By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Feb 10, 2023
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Cite this Response

Alice! Health Promotion. "Animal sexual abuse." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 10 Feb. 2023, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/animal-sexual-abuse. Accessed 22, Jun. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2023, February 10). Animal sexual abuse. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/animal-sexual-abuse.

Dear Alice,

I recently had intercourse with a sheep at a friend's house. He is a sheeprancher and one day he was talking about how good it was. He left town for a few days and asked me to feed his animals. I took the chance and gave it a try. The strange thing is that I enjoyed it more than having sex with my girlfriend. When I was a young lad I was molested by a female babysitter. I was wondering if you may think that the earlier incident in my life has affected my sexuality. I liked it so much that I want to do it again, but I am worried that I may contract a STD from the ewe. I have heard that you can.

Could you please help me?

Sincerely,
Woody

Dear Alice,

I have read about men and women having sex with animals, e.g., dogs (Women on Top by Nancy Friday, Simon & Schuster, 1991). Apart from it being against the law (I think), are there medical reasons why this is not a good idea? For example, are there STDs that can be passed from animals to humans? Are there immunological consequences from depositing sperm into the vagina of another species? Is this kind of sex common?

—Sheep herder

Dear Woody and Sheep herder, 

While the act of humans having sex with animals is commonly referred to as bestiality, there's been a recent push in veterinary literature to rename the practice “animal sexual abuse” (ASA). This is because the term animal sexual abuse recognizes the trauma and harm that such actions may have on the animal, as well as the animal’s inability to give consent. While it’s unlikely that an animal will contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI) from a human, there are other bacteria and viruses that can pass between animals and humans. Read on for more information about the concerns around sex with animals as well as resources to support you in healing from your trauma. 

All sexual encounters should involve partners who consent to an exploration of mutual pleasure and enjoyment, but this is not possible when it comes to animal sexual abuse. Unlike humans, animals are unable to consent to or refuse to participate in sexual activities. As a result, there is an inherent power imbalance between humans and animals, which is why ASA is considered a form of abuse towards animals. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), zoophilia, or a sexual attraction towards animals, is considered a paraphilia. Paraphilias are broadly defined as a sexual interest in atypical activities (like voyeurism, sadism, or masochism) or atypical partners (like animals or children). Not everyone who experiences a paraphilia will necessarily engage in a corresponding behavior, nor is having a paraphilia considered a disorder unless it involves personal distress or harm towards others. To put it another way, zoophilia is an experience of attraction that may or may not be considered a disorder in need of treatment, while ASA is an action that involves harming animals who are unable to consent. 

As for health risks, it’s possible for animal sexual abuse to cause injury and illness to both the human and the animal. Sex with animals may cause bodily injury due to the difference in size of human and non-human genitalia, or the animal may claw, bite, kick, or otherwise injure the human. Additionally, although human STIs are generally unable to be transmitted to animals because these infections are species-specific, there are over 200 other zoonotic diseases, or diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. Zoonotic diseases vary in health risks and likelihood of transmission, but there are three particular zoonotic diseases that are of greater concern: leptospirosis, echinococcosis, and rabies. 

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection transmitted via contact with urine or other bodily fluids from infected animals, including cattle, pigs, horses, dogs, and rodents. If left untreated in humans, leptospirosis may cause kidney damage, liver failure, meningitis, and death. Echinococcosis is a parasitic tapeworm that may be transmitted via contact with the feces of infected animals. These tapeworms create cysts in the body's organs, which often go unnoticed for many years but may cause pain or nausea, or they may result in allergic reaction or death if the cysts are ruptured. Finally, the most severe and well-known of zoonotic infections is rabies. Rabies is caused by coming into contact with the saliva of an infected animal, typically dogs, cats, and horses. Rabies affects the central nervous system and is nearly always fatal without quick medical intervention. 

Currently, there is limited research on the subject of sex with animals. Research on ASA among the general population conducted in the 1940s to 1970s suggested that about two to four percent of women and five to eight percent of men have ever engaged in sexual contact with an animal, but more recent prevalence data is difficult to find. Additional more recent studies have suggested that rates of ASA may be higher among incarcerated individuals and among psychiatric inpatients, though again, the research is limited. That being said, due to the sensitive and taboo topic of ASA, it’s difficult to trust self-report data. It’s been found, however, that people who harm animals, including those who have engaged in ASA, are more likely to have perpetrated violence against others or have experienced abuse and neglect as children themselves. This means that there is a possibility that the childhood incident with your babysitter may be related to your present desire to have sex with animals. 

If your interest in the topic of animal sexual abuse stems from traumatic events in your past, you may consider seeking professional assistance to work through it. Abuse is wrong, and that includes any abuse you may have suffered at the hands of others. Experiencing molestation or abuse can trigger a range of emotions, from confusion and shame to anger and fear. You may find it useful to channel these emotions by reaching out to get support. Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) has some additional resources for survivors that may be helpful.

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