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n Lucius Apuleius’ The Golden Ass (or Metamorphoses, second
century ), a willing animal is depicted copulating with a beau-
tiful woman, although it confesses to being a little nervous. The
ass admits,
I was greatly troubled by no small fear, thinking in what
manner should I be able, with legs so many and of such a
size, to mount a tender and highborn lady; or, encircle with
hard hooves her limbs softened with milk and honey and
so white and delicate.¹
If the audience in the ancient world found it acceptable (or at least
funny) in literature for an ass to copulate with a human, why do
some people nd it so offensive now? Often, in the present day, sex
with animals is considered with morbid curiosity rather than as a
terrible crime or sin, but in the medieval period, such actions
could condemn a person to eternal damnation. Why was it consid-
ered so dreadful?
Most of the answers take us back to Judaism, with part of its
morality being taken up by Christianity. Bestiality was considered
unclean and the Torah ordered that Jews should abstain from lying
with animals. Christians inherited this aversion and condemned
bestiality as an unnatural act and a sin. Sex with animals was con-
sidered among the worst of crimes among Christians, alongside
sex between two men, both acts being classed as sodomy. Bestiality
was seen as ‘against nature’ and women were considered as capable
as men of committing sodomy with animals. Leviticus 18:23 com -
manded, Neither shall thou lie with any beast to dele thyself
A Mans Best Friend:
One thing I learned, you have to be careful in choosing your sex partner – it’s
difficult and dangerous to rape a horse.
Mark Matthews, The Horseman: Obsessions of a Zoophile (1994)
therewith; neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down
thereto’, although few cases were ever brought before the ecclesi-
astical courts.
Today, in our secular times, can sex with animals be considered
out of bounds? Even outside the context of religion and sin, it is still
considered taboo. Is this because of outdated prudish concepts of
immorality that still linger, or a more deep-seated feeling of abhor-
rence towards such acts? Attention is now shifting from the idea of
human–animal sex as a problem towards the abuse of the animals
themselves. The long history of sex between humans and animals
suggests a deep-rooted connection between them – encompassing
hunger (food), work, entertainment, pleasure and even love – and
this bond is sometimes complicated by the emotions they evoke in
us. In the time of ancient Greece, however, animals were closely
connected to life and reproduction, and tales of sexual connection
with them were part of everyday life.
Zoological Tales
In mythology and legend, people were often described as being
enamoured with animals: the god Zeus turned into a swan in order
to seduce Leda, and she produced four eggs which hatched as her
children, Castor, Pollux, Helen and Clytemnestra. This was one of
Zeuss more delicate affairs. In another, he disguised himself as a
white bull in order to impregnate Europa. Most of these narratives
involve a symbolically hyper-potent male animal mating with a
human female: Philyra was raped by Kronos manifest as a horse, and
bore the centaur Chiron; Poseidon, as a horse, mated with Demeter
in Arcadia, and she bore him the horse Arion. The satyr Pan attacked
the shepherd Daphnis and had frontal intercourse with a nanny
goat. Occasionally, women were the instigators of bestiality: after
Poseidon had cast a spell on Pasiphaë, the wife of King Minos, she
fell in love with a snow-white bull. In order to enable sex to take
place, she requested a wooden hollow cow to be built that she
could place herself inside. She then positioned herself in such a
way that her vagina was presented to the amorous attack of the bull
without fear of any damage to her body. The fruit of this embrace
was the Minotaur, half-bull, half-man, which was later to be slain by
Theseus.² The ancient Romans were treated to a gruesome show
when, according to Suetonius, Nero caused the spectacle of Pasiphaë
to be enacted for real at public events.
Sex was part of religious rituals in which gods and goddesses
turned into animals and had sex with humans. Copulating with a
snake was said to produce great sons: Olympia, mother of Alexander
the Great, was a devout member of the orgiastic snake-worshipping
cult of Dionysus; it was said that Aristodama had sex with a snake
and bore Aratus. The founding of cities and families often depended
Fresco depicting a scene from Apuleius, The Golden Ass, c. 1575.
Léon-François Comerre, Leda and the Swan, 1908.
on the creation of a legend in which men are spawned or nurtured
by animals. The myth of the founding of Rome is well known, with
Romulus and his twin brother Remus suckled by a wolf. Less renowned
is the mythical tale of the origins of the Danish royal family in which
a beautiful girl was impregnated by a bear. She bore a hairy son
with human limbs whom she named Ursus. After the bear was killed,
she took her son back to her city where he married and sired sons
of his own, one of whom in turn fathered Suens, king of the Danes.
Such tales reinforced the connection between people and animals
and assimilated them into everyday life. Bulls were worshipped;
horses were praised for their strength and heroics; wolves and
bears, which might have been regarded as a threat in the wild, were
befriended and became family.
Reports of real-life incidents of a bestial nature came from
Herodotus, who informed us that in ancient Egypt women copu-
lated with goats: In my life-time a monstrous thing happened in
Pan copulating with a goat, ancient Roman marble statue found at Herculaneum,
now in the ‘Secret Room’ at the Naples Archaeological Museum.
this province, a woman having open intercourse with a he-goat.’³
This activity allegedly took place in Mendes, where the goat was
considered sacred, and their god was worshipped in its caprine
form. Herodotus was known for his inventions and has not always
been found to be accurate, though Xenophon also records sex with
goats in ancient Greece. Plutarch commented on the state of Greece,
When Nature, supported though she be by law, cannot con-
tain your intemperance within the bounds of reason, as if
it were a torrent carrying it away perforce, she often and in
many places commits great outrages, disorders, and scandals
against nature in the matter of the pleasure of love; for there
have been men who have conceived a passion for she-goats,
sows and mares.⁴
The real-life activities of women in ancient Rome were no less savoury
according to Martial, who stated that women sometimes inserted
snakes into their vaginas. Curiously, this was supposed to have been
both for sexual purposes and also as a means of keeping cool, as
it was thought to deodorize that part of the body in the heat of
summer. Lucian also comments that snakes were taught to suckle
on womens nipples.⁵
Satyr presents gifts to Venus, engraving by Maarten de Vos the Elder, c. 1580s.
