Creature comforts: How do zoophiles justify their behaviour?

Regular readers of my blog will know that I don’t shy away from talking about behaviours that some people find abhorrent and/or morally repugnant. I’ve now published around a dozen blogs on zoophilia-related topics and in the process have received some fairly abusive emails from zoophiles who “loathe” and “detest” the articles that I have posted on my blog. Well, here’s a blog that’s also likely to enrage.

I recently came across an interesting zoophilia paper published in a 2011 issue of the journal Deviant Behavior. The paper was entitled Screwing the pooch: Legitimizing accounts in a zoophilia on-line community and written by Dr. R.J. Maratea (New Mexico State University, USA). The paper examined how deviant individuals use Internet technology to communicate accounts that neutralize hostile labels associated with their behaviors”. The data were collected from a zoophilia message board with 550,000 users referred to by a pseudonym (i.e., Zoo Board) throughout the paper. (Having visited a lot of online zoophilia forums in my own research, I could take a fairly educated guess at which forum Dr Maratea collected his data from, but as he took a lot of time in his paper to guarantee the forum’s anonymity I’ll leave it be). Dr. Maratea’s decision to study Zoo Board was threefold. As he argued:

“The decision to use Zoo Board was predicated by three factors: (1) message threads were regularly created and updated, indicating that members are actively involved in the Zoo Board community; (2) the vast membership on Zoo Board meant that a large number of users could potentially post or respond to posted accounts at any given time; and (3) the archival capacity of the message board allows for the cultivation of accounts over an extended period of time. The final research sample was comprised of 87 discussion threads containing 4983 individual posts, which dated back as far as March 4, 2004”.

Dr. Maretea claimed that his data suggest that zoophiles routinely justify their actions through four particular types of argument: (i) denial of injury, (ii) justification by comparison, (iii) claims of benefit, and (iv) condemning of condemners. He also asserts that zoophiles produce what is termed “neutralizing accounts”. More specifically, these three types were categorized as (i) appeals to enlightenment, (ii) claims of cultural diffusion, and (iii) neutralization by comparison.

Denial of injury: This refers to an assertion by zoophiles that their actions are permissible because they did not harm or cause injury to the animals involved.

  • Example: I think a lot of people who have never seen an animal ‘‘ask for sex’’ (and most of us here know, they can and WILL, sometimes very insistently!) assume that we’re performing selfish acts against the animals’ will . . . non-zoos tend to just associate the fact that bestiality is more or less entirely illegal with the assumption that it must horribly hurt the animal, such is life, I’m afraid”.

Justification by comparison: This refers to the justification of zoophilic behaviour by comparison of their behaviour to other worse criminal behaviour (i.e., zoophiles highlight their sense of self-worth by saying that their behaviour is not as bad as other behaviours).

  • Example: I like the way the [media] blatantly link bestiality with pedophilia. I guess what we do is sorta like marijuana, ours is a ‘’gateway’’ type of sexuality. People like to think that zoophilia is a step away from necrophilia, pedophilia, and so on when it’s in no way related”.

Claims of benefit: This refers to zoophiles who claim that not only was the animal not harmed but that their sexual activity with animals was beneficial to the animal and met the animal’s sexual needs.

  • Example: We are all animals at some level, with about the same wants and desires. Your fuzzy friend loves getting his rocks off or her world rocked just as much as you do! This is pretty evident to us, but think about it: very few animals are intelligent enough to have sex for fun! I like to think dogs (maybe horses) are among them most of the time. The drive for sex is seen in all living things”.

Condemning of condemners: This refers to the practice of zoophiles condemning those who vilify their zoophilic behaviour. Here, the accusers are viewed as “unfit to judge” or pass comment on zoophilia because the accusers engage in behaviour that is equally as bad. Zoophiles denounce “conventional society as hypocritical for demonizing zoophilia. Some claimants argue that normals tend to callously abuse the very animals they allegedly seek to protect”.

  • Example: A neighbor of mine crates their dog (puppy), all day in their backyard. Totally neglects the dog. I called animal control as the weather is getting cold. Makes me sad that this happens all the time, everywhere. My amazing dog goes every- where with me. I couldn’t imagine leaving her in the yard in a 3X3 crate with less than 1hr of human contact a day…Some people need to be treated how they treat their pets. Nothing pisses me off like animal/pet neglect. WE chose them, not the other way around”.

