There are few things more disturbing for many people than human-animal sex. I can still recall the shocked face of a woman in the university cafeteria after a paper on zoophilia at the Minding Animals conference in Utrecht in 2012
I asked her if she was all right. "Well, I wasn't expecting to hear that," she said, obviously distressed. "I thought zoophilia was about – zoos."
Zoophilia is a term used to describe human-animal sexual behavior, and also includes feelings or erotic sexual attachment humans may have to animals. Certainly the people who took to the streets in Berlin last week to protest as Germany tightened its laws against having sex with animals understood what the word meant.
The protestors gathered at Potsdamer Platz to make their feelings known. zoophiles argue that their relations with animals are consensual. According to advocacy group ZETA (Zoophiles Engaging for Tolerance and Enlightenment) animals are capable of expressing whether or not they desire sex.
The all-male group was galvanized into action following moves by the German parliament to make sex with animals a criminal offence. On 1 February, the upper house, the Bundestrat, voted to criminalize "using an animal for personal sexual activities" and to punish offenders with fines up to $34,000. (New York Times 1 Feb)
Michael Kiok, chairman of ZETA maintained: "We see animals as partners and not as a means of gratification. We don't force them to do anything. Animals are much easier to understand than women."
The reaction online in The Local – Germany's newspaper in English, reflected the bewilderment and anger of the woman I met in Utrecht. "Human race, lost cause", "I will never be able to watch Komissar Rex the same way again...", "Are dogs, goats, sheep or whatever really consenting partners and show sexual pleasure? I think not. It is rape, pure and simple."
Not according to philosopher Peter Singer. In his 2001 paper Heavy Petting he argues that instances of sex across the species barrier are so frequent "it ceases to be an offence to our status and dignity as human beings." Singer's views, especially on disability, distress many.
He was at the Minding Animals conference and his panel appearances evoked a heated – and divided - response in the academic and activist audience.
Danish author Peter Høeg's controversial 1996 novel The Woman And The Ape dealt with zoophilia, and didn't shy away from the intimate moments of inter-species lust. One character observes: "People are forming closer attachments to animals than ever before. Dogs and cats sleep in people's beds, get kissed on the mouth, stroked between the legs. …and deep within human beings, in their minds, on the fringes of their consciences, their outlook on life, their angst and passion, animals abound." (224)
In my involvement in animal studies groups as part of my academic research, zoophilia and bestiality are still not widely discussed. While medical experimentation on animals, the legal rights of animals and the human and animal relationship are examined in depth the lust that dare not speak its name is still in the closet.
In fact, out of more than 400 papers at the Minding Animals conference, there were only two that dealt with zoophilia.
Evelyn Tsitas is the co-author of the parenting book Handle With Care, a PhD student at RMIT University, Melbourne, and has an extensive background in journalism (10 years at the Herald Sun) and communications. As well as crime fiction and horror, she writes about media, popular culture, parenting and Gothic horror and the arts and society in general. She likes to take her academic research to the mass media and to provoke debate.