This tolerance or even promotion of the imagery of sex with
beasts was part of the ancient religious world, in which animals
played a large role. Animals were incorporated into the universal
scheme, their lives interwoven with that of humans. However,
people in the Christian era were to distance themselves from animals,
at least in their understanding of morality, and bestiality was con-
demned as a sinful act and a perversion of nature.
To Lie with a Beast
Various penances were devised for the sin of bestiality. The most
appropriate punishment, according to Leviticus 20:15–16, was death.
Church authorities did their best to avert such intimacy with animals
by putting the fear of God into unwitting souls. One Church Father,
St Jerome (c. 347–420), declared that he had seen women giving
birth to satyrs after they had copulated with apes in the desert.⁶ By
the ninth century, Egbert, king of Wessex, deemed bestial relations
worthy of 100 days of penance. However, Burchards penitential list
suggested 40 days’ subsistence on only bread and water, with seven
years of penance for unmarried men who had committed bestiality,
and ten for married men. Just as in cases of masturbation, a single
man had the excuse of his lack of access to sex, but a married man
with a wife at home should not be practising sex with animals.
Nonetheless, certain communities continued to include bestiality
in particular rituals. Around 1188, a cleric called Gerald described a
bizarre ancient rite that took place in Ireland in the tiny hamlet of
Kenelcunill. When a king was appointed, he was brought before an
audience of his people and was expected to copulate with a white mare
while declaring himself also to be a beast. The mare was then killed
and boiled in water in which the king then had to bathe. Afterwards,
he and his people would eat the flesh of the mare and drink the
water in which he has bathed. Gerald suggested that this ceremony
was still being performed in the twelfth century.⁷
By around the year 1000, animals came to be seen as just as
culpable as their human partners and were brought before the courts
alongside their partners in crime. If found guilty, the pair were then
hanged or burned together. In the Middle Ages, therefore, animals
were considered just as guilty as the person who had perpetrated
the crime. The Parliament of Paris of 1601 and that of Aix in 1679
burned the beasts involved in such crimes on the grounds that if
they were allowed to live, the odious crime would live on in the
memory of others. Most frequently, culprits were caught when a
neighbour or fellow worker happened upon someone with a cow
in the cowshed, a mare in the elds or some other large animal.
Perhaps because of the size of the animals involved, these activities
could not be missed. For the same reason of size, activities between
cattle and humans tended to be committed by men. According to
the criminal records, women tended to prefer smaller animals
such as dogs and cats.⁸ Because of this, it was harder to detect them.
Did men and women who had sex with beasts actually prefer it or
did they do it because they could not get sex from other people?
Or were animals simply more available in rural areas and bestial
acts merely opportunistic?
Reasons for bestiality can sometimes be gleaned by examin -
ation of trial records. Only a few bestiality cases were recorded in
England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but when
they did come to light, they provoked shock and horror among the
public. Records of bestiality often did not survive, as the trial papers
Gustave Courbet, Nude Woman with a Dog, c. 1861–2.
were burned along with the offenders in an attempt to erase the
shameful acts from history. In the sixteenth century, royal prose-
cutor Simon Gueulette ordered the destruction of at least 40 trial
records to get rid of any trace of the misdeeds, but copies survived
and found their way into the archives of the Bibliothèque Nationale
in Paris.
In one trial in November 1555, the defendant appears to have
made a habit of bestiality. Jean de La Soille was a 26-year-old mule
keeper employed to look after the asses of Monsieur de Terron. His
previous employer, the local grocer Josse Valeroin, had repeatedly
told his new employer that the youth had already sodomized a fav -
ourite jenny (female ass) some time previously. Meanwhile, another
witness, the local innkeeper, had caught the mule keeper sexually
assaulting a jenny only the week before. With so much evidence
before the judges, it was inevitable that La Soille would be found
guilty and given a death sentence; the unfortunate jenny was to be
burned before the prisoner and the prisoner then hanged and
strangled, his body thrown on to the fire following the animal. The
activities of Jean de La Soille appear not to have been merely oppor-
tunistic (although he had the perfect job to allow for the act); he had
made a specific practice of seeking out mules and asses. Enough wit -
nesses had caught him in the act to warrant him a true bestialist.
Some accusations of bestiality, however, seem to lie on less
certain grounds. In the case of 35-year-old wagonmaker Antoine
de La Rue, the accusation may have been a way of settling old scores.
He came to trial in 1622 after visiting the apothecary for a cream to
salve a strange injury – it appeared that La Rue had grazed his skin
through carnal intercourse, or at least that is what he had told the
apothecary who gave witness to the court. La Rues apprentice, Thomas
Le Fèvre, also gave evidence that he had seen his master sodomiz-
ing a white mare. Meanwhile, the prisoner’s wife told the court that
she knew her husbandcopulated daily with the mare, but felt unable
to do anything about it. She was, however, enraged by the fact that
her husband had earlier beaten her up, and therefore had reason
to bear a grudge. Her husband had also forced her to have unnatu-
ral intercourse with him in a way ‘other than is allowed by decent
marital relations’. Although she refused, he came upon her while
she was sleeping and fulfilled his intentions against her wishes.
