Bestiality. Even the word itself is a taboo! Most people think bestiality is some rare perversion in the darkest corners of the Internet. But what if bestiality is actually a part of your everyday life?
- The Black And White Of Bestiality
- Moral Outrage And Legal Censure
- What's So Wrong About Bestiality?
- Is It Causing Harm?
- Is It Using Force?
- Is It The Perverse Sexual Nature?
- Is It A Matter of Intent?
- Abuse Or Standard Practice?
- Friend or Food: What’s the Difference?
- It's All About Us
- Calling It What It Is: Sexual Assault
Bestiality is a topic so taboo, the word alone is enough to elicit reactions ranging from discomfort and disgust to moral outrage and ethical condemnation. Despite its relevancy within a wide range of fields, bestiality is largely absent from public discourse.
But what if these much-reviled acts aren’t some rare perversion of human sexuality relegated to the darkest corners of the Internet, but actually common everyday practices supported and enjoyed by the vast majority of society.
The definition of the term “bestiality” (or bestiality, for any non-Americans wishing to pronounce it as it’s actually spelled) has evolved overtime, from its origins signifying depraved conduct befitting an animal, to the modern denotation of “sexual relations between humans and animals.”
I wanted to note that for the sake of clarity and expediency, I will mostly be using the term “animal” in place of the more accurate “non-human animal,” a decidedly awkward afterthought attempting to rectify a false division addressed in this very video!
Additionally, you can find detailed citations to everything I state, as well as a bibliography and loads of additional resources at the end of this article.
With that out of the way, time to take on this timeless taboo!
Bestiality may seem like a pretty black and white matter: sex with animals is wrong, end of story. But such a quick dismissal, hastened no doubt by the discomfort of the subject, neglects to account for the cultural permeation of bestiality throughout history and our everyday lives.
Ancient mythology is rife with gods taking the form of animals in order to copulate with humans, among many other bestial themes we readily teach children in middle school. But were a teacher to hand out a story involving sex between humans and animals written in the modern-day, suddenly a cultured appreciation of the Classics would become a potentially criminal distribution of pornography.
And while many states in America have strictly-enforced laws against as much as photographing a child posed with an animal in even a remotely suggestive manner, kids in America’s farmland can participate in wholesome after-school programs with lessons in boar semen management,  and how to sexually stimulate a pig.
If we attempt to evaluate these examples objectively, which the subject matter admittedly makes challenging if not impossible, the division between the educational and the immoral or criminal becomes largely a matter of cultural context. Which begs the question: what, exactly, is so bad about bestiality?
Criminologist Piers Beirne points to the Mosaic commandments (Exodus 22:19, Leviticus 18:23 and 20:15-16, and Deuteronomy 27:21) as “the earliest and most influential justification for censures of bestiality,” with “the prescribed penalty [of] death.”
Remnants of this moral origin are evidenced in the language of some of today’s secular legislation, with several states in America, for example, retaining terminology such as, “crime against nature,” “unnatural,” “perverted,” “abominable,” “detestable” and, my favorite, “buggery.”
Astoundingly enough, bestiality remained punishable by death throughout the early modern period, with Sweden executing up to 700 people between 1635 and 1778, along with the non-human animals involved,  and the last known hanging for bestiality in the United States carried out by order of The Connecticut Superior Court in January of 1800.
Given it’s even pre-biblical censure, it may be surprising to hear that many countries still lack any laws addressing sexual contact between humans and animals. In 2015, Denmark was the last northern European country to ban bestiality, leaving Finland, Romania and Hungary as the only holdouts in the European Union.
In the United States, bestiality remains legal in at least eight states, and Washington D.C., with about seventeen of the remaining 42 having only enacted legislation since 1999—though technically Ohio’s brand new legislation signed just last month still won’t take effect until March of this year…and only included a ban on bestiality as a way to pass an unpopular bill.
Yay, moral integrity…
Of the states with laws already enacted, penalties and sentencing range from a misdemeanor with no set minimum (Nebraska) to a felony with imprisonment of no less than 7 and up to 20 years (Rhode Island).
