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Opposing Bestiality

This seems to be a week of sex-focused controversy. But then sex tends to have that effect, even when it’s just our own species.

Nelson Jones wrote about a German proposal to outlaw sex with animals.

It’s surprising to find that sex with animals is not currently illegal in Germany. Nor is this the result of some historic oversight: it used to be a crime, but the law was changed in 1969, at the same time as sex between adult men was decriminalised.

He brings light to the existence of “animal brothels” as well as these animals’ “pimps” (i.e. owners). According to animal protection officer, Madeleine Martin, sex with animals is on the rise, though it’s not clear whether this is the flames of outrage speaking or a reflection on reality. Martin Kiok, who heads up the “zoophile pressure group” ZETA claims that animals are “partners” and not – this is the interesting part – “means of gratification”. Kiok points a harsher (and probably well-used) finger at the meat industry as being the worst offender.

Like many taboos, there is good reason to oppose legalising or decriminalising bestiality. One reason is an animal’s lack of consent, though consent is itself a very complicated ethical foundation: after all, certain paternalistic actions done for someone’s benefit, by definition, disregard her consent. These could include lying so she takes medication, ending her futile existence since she will never recover from a coma, and so on. Furthermore, certain animals, like dogs, appear to “express” consent in their desire for sex by engaging with owners in overtly sexualised ways, as Peter Singer pointed out in a now “notorious” essay.

Secondly, no one appears to ask the animals whether it’s OK to kill them en masse for meat consumption. Whether or not eating meat is ethical – I’m still not sure – is not the point: it’s that we have an entire industry that most people appear to happily participate in which disregards animals’ consent. So it is inconsistent to plead a lack of consent to oppose sex with them, but disregard consent for their deaths. Either consent matters or it doesn’t.

However, we can simply link opposing bestiality with child sex. Consent, treated broadly, can include important properties like awareness of the situation, realisation of the act about to be performed, uncoerced, personal decision to enter into the act/engagement, etc. This is why sex with children is, by definition, wrong: for sex to be moral – or not wrong – requires consent from living entities, which itself requires certain cognitive functions of the entity. Children are beings that lack these functions and capabilities. True: We would be denying evidence to assert that all children (and teenagers) that have sex – whether with each other or adults – are harmed, but overall it is a dangerous enough act to give it a blanket condemnation.

Many paedophiles recognise this and, as I pointed out, would rather urge help from society and a diminishing of stigma to keep opposing their sexual longing, than change laws to lower the age of consent.

Animals are Different

Non-human animals, unlike, for example, very young children do have sex: with each other and inter-species.

The latter is rarer, but not unheard of.

As National Geographic points out: “Recent research indicates that hybridization is not only widespread in nature but it might also spawn many more new species than previously thought.” Biologist James Mallet of University College London, wrote a review of this research for Nature, and told Nat Geo that “sex with another species may be very occasionally quite a good idea.” Genetic variability could arise, meaning better adaptations to new environments, increasing genetic fitness for offspring.

Of course, whether something is “natural” is not what makes it moral. But the point is, for animals, they do engage in hybridisation. Of course, if there is no chance of an offspring there is little evolutionary reason to engage in sex; but that doesn’t negate that animals do engage in sex between species.

Thus, since we are animals, too, why can we not be participants of sex with other animals? Why should it be the case that mere species membership determines morality, since animals themselves appear unharmed and “willingly” engage in inter-species sex? This appears to undermine the point, which Jones employs in his article, that sex with animals should be opposed just as we oppose sex with children.

Indeed, an adult dog, for example, and a young child differ in their cognitive and sexual appetites. Dogs do engage in sex “willingly”; if it is clear that they wish to have sex, what is wrong with doing so?

However, this argument appears to defeat itself.

If a child was to show signs of sexual longing, would that justify responding in kind? Then, if zoophiles wouldn’t have sex with children merely because the child showed an interest, why would they respond differently to an animal? Indeed, that the being is the same species but younger means the chances of comprehending their intentions should be greater, not lesser, than an different species!

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A zoophile might say they would only choose animals who themselves are mature. Yet, one concern is, firstly, how would anyone know? With children, it is easy to identify one. Animals are harder, especially when there isn’t much difference between their adult-physical appearance and late childhood. Secondly, “maturity” in animals is no guarantee that the animal won’t be harmed or deeply affected by the experience. Of course, there might be responses – such as using only specific animals who themselves show signs of wanting sex, etc. – but again these are much harder to prove.

All this does not deny that there might be individual cases, where it has been shown over time, that a particular animal is not suffering or harmed, that it has no psychological damage, and is genuinely cared for by its zoophile lover/owner/partner. But, like adults who have found mature children unharmed by sexual interaction, these are not sufficient for us to decriminalise bestiality.

Certainly what we should recognise is that a blanket condemnation doesn’t mean a blanket equating. What discussions like these should constantly do is undermine outrage – no matter which direction – but justify opposition or support (depending where the evidence lies).

Being “disgusting” is not a sufficient reason to oppose bestiality and is, in fact, insulting. Firstly, because there are actual justifications based on harm, consent, and so on. Secondly, it fails to take in to account the actual victims of assault, namely the animals. Third, it doesn’t help in cases where an act of bestiality has not harmed (which is not impossible and shouldn’t be given the same response).

The reason we oppose it is the hope that such harmful acts will be reduced (again, the non-harmful cases are difficult enough to take on anyway). And we do this by outlining carefully our reasons for opposition; basing it merely in disgust helps no one, except those who seek gratification of aligning disgust with law – which itself we must always oppose.

Image Credit: “The Nayika as the lovers of all creatures” / WikiCommons (source)


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