When La Rue came to give evidence, he admitted he had beaten
his wife but said he did so because she was having an affair with the
apothecary. In this case, events behind the scene provide other
reasons for accusations of sodomy with animals. It may have been
a ruse of Le Fèvres wife, intended to get rid of a troublesome spouse.
While it easy to see how such cases might be fabricated, the author-
ities did not see likewise. La Rue was hanged in the square of
Montpensier and his body was burned along with that of the horse
Sometimes it was the animal itself that gave the game away, as
in the case of a sixteen-year-old girl, Claudine de Culam. She was
brought to trial at Rougnon in France in 1601 alongside her white
spotted dog. Despite her mothers protestations of her daughters
innocence, the girl was ordered to strip naked. As the dog was brought
into the chamber, it jumped on her, ‘knowing her carnally’, and it was
obvious to all who were watching that it knew what to do. Both the
girl and the dog were strangled and then burned; their ashes were
thrown to the wind so that no trace would be left of them.¹¹ Cases
of women having sex with dogs were also found in London. In 1677,
a married woman from Cripplegate thought to be aged between
30 and 40 was sentenced to death for her crime. According to the
summary of her case brought before the Old Bailey:
With not the fear of God before her eyes, nor regarding the
order of Nature, on the 23rd of June last, to the disgrace of all
womankind, did commit Buggery with a certain Mungril Dog,
and wickedly, divellishly, and against nature had venereal and
Carnal copulation with him.¹²
Through several holes in the wall between her house and next
door, her neighbours had been able to see her in acts of ‘uncleanli -
ness’. The dog was brought before the prisoner and ‘owned her by
wagging his tail, and making motions as it were to kiss her, which
twas sworn she did do when she made that horrid use of him.’ She
was sentenced to death. No mention is made of what happened to
the dog.
Although now it may seem unusual for people to commit bestial
acts with their animals, it seems even worse that the perpetrator
should die for it. Yet in the past, the act was not seen as a simple sex-
ual transgression of society’s rules, but a complete abrogation of the
laws of God. It transcended normality and left a stain on society
too horrendous to contemplate. The act and the culprits therefore
had to be wiped out of existence.
An Abominable Sin
There was a certain reluctance by judges to convict for bestiality,
perhaps because of the capital punishments for guilty perpetrators.
This may also explain the unwillingness of lay people to report such
crimes when they came across them, despite their aversion to the
behaviour. Generally, legal authorities preferred to keep quiet
about the subject. This became evident in the 1670s, when the
Scottish legal advocate George MacKenzie demanded that cases of
bestiality must be tried at night, and instructed that no written
records should be kept of the trials. If found guilty, the perpetrator
was quietly drowned at dawn in order to keep the crime hidden.
People were gradually moving to cities where acts of besti -
ality were more difficult to disguise. According to the London court
records at least, bestiality was confined to domestic households
with smaller animals, while cases in the countryside tended to involve
large animals. It was not necessarily the case that there were fewer
large animals kept in the city, as horses were seen everywhere,
an essential means of transport. But a sexual act with a large animal
would be easy to spot by people living and working in close prox -
imity to each other, and therefore potential perpetrators were less
willing to take the risk. When men were exposed in the act of com-
mitting a bestial act, the witnesses could be male or female at
least in the countryside but when women were caught, it was most
often by their female neighbours, in towns and cities. This may have
been because, as seen in the cases mentioned above, men were more
likely to choose larger animals while women stuck to smaller, often
canine partners. As a result, men were more likely to be caught in barns
and sheds (as their targets were larger bovine or equine creatures kept
outside) and women caught in their own rooms with their pets.
One case involved a woman whose activities were observed
through chinks in a partition floor by her fellow tenant in a town-
house. Mary Price, alias Hartington, from the parish of Eling’ (Ealing),
was brought before the Old Bailey in London on 26 April 1704 and
indicted for the ‘Horrible and abominable Sin of Sodomycom -
mitted with her dog. The nosy neighbour lived in a room upstairs
from the accused, and it was reported that ‘she saw her sitting in a
Chair, by the Fire-side, looking backward, and took the Dog to her,
which she said, acted with her as to a Bitch.’¹³ The accused stated in
her defence that she did nothing of the sort and it was mere malice on
the part of the other tenant. Other neighbours gave evidence that
there had been quarrels between the two women and the accused
was acquitted.
It was mostly men who were caught in opportunistic incidents.
In Geneva in 1678 an eighteen-year-old farmhand named Jean-Marc
Tournier was brought to trial after being seen buggering a cow by a
neighbour. The authorities took the time and trouble to interview
countless residents of the village in Burgundy where the act had taken
place. They all thought it suspicious that he herded the cows alone
when it was usually a two-person job, but Jean-Marc gave the defence
that he liked to be alone ‘to think. A wall of silence fell around the
villagers after the boy’s brothers threatened everyone in the village.
Those brought forward as witnesses to the act said that the boy in
the dock had the wrong colour of hair and hat. Although the court
felt Jean-Marc was guilty, the case collapsed from lack of evidence.¹⁴
Another fortunate fellow was a man from Shoreditch brought
before the Old Bailey on 17 June 1677. He had been seenamongst the
Bricke-kilns [to] drive a white Mare to a small Heap of Bricks, which
he had laid together, and there use most unnatural and brutish
Endeavours several times, and after that to another Bay Mare’. He
confessed he lately came out of Kent to seek for work, and within
three or four days after his coming up was ‘apprehended in this
beastly Action’.¹⁵ He too was found not guilty.