Appeals to enlightenment: This refers to zoophiles who try to appeal to enlightenment and justify their zoophilic activity by arguing that “certain behaviors are vilified because larger society is incapable of comprehending the appropriateness of those actions”.

  • Example: You will run into objections such as: it’s against the law; it’s against religion; it’s perverted; and it’s dirty. All of these issues are artificial and belie a fundamental problem with modern society. We as a nation, as a world, exploit animals for everything from food to companionship. Giving animals or admitting that animals are capable of being in mutual loving relationships puts that world view into serious question”.

Neutralization by comparison: This refers to zoophiles that identify similarities between themselves and “other social groups that have overcome a corresponding deviant identity”. Although this is similar to ‘justification by comparison’ (above) the difference here is that individuals are not ‘‘justifying their actions by comparing their crimes to more serious offenses, but rather neutralizing their deviance via comparison to other historically stigmatized acts and behaviors that have achieved some level of mainstream social acceptance”.

  • Example: For years, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexual/transgender people have been fighting a long hard battle for their rights of equality and for the freedom to express their own individual sexuality without the fear of legal prosecution. Personally, I don’t see why practicing zoophiles such as myself and other people here and around the world, [shouldn’t] campaign for the right to legally express our own sexuality too”.

Claims of cultural diffusion: This refers to zoophiles that try to normalize their behaviour through reference to zoophilic acts in popular culture in as a way of showing there is greater mainstream acceptance for their behavior than publicly acknowledged.

  • Example: I think it does seem like more zoo/beasty stuff is popping up in movies and TV lately, usually as jokes on sitcoms and stuff, but still, it puts it out there, exposing people to the idea, making it a bit more familiar. And, slowly, I think the more familiar the idea becomes the more likely it is to become gradually more accepted”.

Although I’m a psychologist, I still appreciate the contribution that sociology can make in the field of sexual paraphilias. As Dr. Maratea argues, traditional sociological theory has examined how those classed as ‘deviants’ manage their day-today identity and stigmatization from non-deviants. However, online communities such as the ones at Zoo Board allow virtual anonymity and facilitate those who were once isolated to meet like-minded individuals (albeit virtually) who validate their own behaviour and experiences. As Dr. Maratea concludes:

“On Zoo Board, accounts are regularly disseminated that normalize zoophilia by constructing alternative dialogues that challenge the mainstream social discourse that defines animal sex as deviant. To this end, the messages and themes contained in neutralizing accounts reveal much about the social organization of the Zoo Board community, and the individual and collective identity work that takes place therein”.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Beetz, A.M. (2000, June). Human sexual contact with animals: New insights from current research. Paper presented at the 5th Congress of the European Federation of Sexology, Berlin.

Beirne, P., 1997. Rethinking bestiality: towards a concept of interspecies sexual assault. Theoretical Criminology, 1, 317–340.

Miletski, H. (2000). Bestiality and zoophilia: An exploratory study. Scandinavian Journal of Sexology, 3, 149–150.

Miletski, H. (2001). Zoophilia – implications for therapy. Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, 26, 85–89.

Miletski, H. (2002). Understanding bestiality and zoophilia. Germantown, MD: Ima Tek Inc.

R.J. Maratea (2011). Screwing the pooch: Legitimizing accounts in a zoophilia on-line community. Deviant Behavior, 32, 918-943.

Williams, C. J., & Weinberg, M. S. (2003). Zoophilia in men: A study of sexual interest in animals. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32, 523–535.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on January 17, 2013, in Case Studies, Crime, Cyberpsychology, I.T., Paraphilia, Sex, Sex addiction, Sociology, Technology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Arlo Kilpatrick

    It may be too late to comment here, but I’m going to anyway. I am a zoophile (a kynophile, to be specific), am unashamed of it, and think that the justifications of the kind offered here are valid to a point. Let me reply to each justification in turn, in as neutral a manner as possible.

