiality has been castigated and anathematized [...]"

In 1468, Jean Beisse, accused of bestiality with a cow on one occasion and a goat on another, was first hanged, then burned. The animals involved were also burned. In 1539, Guillaume Garnier, charged with intercourse with a female dog (described as "sodomy"), was ordered strangled after he confessed under torture. The dog was burned, along with the trial records which were "too horrible and potentially dangerous to be permitted to exist" (Masters). In 1601, Claudine de Culam, a young girl of sixteen, was convicted of copulating with a dog. Both the girl and the dog were first hanged, then strangled, and finally burned. In 1735, Francois Borniche was charged with sexual intercourse with animals. It was greatly feared that "his infamous debauches may corrupt the young men." He was imprisoned. There is no record of his release.

On the other hand, other accounts are more possibly fictitious, such as Pietro Damiani's, who in his "De bono religiosi status et variorum animatium tropologia" (11th Century) tells of a Count Gulielmus whose pet ape became his wife's lover. One day the ape became "mad with jealousy" on seeing the count lying with his wife that it fatally attacked him. Damain claims he was told about this incident by Pope Alexander II and shown an offspring claimed to be that of the ape and woman. (Illustrated Book of Sexual Records)

Clergyman and chonicler Gerald of Wales claimed to have witnessed a man having intercourse with a horse as part of a pagan ritual in Ireland.

Although thousands of female witches were accused of having sex with animals, usually said to be the Devil in animal form or their familiars, court records available in Europe and the United States, dating back to the 14th century and continuing into the 20th century, nearly always show males, rather than females, as the human parties in court cases. (Encyclopedia of human sexuality, Humboldt University)



  • Havelock-Ellis [note 52] states: "Among the Tamils of Ceylon [Sri Lanka] bestiality with goats and cows is said to be very prevalent." The Japanese people traditionally have a matter-of-fact attitude to many aspects of sex as the painting by Hokusai shows.

Other cultures

  • Pacific Isles: Malinowski, a foremost Polish anthropologist of the 20th century also cited by Masters, noted that the Trobriand Islanders (near Papua New Guinea) have no laws against bestiality (or homosexuality, masturbation, exhibitionism, etc.), but that "offenders are nonetheless subjected to punishment in the form of derision and contempt [such as] 'No one likes a dog better than a woman.' ... Other primitive peoples of modern times have also been observed to disapprove, though only mildly, of such deviant forms of sexual behavior as bestiality and homosexuality - and somewhat like the Trobrianders they express their lack of approval by poking fun at the miscreant rather than by officially condemning and punishing him." He also reports of the same tribe: "a man copulated with a dog, the names of both man and dog were house-hold words in the villages. The culprit, Moniyala, apparently lived down his shame. The subject... must never be mentioned in his presence, for, the natives say, if he heard anyone speaking about it he would commit lo'u [suicide]."
  • Africa: Among the Maasai, it was customary for older boys to have sexual relations with she-asses. Young Riffian boys (a Morrocan tribe) also had sexual liaisons with female asses (Ford and Beach, 1951, pp. 147-148). Among the Tswana of Africa, boys assigned to the care of cattle frequently engaged in zoosexual activity. It was also common in the Gusti tribes and considered rather harmless, but boys were reprimanded and warned against this activity. The fishermen of the East African coast "from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean" are said to have had regular coitus with female dugong carcasses.
  • Middle East: Miner and DeVos (1960) comment that amongst Arab tribal cultures, "Bestiality with goats, sheep, or camels provides another outlet. These practices are not approved but they are recognized as common among boys." Havelock-Ellis [note 52] states "The Arabs, according to Kocher, chiefly practice bestiality with goats, sheep and mares. The Annamites, according to Mondiere, commonly employ sows and (more especially the young women) dogs."
  • Native Americans: Such activity was also common among Native American tribes such as the Hopi Indians. Voget (1961:p99-100)describes the sexual lives of young Native Americans as "rather inclusive," including bestiality.
  • Inuit: Ford & Beach mention the Copper Inuit (eskimoes), an offshoot of the Thule people who used to live on the Coppermine River and Coronation Gulf coast. These people apparently had "no aversion to intercourse with live or dead animals". Knud Rasmussen has recorded a myth of one Inuit tribe: "There was once a woman who would not have a husband. Her family let dogs copulate with her. They took her out to an island, where the dogs then made her pregnant. After that she gave birth to white men. Before that there had been no white men."

c.1700 - 1950

The Age of Enlightenment took much that had been under the field of religion, and brought it under the field of science. As with homosexuality a variety of mixed views resulted which persisted through until around 1950, when researchers such as Kinsey followed by Masters began researching zoophilia on its own terms.