In Britain, the crime of ‘buggerywas generally applied to cases
of bestiality, as seen in the case in 1776 against Christopher Saunders,
a cook on a ship who ‘feloniously and wickedly against the order of
nature did carnally know the said beast called a cow, and with the
said beast called a cow did feloniously and wickedly and against
the order of nature commit and perpetrate the detestable and
abominable crime, not to be named among Christians, called
Buggery. One of the witnesses, Abraham Denning, was working in
the cowshed on 10 March. In his evidence, he said:
I heard the cow move; I looked through to see what was the
matter, it was in another barn adjoining; it was a boarded
barn and there were chinks; I saw the prisoner at the bar
stroking the cow and patting her; I never knew the prisoner
before; this was about six oclock in the morning; it was light
and I could see him stroking and patting her; then he went
to the other end of the barn and fetched a tub to put behind
the cow, it stood up edgeways; then he got up on the top of
the side of the tub; I saw him unbutton his breeches and
his trowsers; I saw him make motions as if he had a mind to
do; I did not see any part of his body, but he made motions
towards the cow.¹⁶
According to the witness, Saunders was with the cow for about ten
minutes. Another witness, John Tumey, told the court:
I knew nothing of this affair till the last witness came and
called me; I went down; he said there was a man in the barn;
I asked him what he was doing, he said come along, do not
stand, and we went there immediately; the prisoner was
standing close to the cow hustling his breeches up, he did
not get them up till we got to the door; Denning laid hold of
his collar on one side and I on the other; the prisoner asked
me what we were doing.
Despite evidence of his good character being given by Saunders’s
wife and various others, and continuing to deny his crimes, he was
found guilty and sentenced to death.
From the evidence of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century
Sweden, it appears that many cases were not only opportunistic but
also involved drinking.¹⁷ In both Switzerland and Sweden, the pref-
erence was for cows, though pigs had been common in the New
World of puritanical seventeenth-century America. In New England,
the aptly named Thomas Hogg was accused of fathering a piglet
that resembled him. At the trial, Hogg was instructed to fondle the
animal, and immediately there appeared a working of lust in the sow,
insomuch she poured out the seed before them’ Hogg denied
having anything to do with her but failed to convince the jury. In
the end, he was charged with the lesser crimes of filthiness, lying and
pilfering, and sentenced to a whipping and hard labour.
What the Papers Say
Few cases of bestiality were reported in the newspapers of the eight -
eenth century and when they were, they were reduced to one-liners.
Although the reporters seemed to want the public to know about
such cases, they were not prepared to give out details. Under its
Country Newssection, the Whitehall Evening Post of 13 October 1789
reported that a Samuel Stretton had been arraigned for bestiality with
an ewe but was discharged. According to the London Evening Post
of 30 April 1772, a black man was tried for attempted bestiality at
Hickmans Hall and found guilty.¹⁹ The Courier and Evening Gazette
of 23 July 1799 reported that Joseph Dewey had been found guilty of
bestiality at the Assizes in Leicester and sentenced to death, but no
mention was made of what happened to the animal.²⁰ Perhaps the
newspapers wanted to encourage people to report such crimes, but
were afraid to provide the details in case others followed suit.
Not all perpetrators of bestiality were given a capital sentence,
and attitudes were gradually changing. Although in 1821 in Britain the
Buggery Act still applied a sentence of death for acts with animals,
in some cases the punishment was seen as too harsh for the crime
and those found guilty were let off with a prison sentence. The law
was eventually to catch up with changes in public opinion, and the
punishment was amended to life imprisonment under the Offences
Against the Person Act of 1861, which stated, ‘Whosoever shall be
convicted of the abominable crime of buggery, committed either
with mankind or with any animal, shall be liable . . . to be kept in
penal servitude for life.’²¹ By the early nineteenth century, accord-
ing to newspaper reports, guilty verdicts differentiated between
actual and ‘attemptedbestiality, which may indicate the reason for
the lighter sentencing. According to the Bury and Norwich Post of
26 February 1823, a Mr Masby received only two months’ imprison -
ment for the latter, with the first fortnight in solitary confinement,
and a good whipping.²² The type of animal involved was not men-
tioned. Robert Rose and Jonathan Burrell were both charged with
bestiality at Norfolk assizes.²³ No sentence was mentioned. In York
Assizes, the authorities seem to have been more lenient with those
less mentally able: they let off the ‘imbecile’ Daniel Woodliff from
Calster, who had been caught committing bestiality with a calf. John
Wilkinson, being tried at the same time for the same offence with
a cow, was less fortunate: he received two years’ imprisonment.²⁴ A
persons mental capacity was therefore an issue for the courts’ con-
sideration in cases of bestiality.
By 1830, newspaper reports on bestiality were starting to include
extra information, such as the judges comments and the state of
the prisoner. This may have been caused by an increase in public
interest in the subject, combined with decreasing censorship about
the activity (and less concern about making it public). Reporters rec -
og nized the titillation value of such scandals and wanted to make the
most of it. Under the heading Abominable Crime’, the Morning
Post of 31 August 1830 told of 39-year-old Joseph Rowbottom, who
had come before the court for committing bestiality in Pendle, near
Manchester. While sentencing, the judge harangued him, declaring,
You have been convicted upon the clearest possible evidence
of the perpetration of a crime which by the laws of God and
Man has ever doomed the wretched individual by whom it
has been committed to be cut off from his fellow-creatures
. . . your mind being darkened by sin and iniquity.
