Bestiality, also known as zoophilia, is when a human has sexual intercourse with an animal. Countries that outlaw bestiality do so on the grounds that it is animal abuse. Through history, bestiality has been referred to as a serious sin, a crime against nature and a psychological disorder. Zoophilia refers to the actual act of intercourse, the fantasizing of such intercourse or the sexual preference for animals over humans. Zoosadism is when a person derives sexual pleasure from harming or torturing an animal. Zoosexuality has become a term for sexual orientation.
Most countries outlaw bestiality as a form of animal cruelty. Some countries outlaw the distribution of pornography involving acts of bestiality. Bestiality can become a health hazard, leading to sexually transmitted diseases called zoonoses. Zoophilia is often a result of sexual abuse in childhood, experimentation or lack of legitimate sexual partners. Most zoophiles will not expose the nature of their sexuality or seek psychological help. For that reason, there is no statistical verification of how many people exhibit bestiality. Zoophiles may legitimately care or feel a romantic emotion toward the animals they sexually encounter or fantasize about.
The subject is a taboo one in modern Western culture, yet according to Nancy Friday, "contrary to popular belief, there is in fact significant popular or "latent" interest in zoophilia, either in fantasy, in animal mating, or in reality." This latent interest in bestiality may stem from the subtleties of anthropomorphism. Entertainment venues of science fiction and fantasy will often portray anthropomorphic characters -- characters that have both human and animal characteristics. Logically these characters are the product of bestiality, yet viewers and censors have overlooked this, maintaining that these characters are above all theoretical.
Western culture abounds in images of humans having relationships with animals. Whether it be in fairy tales such as "The Frog Prince" or "Beauty and the Beast" or classical mythology. Greek mythology abounds in stories of gods pursuing mortal maidens while disguising themselves as animals such as bulls and swans. Satyrs and centaurs are typical anthropomorphic characters; the satyr, in particular, chased after virgin nymphs. Some experts claim that ancient Egyptians performed ritual ceremonies involving copulation with goats. The Romans used bestiality as a means of entertainment in the circuses; they trained animals to rape women.
In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas elevated the severity of bestiality as the worst of the sexual sins. Puritan New England forbade the mere mentioning of the word bestiality. The act was perceived as "that unmentionable vice," "a sin too fearful to be named" and "among Christians a crime not to be named." Mosaic law first outlawed bestiality, followed by Christian and then Muslim law. All three monotheistic religions determine that bestiality is punishable by death as it transgresses natural order and violates procreative intent. Aside from religious views, there remains some controversy as to whether or not bestiality should be deemed an illegal or immoral act; defining it as such would depend on whether or not the animal gives consent. Some will claim that it is possible to perceive whether or not an animal is enjoying something. Others will attest that the very nature of the act deserves condemnation. The book Sexual Consent explores sexual deviance and tries to determine what should and should not be allowed. The author asserts that an animal lacks the competence to consent to anything and says: "It is arguable that an animal does not sexually suffer in an act of bestiality ... it may be said that the wrong of bestiality which is done when the animal suffers is captured within any general proscription against animal cruelty." In the case of an animal, lack of consent is not the determining factor; rather, the abuse or harm inflicted on the animal is.
According to the Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare, "it appears that bestiality is practiced mostly by young males in rural areas and that its prevalence depends on such factors as the level of official and popular tolerance, opportunity, proximity to animals, and the availability of alternative sexual outlets." There are numerous websites, chat rooms and blogs devoted to the subject of bestiality. A psychological study of bestiality as recorded in the article "Introduction to Bestiality and Zoophilia" conducted a survey among those that practiced bestiality. When asked why they initiated bestial behavior, "the majority of the participants reported they started having sex with animals because they were "sexually attracted to the animal" (69, 75 percent), they were "curious" (62, 67 percent) and because they "wanted to express love or affection to the animal" (55, 60 percent).