This story comes as a bit of a shock. Nathan Winograd, American’s expert on the animal sheltering industry, has emailed me with an in-depth and lengthy argument against the proposition that bestiality (sex with animals) is acceptable; an idea that comes from a very highly respected animal advocate and animal rights activist who wrote the landmark book “Animal Liberation”.
His name is Peter Singer and he’s a professor and a philosopher. He is “promoting an article that claims it is ‘morally permissible’ to have sex with animals — defending rape”, in the words of Winograd. The author of the article in anonymous and some have speculated that it is Singer himself but there is little evidence except the writing style is similar. It is published in Singer’s journal: Journal of Controversial Ideas.
Here is a quote from the article:
Zoophilia is one of the few sexual orientations (along with e.g. necrophilia or pedophilia) that remain off-limits and have been left aside from the sexual liberation movement in the past fifty years. I would like to argue that this is a mistake. There is in fact nothing wrong with having sex with animals.A quote from the article. Notice the last sentence. The word ‘zoophilia’ is rarely used and it means being sexually attracted to animals.
Note: Before I briefly discuss the points that Singer makes in support of a different attitude towards bestiality, I think it might be fair to say that I think he is making an academic point, a philosophical point about the unreasonableness of regarding bestiality as entirely unacceptable. He feels that you can argue the case that it should be acceptable. I stress, I think he is theorizing and not recommending that the law is altered to accommodate bestiality. I hope I am correct in that assessment.
The arguments for and against bestiality being acceptable are very complicated but as I understand it, one argument for sex with animals being acceptable is that people dislike the thought because they are anthropomorphising animals. They are humanising animals and when you see animals as animals you can argue, as Singer does, that they perceive sexual encounters with humans in an entirely different way to people.
How animals perceive bestiality
Singer argues that animals don’t have the same understanding about sex as humans and they might, he says, perceive sex as being physically groomed or relieved (through masturbation) for example. In other words, they don’t see it as being raped as Winograd describes it.
Lack of consent
And further in defence of bestiality, he says that if an animal doesn’t consent to having sex with a human, they can simply leave. And he says that if an animal does not leave when free to do so during a sexual encounter with a human, the animal consents to it.
This would seem to be completely inaccurate because many animals are in a state of submission to humans such as dogs in particular and they will allow the human to do what they like. This doesn’t mean that what the human is doing is good or acceptable it just means that the dog will accept it because they are being submissive as the human is the dominant, alpha partner.
So, the argument seems to be completely inaccurate. And I’m surprised he actually believes that it is a workable argument.
Singer believes that zoophilia “covers a variety of romantic and sexual activities. The latter are not limited to vaginal or anal penetration, but also include masturbation, oral-genital contact, frottage [whatever that is] zoophilic voyeurism…”
Children and animals
Winograd believes that if a human has sex with an animal, it’s the same as having sex with a child. And I think he’s saying this because the lack of true consent will be the same. A child does not have the mental capacity to dissent i.e. refuse to accept the advances of an adult human in terms of sexual intercourse. And the same will apply to an animal. So, the concept of consent is simply unworkable. That alone should be enough to agree that bestiality is immoral and unacceptable.
In any case, it’s illegal under most jurisdictions. Underpinning all crimes is the immorality of the behaviour as decided by human society. You decide whether human behaviour is a crime based upon whether it is immoral or moral. Society at large has decided that bestiality is immoral and therefore a crime. Peter Singer is going against this very directly.
In the UK the relevant act is the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 which includes the following clause: Sodomy and Bestiality “Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable Crime of Buggery, committed either with Mankind or with any Animal, shall be liable, at the Discretion of the Court, to be kept in Penal Servitude for Life or for any Term not less than Ten Years.”
Comparison with farm animals
Finally, Peter Singer says that being a dog – the victim of a sexual act by a human – is better than being a pig on a factory farm. Singer asks “Which animal would you rather be?”. He appears to be making this argument to justify having sex with animals i.e. because it’s better than being livestock on a factory farm. This can’t be a good argument either. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood Mr Singer because the argument is so poor.
Spain agrees with Singer
Interestingly, in Spain bestiality is acceptable under the law provided you don’t harm the animal [link to the article]. It would seem that the Spanish legislators might agree with Peter Singer. But the Spanish are well out of step with Western attitudes on bestiality.
Is probably fair to say that about 98% of people from all walks of life in the West and perhaps in developing countries as well find bestiality entirely unacceptable. It probably wouldn’t cross their minds, in any shape or form. And if it does, they probably need some kind of therapy. That’s the conventional view.
Picture image credit: By Ula Zarosa – IMG_5658, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=106327653
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