The crime was still considered serious enough for Rowbottom to be
sentenced to death with no hope of reprieve. Similarly, the Liver pool
News for 16 August 1833 reported the events of the Lancaster Assizes
under the heading ‘Unnatural Crime’. This time the journalist report-
ed some background details about the prisoner, 41-year- old John
Haworth, a labourer who had been married twice and had two or three
children. He came to court in an agitated stated and burst into tears
on being sentenced to death, apparently not expecting such a harsh
sentence.²⁵ The judge was unsympathetic, declaring the usual rhet-
oric, ‘You have been found guilty . . . of the abomin able crime, not
to be named among Christians.
Fear of the Hybrid
The antagonism towards bestiality comes in part from the fear of being
associated too closely with the animal race. The spawning of hybrids
became a real underlying fear when men began to travel far afield
and to encounter strange animals they had never seen before. Dutch
physician Jacob de Bondt (1591–1631), travelling with the Dutch East
India Company, introduced strange new creatures to the world. His
work Historiae naturalis et medicae Indiae orientalis (1631) depicted
the orangutan as an extraordinary-looking human female with fur,
and reported that it wept and showed human characteristics. Bondt
blamed local bestiality for the beast; he claimed that the orangutan
‘was born of the lust of Indonesian women who consort in disgust-
ing lechery with apes’.²⁶ His assertions were typical of a group of male
travellers who saw dark-skinned ‘primitives’ – indigenous peoples
such as Africans, Aborigines, Maoris and Indians as akin to beasts
and happily ascribed animalistic traits to them.
Sex between humans and animals also fascinated people because
of the idea that it could produce curious progeny and risk corrupting
the human race. Tales of human–animal hybrids were told not only
in mythology but also in real-life medical publications. Physicians
reported incidents of strange births to medical journals, and wrote
them up in casebooks. One remarkable book of curiosities was On
Monsters and Marvels, written by the sixteenth-century physician
Ambroise Paré, who explained, ‘There are monsters that are born with
‘Foemina cinnaminiae gentis’, woman
with excess body hair, from Ulisse
Aldrovandi, Monstrorum historia (1642).
Ape-like creature with human features,
woodcut by Conrad Gesner, Historiae
animalium (1551–8).
a form that is half-animal and the other [half] human, or retaining
everything from animals, which are produced by sodomites and
atheists who “join together” and break out of their boundsunnat-
urally with animals.’²⁷ From these unions, hideous monsters were
born. One example, in a chapter headed An Example of the Mixture
or Mingling of Seed’ relayed the birth of a creature in 1493 that came
about as a result of a union between a woman and a dog. The upper
part of the creatures body resembled its mother but the lower part
Apes attacking two naked women: illustration by Jean-Michel Moreau for
Voltaires Candide, c. 1803.
had the hindquarters of a dog. The hybrid was allegedly sent to
the Pope. Paré also wrote about a shepherd named Cratain in Sybaris
who, ‘having exercised his brutal desire with one of his goats,
pro duced offspring with the head of a child and the body of a goat.
Another of Paré’s tales involved a woman who gave birth to a
daughter as hairy as a bear because she had looked upon a picture
of St John in a bearskin. Such tales continued to reverberate well
into the eighteenth century.
In 1726, the infamous case of Mary Toft, a 26-year-old servant girl
from Godalming in Surrey, was on everyones lips after she asserted
that she had given birth to eighteen rabbits (the number varied in
each account). In search of fame and fortune, she had inserted
various rabbit parts into her vagina with the intention of duping
her doctor. She had called in her local physician, claiming to be in
labour, and, to his astonishment, out popped the various bits of
rabbit. He reported, ‘I waited for the coming of the fresh Pains, which
‘Youth with
the lower body
of a canine’,
from Ulisse
historia (1642).
hapned in three or four minutes, at which time I deliverd her of
the entire trunk, stripd of Skin.All of the parts were partially formed:
They were all broken in Pieces, and much in the same Manner . . .
First the four Paws with the Fur on; then the Liver and the Intestines;
the Trunk and Shoulders in another Part.’²⁸ The king sent his own
surgeon to investigate and Toft continued to successfully outwit
most of the medical fraternity, relating her tale to anyone who
would listen. Although she may not have heard of the various strange
phenomena being regularly reported in the Royal Society’s pam-
phlet ‘Philosophical Transactions’, she would have been familiar
with local folklore. People still believed that a pregnant women’s
imagination could stamp monstrous marks – either birthmarks or
some sort of deformity – on her babys body.²⁹ Toft played on such
beliefs to add credulity to her case, saying she had craved rabbit
meat during her pregnancy. In the end, she confessed her fabrica-
tion to investigating doctor Sir Richard Manningham and was sent
to Bridewell Prison, where she served four months.
White male Europeans wanted to distance themselves from
supposedly inferior, primitive men and animals. Darwin frightened
many a Victorian when he spoke of a common ancestor between
man and beast in his Origin of Species (1859) and Descent of Man
(1871). His idea had been popularized as the theory that man had
William Hogarth, Cunicularii; or, The Wise Men of Godliman in Consultation, 1726:
Mary Toft gives birth to numerous rabbits.
descended from the ape, with an unknown ‘missing linkbetween men
and animals. Theselinks’ were leapt on as evidence of the possibility
of man-beasts or hybrids, so when travellers found astonishing
children in the wild they were taken as examples of this missing link
in the stage of evolution. Journeying through the kingdom of Oude
in the 1840s, William Henry Sleeman, an officer of the East India
Company, described the wolf-child cases he had heard about. After
being raised by wolves, these children were then rescued and returned
to the human world, by which time they were incapable of behaving
like humans. They refused to wear clothes, lapped water like dogs,
growled like wolves and walked on all fours.
