Animal Instincts

Zoophiles love and have sex with animals. Will the world ever accept them?

When he returned a year later, he asked a friend how Ruby was doing. The friend casually mentioned the dolphin had died, probably from the stress of moving from her former park to the new one in Mississippi. The news threw Brenner into a depression that lasted five years. Ruby, he's certain, was the love of his life.

In the years since, it has been a battle between Brenner's attraction for animals and his desire to be normal. He was married to his first wife for 12 years, to his second for six. Through it all, he says, "Zoophilia was my fantasy life. Some would make love to their wife and imagine Angelina Jolie. I fantasized I was a wolf having sex with another wolf."

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Cody Beck in grade school.
Photo courtesy of Cody Beck
Cody Beck in grade school.

In the mid-'90s, Hani Miletski decided to devote her doctoral dissertation to zoophilia and bestiality. She was a student at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco, and Miletski was drawn to the subject not only because it seemed bizarre and fascinating but also because it had received scant attention from researchers. In particular, she noticed researchers had not accounted for the motives behind having sex with animals. Surely there's some common experience, something more reliable than the genetic lottery to explain how some people such as the ones above become attracted to animals. So she set out to find these motives.

Miletski tried several strategies, but the one that worked best was an ad for volunteers she placed in her local alternative weekly newspaper, the Baltimore City Paper. The first zoophile who contacted her told a zoophile friend. Soon they arranged for Miletski to meet the international "zoo" community that had already formed within a still-blossoming technology, the Internet. Miletski had hoped to find a few zoophiles to speak openly about their attractions and conduct a case study. She was astonished to learn how many zoophiles there were and that they were so eager to have their mysterious, forbidden sexual proclivities given a scientific study. In all, she had 160 volunteers and accepted 93 — of whom 82 were men — into her study.

The study was more notable for what it did not find. The zoophiles had no similar childhood experience. Those who grew up in the country around animals were no more likely to become zoophiles than those who grew up in the city without them. They cut across race, geography, religion, and profession. "I could not find anything that says, 'All zoos are this way or that way,'" Miletski says. Having been unable to locate clues suggesting some other motive, Miletski concluded the single explanation for the behavior was the conscious one that zoophiles offered: It was an orientation they were born with.

"They really loved their animals," she said of the research subjects. "To the point that some want to marry them and treat them as spouses."

Miletski's findings not only formed her dissertation but also turned into a book, Understanding Bestiality and Zoophilia, which remains the most authoritative modern text on zoophilia.

When told of Senator Rich's remarks about people who commit bestiality being a threat to children, Miletski says, "I think it's real bullshit for people to say that. There's no connection that we know of. If you said that to zoos, they would be so offended." That's because Miletski says nearly all the zoophiles she interviewed expressed moral revulsion for sex with animals that had not fully matured. In this respect, she says, they recognize the same values that underlie laws against statutory rape.

Miletski and a researcher based in Germany, Andrea Beetz, who conducted a similarly large study, argue that zoophiles are distinguished by their emotional relationship to the animals they love. Because they care for them, they would never consciously inflict pain upon them, even for their own pleasure. A minority of them, Miletski allowed, treat their animals as a "masturbation machine" — but she says that for these zoos, it's the same as casual sex between humans.

Based on her interviews with zoos, Miletski suspects that animals consent to sex with human partners. But she concedes there is no sure way to know.

Ron, the zoophile from the western United States, points out that critics of his sexual practices "can't agree if animals are sentient or are dumb. They can't be both. If [animals] are sentient, [critics] would have to admit that animals can decide for themselves if they want intimacy when and where they choose." Ron believes this to be the case, as do the other zoos interviewed for this article. If animals are not sentient, he continues, "they don't know the difference, and what is it hurting?"

Zoophiles say they act upon the same nonverbal cues for sex as humans do. Brenner, the zoophile from Southwest Florida, asserts that humans having sex are acting on their own animal instincts. And if so, it's silly to deprive another animal of those instincts on the grounds that the animal has a less developed brain.

James, the zoophile I met on Second Life, puts it in even more vivid terms, asking whether he deserves to be imprisoned for raping an animal when he's merely allowing his Rottweiler to mount him.

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