The modern resurgence of legislation has revealed a shift in the conceptualization and legal classification of bestiality from “a crime against public morals,” to an act of animal cruelty, with California and Oregon even going so far as to call it “sexual assault of an animal.” Attorney Rebecca F. Wisch of the Animal Legal & Historical Center proposes that this terminology “may reflect these states’ assessment that animals are incapable of consenting,” essentially granting non-human animals “victim” status.
With the extreme variation from state to state (much less country to country!) of not only the criminal classification of and penalty for bestiality, but also the very definition of what the act entails, we’re once again left with the question of what precisely makes bestiality so objectionable.
All bestiality legislation includes exceptions for accepted animal industry practices. So by eliminating any permissible actions, we can hopefully hone in on the root wrong of bestiality.
Why don’t we start with the rather inadequate parameters of what was traditionally considered the legal benchmark for sexual violation: penetration. This may appear to offer a clear-cut line in the sand, until we consider the long list of farming practices, not to mention animal experimentation and fur “harvesting” methods involving penetration.
So if penetration itself isn’t the issue, what about harmful penetration? That can’t be the issue either, as animal experimentation, fur “harvesting,” and common farming practices involving penetration can and do cause harm.
Animals in the fur industry are routinely killed via genital and anal electrocution. And we don’t even have time to list all of the bizarre manners in which animal experimentation throughout various fields of research involves an infinite array of harmful and painful penetration.
Even in the food industry, or example, the vast majority of farmed animals today are bred via artificial insemination. Cows in the dairy industry are repeatedly impregnated through AI in order to maintain the flow of milk for human consumption. Like us, they only produce milk for their babies, who are taken from their mothers immediately after birth. Females are kept as future milk producers and males are either sent to a veal farm or shot.
Aside from the psychological and emotional impact of having their babies taken time and again, the insemination process itself can be physically damaging, especially when considering that most inseminations are performed by non-veterinarians.  Since AI training involves practicing on live cows, some courses are held at slaughterhouses, though one UK vet advised that “novice inseminators should not practice on cows unless they are to be slaughtered on the training day.” 
Perhaps the objectionable element separating routine farming practices from bestiality is the deliberate use of force during penetration?
For this I turn to author Jim Mason’s account of his time working in a turkey breeding facility as he describes standard industry practice:
“They put me to work first in the pit, grabbing and “breaking” hens… Breaking hens was hard, fast, dirty work. I had to reach into the chute, grab a hen by the legs, and hold her, ankles crossed, in one hand. Then, as I held her on the edge of the pit, I wiped my other hand over her rear, which pushed up her tail feathers and exposed her vent opening. The birds weighed 20 to 30 lbs., were terrified, and beat their wings and struggled in panic…
With the hen thus “broken,” the inseminator stuck his thumb right under her vent and pushed, which opened the vent… Into this, he inserted the semen tube… Then both men let go and the hen flopped away onto the house floor.
Two breakers did 10 hens a minute, or each breaker broke 5 hens a minute — one hen every 12 seconds.” 
In the pig meat industry, piglets are the product, so mother pigs, much like dairy cows, are subjected to a constant cycle of pregnancies. Even in the EU, where tethering stalls in which pigs were chained in place were outlawed, artificial insemination is one of a number of built-in exceptions wherein pigs may legally be chained in place.
So, if forceful penetration of an animal’s vagina, anus, or cloaca resulting in physical and/or psychological harm and eliciting clear signs of distress is not what’s objectionable, maybe it’s when the action performed upon an animal is itself overtly sexual, not just the body part(s) involved.
Take the following account:
“Each boar had his own little perversion the man had to do to get the boar turned on so he could collect the semen… He might have to hold the boar’s penis in exactly the right way that the boar liked, and he had to masturbate some of them in exactly the right way. There was one boar, he told me, who wanted to have his butt hole played with. “I have to stick my finger in his butt, he just really loves that,” he told me….he’s one of the best in the business.”
Without context where would you place this on the line between the pornographic and permissible?
Would your answer change if I told you the passage was written by an internationally renowned and well-respected specialist in livestock handling and animal welfare? If so, what changed about the account itself?
That excerpt comes from Dr. Temple Grandin’s book, “Animals in Translation,” wherein she’s described in the “about” section as “a role model for hundreds of thousands of families and people.”
Grandin continues her tour of porcine breeding practices, describing how unlike cows, female pigs have to be sexually excited in order to conceive—so workers must manually arouse them prior to insemination.