A general interest in man-beast stories developed. Wild children
were a feature of popular books such as Thomas Henry Huxley’s
Mans Place in Nature (1863) and Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book
(1894). A strong sexual element emerged, incorporating eroticiza-
tion of the animalistic, and attached itself to stories in which the
crossing of boundaries was feared, but nonetheless explored. While
the stories focused on a central erotic character, the subtext was sex
and horror. Books such as Bram Stokers Dracula (man into bat,
1897) and Robert Louis Stephensons Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and
Mr Hyde (man into beast, 1886) became best-sellers. Werewolf tales,
which had been around for centuries in Scandinavian folklore, re-
emerged in novels such as Guy Endores The Werewolf of Paris (1933).
In literature, the oft-used theme of humans falling in love with
beasts could be seen in such stories as Honoré de Balzac’s A Passion
in the Desert (about a love affair between a soldier and a female
panther, 1830) and David Garnetts Lady into Fox (1922), and fairy tales
including Beauty and the Beast and The Frog Prince.
Similarly, love between humans and animals were taken up in
film. The gigantic gorilla King Kong (1933) with his love for a human
heroine kick-started a cinematic fascination with hairy beasts in
rom antic lead roles. Many years later, the French lm Max, Mon Amour
(1986, dir. Nagisa Oshima) took this idea one step further in a remark-
ably non-judgmental cinema tic exploration of love and sex between
a woman (played by Charlotte Rampling) and a chimpanzee. More
explicit was the prolonged horse-mating sequence in Walerian
Borowczyks film La Bête (The Beast, 1975). America had its own bizarre
comedy take on bestiality with Woody Allens Everything You Always
Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972), in which
a psychi atrist played by Allen falls in love with a winsome sheep
named Daisy. The discovery of the affair drives him to the gutter,
to drink ‘Woolite’ in despair.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, there was increasing
interest in why people wanted to have sex with animals. The question
of whether this was abnormal or not arose. The answers came with
the emergence of psychiatry, psychology and sexology, and a raft of
new scientific views to provide reasons as to why people might com-
mit acts of bestiality. In his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality
Lucas Cranach the Elder, The Werewolf, c. 1510.
(1908), Freud suggested that such people were timid and were unable
to find suitable sexual partners. Krafft-Ebing considered bestiality to
be connected to a low moral standing and a strong sexual drive. He
distinguished between zoophilia and zooerasty: the first was a kind
of fetish connected to a love of animals which might or might not
manifest itself in a sexual way, but involved a need to caress and
fondle animals that might act as an erotic stimulus; the second was
a pathological condition, a sexual perversion which manifested itself
in an insurmountable urge for sex with animals. However, acts of
bestiality might occur which involved direct contact with animal
genitals but with no pathological content when a great sexual desire
existed but no suitable partner was available. There have also been
cases of mixoscopic zoophilia – sexual pleasure experienced while
watching copulating animals.
Avisodomy, or Sex with Birds
One ‘new’ obsession that arose in the eighteenth century was copu -
lation with birds (although cases may yet be found to prove it existed
earlier). The act entailed a man putting his penis into the cloaca (post -
erior opening) of the bird, then strangling it. As the bird’s sphincter
contracted, it would squeeze the mans penis and produce an ejac-
ulation. According to the Marquis de Sade, Parisian brothels catered
for the predilection (now called avisodomy), which he describes in
a scenario of one of his novels: ‘the girl holds the bird’s [turkey’s]
neck locked between her thighs, you have her ass straight ahead of
you, and she cuts the bird’s throat the same moment you discharge
Havelock Ellis noted this desire for sex with birds in his analysis of
sexual perversions during the nineteenth century. Much as Sade
had envisaged, Ellis recorded that on their visits to prostitutes, men
took live pigeons to be strangled just before the men had intercourse
with the women. He also mentions a woman who could only orgasm
after catching and stroking a chicken and wringing its neck.³¹ This
last case, however, seems more in the realms of sadism as a sexual
stimulus rather than any sort of true bestiality.
By the mid-nineteenth century, the practice had become well
known in military circles, according to a case reported in the Gazette
Médicale in 1849. Non-commissioned soldiers became suspi-
cious after they were being served duck for dinner somewhat more
fre quently than they would normally expect. Apparently the quarter -
master was sodomizing the ducks, splitting open their cloaca, then
serving them up for meals.³² Another case, United States v. Lebel,
was tried by general court martial in Oxford and involved a soldier
copulating with chickens. The defendant was charged around 10
October 1944 with violating the 96th Article of War. Although he
denied the crime, the soldier was dishonourably discharged with
two years’ hard labour. On 2 February 1960, Ricardo Sanchez was
brought before court martial by the.. Army after he was accused
of copulating with a fowl, ‘penetrating the chickens rectum with his
penis with intent to gratify his lust’.³³ He had also molested a three-
year-old girl. He was found guilty and given a dishonourable dis-
charge with three years’ confinement.
