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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.