Okay…if the highly individualized, manual masturbation of male pigs to completion and sexual stimulation of females prior to the insertion of boar semen are acts openly recounted by a respected professor and role model to families, I fear our comparative evaluation may be an exercise in futility.
Especially when we take into account semen collection methods for bulls, namely the use of an artificial vagina, electroejaculation, or transrectal massage. The first method often uses a “teaser” bull, “usually a specimen of low breeding value,” who is retrained—sometimes painfully via a ring through his nose—and functions as the “mount” for the “donor” bull, since the force can injure females.
The most troubling technique, electroejaculation, involves inserting a probe into the bull’s anus and delivering electric shocks to stimulate ejaculation. It’s widely known to be painful and has been banned in some EU countries.
Yet you can watch footage of electroejaculation on the Irish Farm Journal’s YouTube channel, as well as hundreds of semen procurement and insemination videos across the platform, including how to sexual excite a female pig, a topic covered in-depth in the youth education resources of the Pork Checkoff program.
In my video “Do Animals Want to Be Eaten,” I provide examples of the sexualized portrayal of animals in advertising, often seducing the would-be consumers of their carcass. Even mainstream television shows feature footage that, were the context even slightly altered, could result in the network losing its license and inviting a wave of lawsuits.
As a quick personal aside, I find the fact that YouTube’s wide array of borderline bestiality videos remain unrestricted and even monetized, yet the video of one of my speeches remains age-restricted, despite it’s censure violating YouTube’s own polices, just the slightest bit frustrating.
I have to say, I think our comparative evaluation has hit a dead end. The only element we’ve yet to assess, is the intention and experience of the human committing the act. This is the determining factor in several state bestiality laws, like Delaware’s, which specifies the contact be “for purposes of sexual gratification.”
But if that’s really the root of our objection to bestiality, then we’ve essentially gone full-circle to the original moral basis for its censure, despite the modern shift towards animal cruelty classification, and establishment of animals as victims.
How exactly does the intention of the person involved, or whether the act is part of their job description, or carried out in a medical context, help the individual being violated? I would imagine that someone’s job title would be of little comfort to the cow restrained and forcefully penetrated for her next round of heartbreak. And the enjoyment or lack thereof derived by the worker operating the anal probe wouldn’t do much to dull the painful electric current shocking a bull’s pelvic nerves.
Such absurdities are the result of our arbitrary shifting of animals from property to family to victim to profit margin, depending on our needs.
And as their roles shift, so too do the kinds of harms we may inflict upon them. In her response to philosopher Peter Singer’s controversial book review essay Heavy Petting, Dr. Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns addresses this progressive commodification:
“Historically, animal agriculture has facilitated bestiality, not simply because of the proximity of farmed animals, but because controlling other creatures’ bodies invites this extension of a license that has already been taken.”
In one of the unfortunately numerous cases of extreme sexual abuse of animals within the food industry that fall so far outside of the prescribed norms they lead to criminal charges, undercover footage and detailed notes from the investigators showed routine abuse at a pig breeding facility in Iowa, where thousands of mother pigs are kept in cramped gestation crates. Workers beat pregnant pigs with blunt metal objects, kicked them in the stomach and head, forced rods into their vaginas and anuses, and attacked lame and injured pigs with an electric prod, among other offenses.
The video also captured workers cutting off the tails and tearing out the testicles of piglets, “including some with…scrotal hernias, whose intestines would fully protrude when snipped”—all without any anesthetic. And, in one of the most-cited offenses by the media, workers were shown slamming sick or deformed piglets against the ground, leaving them, according investigators, to die slowly, their “skull[s]-crushed, paddling their legs and twitching, gasping for air, as others were piled on top of them in giant bins.”
An article on NBC News includes comments from none other than Temple Grandin, described as “a leading animal-welfare expert,” who “said that while those are standard industry practices, the treatment of the sows on the video was far from it,” calling it “atrocious animal abuse.”
Just to clarify, in case it wasn’t obvious, beating and violating the mother pigs was the “atrocious animal abuse.” The “standard industry practices” Grandin refers to are the unanaesthetized mutilation of newborn piglets and brutal slamming of “defective” babies against concrete. Not only are these practices legal, they are government-sanctioned methods within, but not limited to, the United States, Canada, and European Union.