Krafft-Ebing uncovered two cases of avisodomy both reported
in 1889; the reasons for each were different. The first only came to
Gerda Wegener (1886–1940), girl with swan, from Les Délassements d’Eros,
c. 1925.
light after chickens had been dying one after another. The culprit
was eventually apprehended red-handed. When asked by the judge
why he had committed such an act, the culprit replied that his geni -
tals were so small that normal coitus was impossible. On examination,
this was indeed found to be the case – but he was found to be men-
tally sound. The second case was that of a sixteen-year-old shoemaker’s
Penis-headed ducks accost a young woman, Martin van Maële, La Grande danse
macabre des vifs (The Great Danse Macabre of the Quick Prick, 1907–8).
apprentice who was caught with his penis in a goose. He was found
to have had a cerebral disease. Krafft-Ebing, in line with his thoughts
on other perversions, believed that the boy’s mental deficiency led
him to commit the acts.
Reasons to be Fearful
Although bestiality might be tried out opportunistically or as a
result of mental incapacity, people also experimented out of simple
curiosity. Havelock Ellis provided a case of one pretty, well-educated
country girl from Missouri who, on examination, was found to have
a profuse offensive discharge emanating from her genitals. When
questioned, the patient confessed that she had been playing with
the genitals of a large dog, which had become so excited that she
thought she might try slight coitus’. On close inspection of her vagina,
she was found to be bleeding from three large tears. The animal had
hung on so tightly with his forelegs that she had been unable to
get him off – the dogs penis had become so swollen that the dog
could not extract itself.³⁴ If a dog is separated from its partner before
ejaculating, it can cause pain and serious damage. A dog’s penis has
a bone, the baculum, as well as a small bulb at the base, which swells
up to five times its normal size once inside the vagina. The bitch’s
muscles tighten and ‘lock on, which means that two dogs become
stuck together. In this case, the young woman from Missouri suffered
considerable physical harm.
Alcohol continued to feature in twentieth-century bestiality cases.
In 1944, one 33-year-old cement worker from northern Sweden con-
fessed to police that he had stumbled into a stable and attempted to
put his penis into a cow, but fell off the stool he was standing on,
unable to complete the act, before groping his way home to bed.
He later retracted his confession and the court acquitted him. Jens
Rydström, the historian who uncovered the case, believes that the
period from 1880 onwards in Sweden was a time when views were
changing on bestiality. People who committed bestial acts (tidelag)
were no longer seen as ‘sinnersbut as ‘perverts’. Police tended to
regulate the sexual behaviour of the poor more frequently, and
bestialists brought before the courts were most often from the lower
classes, mostly farm-hands. Swedish authorities eventually abol-
ished the law on bestiality as they thought it outdated and considered
that a person who committed such activities was in need of treatment,
rather than punishment.³⁵ Many perpetrators were also now being
classed as insane, although it seems obvious in some cases the acts
committed were merely opportunistic. These types of acts were still
most frequently committed by adolescent boys working on farms.
Another problem arose for the .. Army (.. v. Malone) during
the Second World War, when an American soldier was caught sodom-
izing a cow in Ipswich. A British farmer chased him through a field and
called the police. Rushing to the spot, when the police snapped on
their headlights, they found him mounting the cow. As mitigating
evidence, the soldier said he was intoxicated – he could hardly deny
the charge as his erect penis was encrusted with dung.³⁶ According
to the police witnesses, the hindquarters of the cow were imprinted
on the defendant’s thighs. His case came to trial on 8 September 1943
and he was sentenced to a dishonourable discharge and three years’
hard labour.
Girl stuck to a dog,
Martin van Maële,
La Grande danse
macabre (1907).
In other cases, sexual acts took place with an animal because
the owner felt a real emotional attachment to it. Such a case of zoo -
philia was aired on the Jerry Springer show in the programme entitled
I Married a Horse. The story followed the commitment of marriage
made between Mark Matthews (a pseudonym) and Pixel, his pony.
Matthews had already tried marriage to a woman and had two chil-
dren, but he preferred his pony. Springer’s comment was This is
pretty sick’, to which Matthews retorted, A psychologist called it
an unusual adjustment to a unique situation. The programme
was not aired on some channels as it was considered too obscene.
Matthews wrote about his experience with his own version of ‘My Little
Ponyin The Horseman: Obsessions of a Zoophile, published in
1994. While in college, he fell in love with a pony called Goldie that
lived nearby and began having sex with her. The man who looked
after the horse caught him with Goldie but was surprisingly non-
judgemental. As Matthews explained, ‘Loe surprised me alright. He
was the first adult outside of Dad who found out about my desires
and not only accepted but condoned them.’³⁷ The relationship of
such men and women with their animals was not merely sexual, but
emotional, with loving attachments formed, apparently on both
sides. In these relationships, the human partner frequently declared
that the love was reciprocated.
The Love of Furry Friends
Attraction to animals appears to be gender-biased, with most stud-
ies concurring that women were less prone to bestiality than men.
In investigations of past trial records, this bias is seen to pre-date
modern times. In one study of bestiality involving the examination
of 1,200 cases in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Sweden, only
nine of the cases that came to trial involved women.³⁸ Kinsey’s study
of sexual behaviour in the 1940s and 1950s found that only about
8 per cent of all men interviewed had had sex with animals, most
in adolescence. However, when it was narrowed down to farm boys
it was as high as 50 per cent. In Kinseys study, among women, the rate
was only 3.5 per cent. Just as with most of the eighteenth-century
cases, men usually went for larger farm animals, whereas women
opted for smaller animals such as dogs.³⁹ Furthermore, according to
Kinsey, men opted for vaginal or anal copulation whereas women
liked general body contact or preferred masturbation of the animal.