The view of this era might broadly be described as objectified. Sciences such as anthropology and study of the psyche were in their infancy, and classical belief, categorization, and the subject-object viewpoint of study had not yet been upset by 20th century thinkers. Subjects were often studied by describing the objects of study in detail, and categorizing them into hierarchies and families. Such categories and viewpoints were often subjectively based upon writers' impressions, rather than being as objective as their authors imagined them to be (this issue impacted other fields of human study too). Zoosexuality was no longer for the most part punished by religious execution; rather, like homosexuality, it was broadly treated as a sickness or deficiency in a person, or analysed as a behavior of a social class of person. Some early researchers made the intellectual leap of considering it as a sexual variation rather than a deficiency, but these were a minority. Psychology had not yet emerged as a field in its own right, so psychological fields were subsumed within Medicine, and zoosexuality was documented by scientists as a medical phenomenon associated with more primitive or lower class people and races. Those who were neither were assumed to be examples of rare perversion or degeneracy. The clinical viewpoint by the early 20th century was oriented around early psychology's concept of non-sexual acts as symbolic or substitutional, after Freud. Both human and animal behavior (including sexuality) were seen psychologically through the twin light of behaviorism (John Watson's influential view that science should reject the use of introspection in favor of stimulus-response as an explanation, and that the understanding of the conscious mind was not a valid goal of experimental psychology) ("In choosing behavior as the basic datum, behaviorists changed the ultimate research goal of experimental psychology from the scientific understanding of conscious experience to the scientific understanding of behavior. Behaviorists argued that explanations that include mental causes are unscientific, and argued that all behaviors — including complex actions that generally are attributed to mental causes — may be viewed as automatic (mechanistic) responses to environmental events (stimuli). By 1920, the behaviorist argument had succeeded in transforming experimental psychology into the scientific study of the environmental causes of behavior.") and determinism (the view that there was no such thing as free-will in behavior).

Thus, in 1927, when British sexologist Havelock Ellis wrote Studies in the psychology of sex, science was still in the stage of describing and categorizing unusual sexual activities, largely according to researchers' preconceived notions or behaviorist observations, under a thin guise of objectivity:

Havelock-Ellis referenced Kraft-Ebbing's work Psychopathia Sexualis (1894) which recognized zoophilic voyeurism (watching animals mate), as "fall[ing] within the range of normal variation". He identified touch and emotional closeness producing "sexual excitement or gratification" as "a sexual fetishism" termed "erotic zoophilia". Kraft-Ebbing then divides zoosexual activity into "two divisions: one in which the individual is fairly normal, but belongs to a low grade of culture, the other in which he may belong to a more refined social class, but is affected by a deep degree of degeneration," (Kraft-Ebbing named these "bestiality" and "zooerasty" respectively, stating they were different in kind from erotic zoophilia). Havelock-Ellis' view was that:

"Bestiality and zooerastia merely present in a more marked and profoundly perverted form a further degree of the same phenomenon which we meet with in erotic zoophilia; the difference is that they occur either in more insensitive or in more markedly degenerate persons [...] In seeking to comprehend this perversion it is necessary to divest ourselves of the attitude toward animals which is the inevitable outcome of refined civilization and urban life. Most sexual perversions, if not in large measure the actual outcome of civilized life, easily adjust themselves to it. Bestiality [with one exception] is, on the other hand, the sexual perversion of dull, insensitive and unfastidious persons. It flourishes among primitive peoples and among peasants. It is the vice of the clodhopper, unattractive to women..."
  • The UK Offences Against The Person Act 1861 (repealed) brought the act within the realm of the criminal law, stating: "Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or with any animal, shall be liable ... to be kept in penal servitude for life ...." (In this law, the crossover from religious to civic law can be seen; the characterization as "abominable" being a term carried over from Canonical law and Leviticus 18)
  • Mirabeau, in the 18th century, stated, on the evidence of Basque priests, that "all the shepherds in the Pyrenees practice bestiality". Mantegazza records (Gli Amori degli Uomini, ch. V) that a young Apennine goatherd believed his dyspepsia and nervous symptoms stemmed from sexual congress with his animals. In 18th century South Italy and Sicily, "bestiality among goatherds and peasants is said to be almost a national custom by Bayle" (Dictionary, Bathyllus, cited by Havelock-Ellis as note 50). Warton was informed that in Sicily priests in confession used to habitually inquired of herdsmen if they had anything to do with their sows. In Normandy priests were advised to ask similar questions.
  • Jonas Liliequist, a social historian at the University of Umeå in Sweden, who has studied bestiality in Swedish history, observed the abundance of bestiality cases in Swedish courts during the 17th and 18th centuries (more than 1500), and the scarcity of cases of homosexual acts (appr. 20). He raises the question of whether this discrepancy had been because of a more tolerant attitude towards same sex intercourse than to intercourse between man and animal, or if it had been due to an even more severe taboo against homosexual acts.

Modern era

  • In some countries, notably the Netherlands, Denmark, Mexico, and Thailand, live sex shows between women and symbolically stud-like animals (pony, donkey, large dog) took place up until recently. They probably do continue albeit less visibly and fewer.
  • "L'Etalon Doux" writes of French openness regarding zoosexuality in media and research, that "A certain acceptance of the sexual connotations of the beast has never been lost from ancient times as in other parts of the world. Even today you are much more likely to see an explicit scene of animals mating in a French erotic film than elsewhere... In 1991 a film appeared in France with a 'General Release' certificate which could only be described as 'Hard Core' animal mating complete with screen filling close-ups and slow motion ejaculations." (Also compare the almost brutally explicit and prolonged horse mating sequence in the Polish film director Borowczyk's 1975 film "La bête" (The Beast)
  • There was much speculation that Oliver the chimpanzee was a human/chimpanzee hybrid. However genetic and other tests later convincingly proved this unfounded, and that genetically he seemed an ordinary chimpanzee and showed no significant matches of any kind with human genetics. No hybrid has ever been verified to be genuine.

See also


Main sources include:

  • R.E.L. Masters Ph.D.: Forbidden Sexual Behaviour and Morality, an objective examination of perverse sex practices in different cultures (1962), ISBN 0856290416 LIC #62-12196
  • Robson, Bestiality and Bestial Rape in Greek Myth, 1997, S. Deacy and K. F. Pearce (edd.), Rape in Antiquity, Duckworth, 65-96
  • Illustrated Book of Sexual Records
  • Encyclopedia of Human Sexuality, Bestiality entry, at Humboldt University Berlin Sexology Dept
  • Voget, F. W. (1961) Sex life of the American Indians, in Ellis, A. & Abarbanel, A. (Eds.) The Encyclopaedia of Sexual Behavior, Volume 1. London: W. Heinemann, p90-109

References and external links

Histories of zoophilia by non-zoophiles

  • Dubois-Dessaule: Etude Sur la Bestiality au point de Vue Historique (The Study of Bestiality from the Historical, Medical and Legal Viewpoint) (Paris, 1905)
  • Gaston Dubois-Desaulle: Bestiality: An Historical, Medical, Legal, and Literary Study, University Press of the Pacific (November 1, 2003), ISBN 1-4102-0947-4 (Paperback Ed.)

Culture and sociology

  • Hans Hentig Ph.D.: Soziologie der Zoophilen Neigung (Sociology of the Zoophile Preference) (1962)
  • Marie-Christine Anest: Zoophilie, homosexualite, rites de passage et initiation masculine dans la Greece contemporaine (Zoophilia, homosexuality, rites of passage and male initiation in contemporary Greece) (1994), ISBN 2738421466
  • Bronislaw Malinowski:
    The Trobriand Islands (1915)
    The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia (1929)

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