See, that’s the great thing about standard practices—I don’t know about you, but if I was shown that video and asked what was abuse and what was routine, I’d have gotten it totally wrong!
Atrocious Abuse Vs. Standard Industry Practice – Can You Tell The Difference?
When it comes to our relationships with non-human animals, we posses a remarkable level of cognitive dissonance complete with ample blind spots. One need only observe how we designate individuals as “friend or food,” by such arbitrary factors as geographical location or possession of a human-given name. In one country, a dog is viewed as a “pet”—even a family member. Yet born in a different part of the world, the very same dog would be viewed as “dinner.” Nothing about the dog herself has changed—only her geographical location and, more importantly, the perception of her role and value by the humans deciding her fate.
Such subjective shifting of assigned worth is the very basis of anthropocentrism, a belief system that “regards humans as separate from and superior to nature and holds that human life has intrinsic value while other entities (including animals, plants, …and so on) are resources that may justifiably be exploited for the benefit of humankind.”
Our anthropocentric worldview explains many bizarre displays of human doublethink. An example I covered in my speech “The Best We Have To Offer,” which concerns legislative issues pertaining to animal cruelty, was when the European Union signed the Treaty of Lisbon, recognizing non-human animals legally sentient, deserving freedom from hunger, thirst, discomfort, pain, injury, disease, fear, distress and mental suffering—and then use this very recognition of their capacity to feel the same emotions and sensations as we do to design the exact manner in which humans may legally violate, imprison, cut, burn, alter, and murder them. A preliminary report for the new legislation compared the financial cost of gassing verses grinding alive the estimated 335 million unwanted day-old male chicks born into the EU egg industry every year.  Finding live grinding, or maceration, to be far more cost-effective, it was codified as the method of choice in the resulting groundbreaking animal protection legislation.
In her article “Pets or Meat,” Professor of Law Marry Anne Case highlights the complications arising from the condemnation of bestiality on the grounds of incapacity to consent. Citing how even the training of one’s pets is a form of persuasion difficult to “differentiate…with reference to consent,” Case concludes that:
“If we think there should be more strict or rigorous legal controls on having one’s pets trained to do what would violate the bestiality laws than on other stupid pet tricks, we should acknowledge straightforwardly that it is our attitude toward sex, more than our concern for animal freedom of choice or animal welfare, that motivates us.”
Far from having the animals’ interests at heart, it appears that, as Dr. Davis wrote,
“the primary mainstream objection to bestiality…is that sex between humans and nonhumans, regardless of the circumstances in which it occurs including rape, is ‘an offence to our status and dignity as human beings.’”
That’s the power of human perception. That our violation of their bodies is an affront to our “dignity.”
Davis describes how, in regards to bestiality, some animal advocates advanced the argument that “nonhuman animals are not in a position to give informed consent…by virtue of [their] presumed inherent intellectual inferiority to humans.” Even in their supposed defense, we insult them.
This is why, in “Rethinking Bestiality,” one of the few essays focusing on the issue of bestiality from an animal rights standpoint, criminologist Piers Beirne calls for “a concept of interspecies sexual assault,” independent of moral outrage, empty allusions to victim status, and lack of consent through idiocy. Referencing Carol J Adams, Beirne lays the foundation for a truly victim-centered approach to the sexual assault of animals:
“…in seeking to replace anthropocentrism with an acknowledgement of the sentience of animals, we must start with the fact that in almost every situation humans and animals exist in a relation of potential or actual coercion…
For genuine consent to sexual relations to be present…both participants must be conscious, fully informed and positive in their desires… Bestiality involves sexual coercion because animals are incapable of saying yes or no to humans in forms that humans can readily understand…
If we cannot know whether animals consent to our sexual overtures, then we are as much at fault when we tolerate interspecies sexual relations as when we fail to condemn adults who have sexual relations with infants or with children or with…[others]—who, for whatever reason, are unable to refuse participation.”
I hope this rather intensive analysis of bestiality gave you some food for thought. Please share it around. I would like to thank my Nugget Army family for making it possible for me to conduct this research, deliver speeches all over the world and create hundreds of free educational videos.
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Now go live vegan, question your perception, and I’ll see you soon.
— Emily Moran Barwick