Only a small minority experienced cunnilingus from the animal, or
coitus. Morton Hunt undertook a similar investigation in 1974; his
sample showed higher percentages of oral contacts for women, with
no actual female–animal coitus. He found a similar desire for cer-
tain animals as Kinsey had uncovered, but over twenty years, there
had been a decrease to just under 5 per cent for males and nearly 2
per cent for females who had sex with animals. This drop he attrib-
uted to a declining rural environment in the United States, as people
were moving to the cities.⁴⁰ Also, the sexual revolution of the 1960s
allowed for greater opportunity for sex with other people and less
inhibition about sex generally. Both studies show that actual incidents
of bestiality were infrequent, and rare after adolescence.
More recently, a new kind of sexual activity has arisen which con -
nects sex, animals and humans among people who call themselves
‘plushiesorfurries. Plushophilia is a modern concept and describes
an obsession with stuffed animal toys. For some people, plusho philia
also extends to a fascination with large, furry animal suits. These men
and women may don life-size costumes, and plushie groups meet up
to share their obsession and tond a likely partner in plushiness. This
understanding has been extended to the love of large furry animal suits
Stalking Cat (Dennis Avner).
– men and women don life-size costumes and whole communities
meet up to share their obsession and to find a likely partner in plushi-
ness. The costumes are often inspired by Disney-type caricatures,
covering the whole body. In contrast to the plushies, the furries take
on animal characteristics and disdain plushies. Furries argue that
being ‘furry’ is an identity and furries often say how they feel anthro-
pomorphized they feel part animal with human characteristics. They
partly dress as animals, the rest of their transformation completed
by using makeup to transform their features to look animal-like;
at least one man has had plastic surgery to define his features in
the shape of a cat. Plushies and furries meet at conferences such
as ConFurence and Further Confusion. These meetings attract around
5,000 people at a time, providing them with the opportunity to
openly display their fetishes. Furries have defined their role-playing
behaviour as ‘scritching’, which involves embraces, scratching and
combing one’s hand along a partner’s chest, head, scalp or back.
Making noises in response shows appreciation of a scritch. One
observer pointed out, ‘It should be worth noting that heterosexual
males and females within Furry Fandom also partici pate in this social
body language between members of the same sex without any appar-
ent threat to their sexual identity as a heterosexual.’⁴¹ In a survey of
360 furries taken in 1998, nearly half of those furries who responded
said that they were bisexual.
So in secular Western societies, should people be taking a differ -
ent view on bestial activities? Is bestiality hurtful or harmless fun?
Can animals consent? Is it important that they do? How do we know
when they do and when they dont? In more recent years, with the work
of animal rights campaigners, a new caring attitude to animals has
emerged. Questions have arisen as to whether it is acceptable or
not to allow humans to have sex with animals (be it vaginal intercourse,
sodomy, cunnilingus or fellatio, and so on). These sorts of acts usu-
ally take place in secluded places or behind closed doors and so are
difficult to detect. Bestial activists argue that there should be a possi -
bility of accepting cases of shared affection between humans and
animals where boundaries can be crossed, whatever our personal
feelings towards the idea.
In seeking answers, governments and campaigners have come
together to change laws and provide more protection for animals,
particularly in the light of the exposure of human–animal sex farms.
In Britain, under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, a man is deemed to
have committed an offence if he ‘intentionally performed an act of
penetration with his penisand ‘what is penetrated is the vagina or
anus of a living animal’.⁴² For this, he can be imprisoned for up to two
years. Nothing is said about female bestialists. In November 2008,
Sweden discussed new sex laws concerning bestiality after the un -
covering of an animal sex ring where men met on a farm regularly
to have sex with a variety of animals. Concerns were raised after the
Swedish Animal Welfare Agency registered 115 cases of bestiality
between 2000 and 2005.⁴³ Sweden is perhaps more advanced than
most countries in addressing the matter.
More worryingly, animal–human sex ‘farms’ are emerging in
the .. and people are even travelling abroad to find places where
they can indulge in bestiality more easily. In most Western societies
cruelty to animals is against the law, but some campaigners think
the penalties are neither harsh enough nor enforced as strictly as they
should be. One case involved a woman who was convicted of besti -
ality in Britain in 2011 after police found photographs of her having
sex with her Rottweiler. The picture of the 42-year-old woman was
taken by her 41-year-old boyfriend. According to the Liverpool Echo,
police found a  of 33 ‘vile images’ in a raid on their Liverpool home
after he was suspected of arson and voyeurism. Officers also uncov-
ered 61 indecent images of children. The woman, who had two teenage
daughters and one grandchild, admitted at Liverpool Crown Court
to having had sex with the animal. Judge Robert Warnock called
her a ‘troubled and damaged individual’ and imposed a two-year
community order with supervision. The pair hid their faces as they
fled court. A neighbour said they still own the dog, adding: ‘It’s dis-
gusting. They seemed a normal family.’⁴⁴
Our attitudes towards bestiality might therefore vary depend-
ing on the person and animal involved and the individual case. Cases
involving cruelty are obviously quite different from situations in
which, say, an animal willingly licks its owner’s genitalia in a show
of mutual affection, with both animal and human enjoying the act.
The dog in effect is consenting by being the ‘active’ partner. Some
cases seem to have arisen from opportunity (working on a farm) and
lack of outlet for sex with a human partner; we might think that
these cases unfairly exploit the animal that has been subjected to such
an act. Certainly where small creatures, such as birds and mice, are
involved, and the act results in the death of the creature, it can be
considered cruelty, and legal penalties can thus be levied. The ques-
tions around bestiality should therefore surely be ethical rather than
moral. In cases where the animal is consenting, does it really matter?
The difficulty is in trying to prove consent.