    Denial of injury: This is probably, in many cases, factually accurate. Even ignoring the clear ethical concerns with hurting an animal you know so intimately and may care deeply about, the simple practical fact that injury to the animal significantly increases the risk of getting caught by a third party provides an incentive to treat the animal with care and respect.

    Justification by comparison: I’ll admit that this is a bad way to justify any behavior, good or bad. But given the likelihood that in a majority of cases the animal isn’t harmed, and may even experience pleasure from the sexual experience, there are plenty of worse behaviors from nearly any moral standpoint which we deem permissible. For example, I might argue that dressing a dog in a halloween costume, cute though it may be, is worse than sexual intercourse with a dog done properly (for example, by having the dog initiate sexual contact and taking proper precautions to prevent injury or trauma).

    Claims of benefit: I’ll make an argument that this is correct, at least in some cases. I think we can agree that for most human beings sex is a pleasurable experience, both physiologically and psychologically. The physiological responses are roughly identical between human beings and other mammals (with similar stages of sexual arousal culminating in orgasm), and ethologists have confirmed both male and female sexual arousal and orgasm in a variety of species, and particularly in mammals such as dogs and horses. Since sexual pleasure has an obvious evolutionary advantage, and since sex has a billion year history, it is apparent that mammals with similar brain structures to ours would also experience pleasure, even if it is simply the pleasure of physical stimulation. Psychologically, we see that most animals actively seek out sexual activity (at least when the female is in season), and in the specific cases of dogs and horses, we can observe this seeking behavior among their own species. In socialized, domesticated species, the bond between human and animal is evidently in some cases a very close one, as both humans and animals, for example, appear to experience periods of mourning when someone they consider a family member disappears from their lives. The similar brain structures between human beings and higher mammals, particularly in the centers of the brain responsible for sexual pleasure, suggests that it has similar psychological effects for certain animals as for humans. I won’t argue that this is actually the case, but one way to test for this would be to measure, in interspecies sexual activities, levels of cortisol in the bloodstream to determine stress levels in the animal, vaginal or penile fluids to confirm whether sexual arousal and/or orgasm has occurred, and the behavior of the animal to determine psychological effects of interspecies sex.

    Condemning of condemners: This is also a bad justification in general, as it can be done regardless of the position being defended. But please explain to me why it is morally permissible to kill animals for sport, for food, and for materials, or to keep them captive in our homes, and yet the addition of pleasurable sexual contact is going too far. And if you think that pet ownership or animal slaughter for a variety of causes, then I applaud you for having a somewhat consistent worldview, and would ask how you intend to change the minds of people who view their relationships with these animals as mutually beneficial.

    Appeals to enlightenment: Again, a bad justification. This time I have no argument really, just a request that if interspecies sex is wrong, it should be explained rationally, without appealing to human exceptionalism or general unpopularity. In one of your articles, you make an argument from the testimony of veterinarians that interspecies sex is inherently harmful, but to me this is similar to a coroner in a crime-ridden neighborhood of Chicago pointing to the corpses of people shot to death and claiming that this requires strict gun control laws. In both cases, the samples being examined are biased, in that the only cases that a veterinarian or coroner ever sees are cases where something has gone wrong. The coroner never sees the many responsible gun owners who use their guns responsibly and cause no harm to anyone in doing so. In the same way, a veterinarian will not see the cases of interspecies sex that don’t cause a medical or psychological problem in the animal.

    Neutralization by comparison: Zoophiles have some hurdles to clear on this one. In particular, if we are to be accepted by the mainstream, we must demonstrate with evidence that animals can consent to sex with human beings, and that they can even initiate sexual contact. And just as we as a society begin to conclude that homosexuality, though uncommon, can be pleasurable to all parties and is therefore is no one’s business but the parties involved, I am confident that zoophilia will eventually meet the same standards of evidence and become acceptable.

    Claims of cultural diffusion: Not a good argument in any way for or against zoophilia, just an acknowledgement that, as our society becomes more willing to share information, uncommon behaviors can become normalized purely through exposure to them. Not the best way to gain acceptance, but every little bit helps.

    If you want to hear other justifications for the permissibility of interspecies sex, I am willing to provide them. However, I think I’ve fleshed out the arguments mentioned enough to give a general overview of the (in my opinion) somewhat valid justifications for bestiality.

