The kind of sexual behavior that occurs between humans and animals has been known clinically and historically for many years as "bestiality," but it's a word I try to avoid. I prefer the scientific term zoophilia (sexual love of animals) precisely because it does not imply something beastly or bestial. Although I realize that most people think of human-animal sexual contacts as bestial, the fact is that it isn't necessarily so. Satisfactory, even loving, sexual relationships with animals are not only possible, but occur much more often that the public knows or is willing to admit.
Behind these statistics are the human realities, the individual histories that raise the question: What is really so wrong about this practice? and, Is there any reason why someone should not make these contacts if he or she feels impelled to do so? I remember vividly, during my years with Kinsey, taking the history of a freshman in an agricultural college who had lived all his life on a ranch. During the interview he told me that he was terribly homesick for his mare, and as he described the deep emotional attachment he had for this animal, the tears ran down his cheeks. He said he often enjoyed vaginal intercourse with his mare, and he couldn't see anything wrong with feeling lonely for her. In fact, he had never thought of his behavior as wrong until he had taken a freshman psychology course and learned for the first time that what he had done was considered pathological, even loathsome, as the professor took no trouble to conceal. I tried to reassure the young man, but I knew it would be difficult for such an unsophisticated person to adjust to social realities. Worst of all, perhaps, there was no one he could discuss his feelings with now that he understood he was an object of scorn and loathing to others.
The reality is that many people who have had sexual contact with animals learn to transfer the loathing of the world to themselves. They feel they are outcasts, and can only be made to regard themselves in a different light when they understand that they are not alone, and that others have had the same experiences and feelings. There are those who object to sexual contacts with animals on the ground that the helpless animals are being exploited. While exploitation is always possible, of course, the fact is that animals do consent, and quite readily once they are aroused. In fact, dogs often initiate sexual contact. Everyone is familiar with the pelvic thrust dogs make against someone's leg, thrusts which may lead to orgasm if they are not interrupted. Most human recipients, on the other hand, are usually embarrassed or make a joke if this occurs.
Sometimes, if a person is experienced in animal handling, he or she will treat it matter-of-factly. Only sometimes will a person be aroused by what the dog is doing, and may try to take part sexually in some way. There is nothing pathological about this; it is simply another kind of sexual reaction to a stimulus. I believe there is some truth in the notion that some women encourage, or even train their dogs to have sex with them. While actual intercourse of this type is relatively uncommon, it is not so unusual for women to have dogs lick their genitals until they (the women) experience orgasm. When a dog smells the vagina of a woman who is lubricating, it takes little encouragement for him to begin licking. This kind of relationship is centuries old.
Serious study of human-animal contacts has been impeded by the attitude of most clinicians. The few who have had patients reporting this kind of behavior think of it as ludicrous, at best, and perverted, at worst. Not many are able to think of it objectively, and most patients get no help in understanding their behavior. These attitudes reflect those of the general public. Popular humor is filled with references to animal contacts--for instance, the sheepherder's song, "There'll Never Be Another Ewe."
Only a relatively small number of people are sophisticated and knowledgeable enough about sexual behavior to refrain from nervous mirth and moral judgments. Consequently, when patients and clinicians try to talk about sexual contacts with animals, quite often the clinician has no more objectivity than the patient. This hardly paves the way for a hopeful prognosis for someone who is troubled by his or her own involvement in such behavior. In any case, human-animal sexual contact is no cause for laughter or censure. People who find these encounters amusing or disgusting are not only insensitive to human needs, they are likely to be the kind of people who believe that any sort of sexual behavior that goes beyond what they themselves do is perverted. I believe that the laws that govern human-animal sexual contact are a reflection of the thinking of such people, and that nothing much can be done about our laws regarding such matters until the time (if ever) when people are enlightened enough to demand an end to legislation inspired by ignorance and bigotry. But, as individuals, we can at least refrain from treating people with scorn and contempt when we find out that they have had sexual contact with animals.
In my research, I have come to the conclusion that curiosity is the first inspiration for such contacts, and that loneliness is a very close second. However, although curiosity and loneliness are no doubt the primary inspirations, we should never discount the fact that love is very often a part of the relationship between people and animals, like the college boy and his mare. This feeling of love, or a warm positive regard toward an animal, is very common on a platonic level. For instance, there are millions of people who cook for their pets, take care of them physically, worry about their health, and treat them as beloved companions. This love can become sexualized and extended to physical activity between a human and his or her pet. It doesn't have to happen, and it doesn't happen often, but it can and does happen. The is that we accept without question that people and their pets share a deep affection in the usual course of events, but it is much harder to accept that this is easily extended to sexual feelings and activity.