  2. Hi there. I’m also a zoosexual and I’ll try to respond to Dr. Maratea’s paper:

    (i) denial of injury,

    The reason zoosexuals even bring this up is because one of the main arguments against zoosexuals is that sex with animals causes harm to them. Judging by the language of the article, it seems that Dr. Maratea admits that the sex does not harm the animals, but he still considers the act wrong for some other unspecified reason. Since Dr. Maratea and I are in agreement that it doesn’t cause harm to the animals, this needs no further discussion.

    (ii) justification by comparison,

    Once again, the only reason this comparison is ever brought up is because it is so widespread in the anti-zoophile community. In many anti-zoo articles, zoosexuals are routinely compared to pedophiles. We, as zoosexuals, know that animals are not human children. We know that animals have sex with each other all the time and actually enjoy it. Perhaps if we were not compared to pedos all the time, then we wouldn’t need to justify by comparison.

    (iii) claims of benefit,

    Animals do have sexual needs, unless they are neutered. This is a biological fact, whether Dr. Maratea wants to admit it or not. If Dr. Maratea had taken more time looking through the board, he would have discovered that zoosexuals agree that neutered animals have a far lower (and sometines no) desire for sex. In that case, this claim of benefit would not make sense, and in fact no zoosexual I’ve ever seen has claimed that sex with a neutered animal is enjoyable for the animal. Perhaps Dr. Maratea should have included this information in his study.

    and (iv) condemning of condemners.

    This has absolutely nothing to do with sex.

    You must understand that zoosexuals tend to have a far higher standard of animal care than most people. Personally, I would never feed my dog anything I wouldn’t eat, whereas most people feed their dogs the same dry kibble meal after meal, day after day. To me, that is inhumane. I cook organic meals for my dog, pay for her medical insurance, brush her teeth, groom her, give her daily baths with organic soaps that are easy on her skin, and visit her on my lunch break everyday. I spend all my free time with her. To most people, this kind of care seems over-the-top, but for zoosexuals it’s routine. If you understand that, then it seems natural that zoosexuals would condemn how normal people treat their dogs. It has absolutely nothing to do with justifying sex. It’s more about the routine care of an animal outside of sex. In fact, if you’re a person of any merit, you would jump right on the bandwagon with us zoosexuals and agree that animal abuse/neglect is wrong. Even if you disagree with our sexuality, we can all agree on that.


    I want to try to be civil, but I can’t help but question Dr. Maratea’s methods as a scientist. A true scientist gathers unbiased and comprehensive data to reach an unbiased conclusion. Dr. Maratea seems to have gone backwards, first reaching his own biased conclusion against zoosexuality, then cherry-picking data to support it, while omitting data that is contrary to his opinion. This kind of “study” is reminiscent of the “studies” in the 50s linking homosexuality to pedophilia. It is completely biased and unscientific.

  3. @ sumwun and arlo:

    i am personally acquainted with dr. maratea and can confirm he is not anti-zoo.. provided, of course, that whatever zoosexual behavior occurs is situated within an ethic of animal care, which the majority of your community indeed seems to adhere to, and attempts to actively cultivate and promote.

    maratea is primarily a new media (i.e., internet) and deviance scholar, and here is simply expanding on a well-established theoretical model specifying how so-called “deviants” justify and give meaning to their behavior (sykes and matza, 1957), using zoosexuals as an interesting “case of.” the initial model specifies 5 techniques of neutralization, and, after performing a content analysis of some of the dialogue among members of your community, he specified three additional neutralization techniques (enlightenment, comparison, cultural diffusion).

    i assure you he is not making moral judgements about zoosexuality in general, or your community in specific, and i would argue that you are perhaps (understandably) bringing your own preconceptions to bear here, and that is coloring your reading of his work.

    there is a small but growing body of scholarship examining zoo sex more from a cultural standpoint, rather than from a clinical-psychological-pathology perspective, as has too often been the case. maratea’s work fits within this more cultural literature (also see williams and weinberg, 2003). while i agree that his treatment of zoo sex was not overtly sympathetic, nothing in the article suggests that he is gallivanting around on some moral highground casting dispersions.

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