Amia Srinivasan What does Fluffy think? Pets with Benefits LRB 7 October 2021 – London Review of Books

Have you ever experienced the love of an animal? Jack, my familys golden retriever, put on an admirable show of adoring all of us, but we knew his deepest attachment was to my mother, on whose lap he liked to lie, having his silky ears stroked as he slept. Jasper, the ill-advised beagle that followed, loved no one but himself. The heart of my hamster, Kramer, was an enigma. When one morning I found his cold, motionless body next to the wheel in which he had whirred away the days, a small furry Sisyphus, I cried for a creature I had never really known. But the arrival last summer of Goose, a black Labrador, means that I too now know what it is to be the object of an animals love, and to love her in turn, as I tell her several times a day. She lies next to me as I write, her paws tucked neatly under her otter-smooth head, her body pressed against my side. Later we will take each other for a walk in the meadow and delight in each others delight: at rabbits forever out of reach, at the clean line she cuts through water, at the shivering trees. What could be better than this?

For some people there is an answer, and it is sex with animals. It isnt something openly talked about, apart from like so many other things we repress elsewhere in art, folklore and myth, where sex with animals has always featured in a big way. The oldest surviving evidence of bestiality comes from a Palaeolithic cave painting in Italy, which shows a man penetrating an animal; similar images are common in the art of the Iron and Bronze Ages. Indigenous peoples in South-East Asia, Australasia and North America have traced their origins to sex between women and dogs. Ancient myths are full of human-animal hybrids: satyrs, centaurs, minotaurs, mermaids; swan-Zeus, jackal-headed Anubis, shapeshifting fox-women.

Closer to the present, in Woody Allens Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask), an Armenian shepherd confesses to being in love with his sheep, Daisy: It was the greatest lay I ever had! In Edward Albees The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? (2000), the same premise plays out as family tragedy. The disclosure of the fathers goat-love a love of an (dogmatic) un-i-mag-in-able kind prompts both marital crisis and a frantic burst of incestuous lust on the sons part. We can only imagine how Sylvia, whose murdered body is dragged onstage in the plays final scene, felt about this.

Animal-human transgression is the fantastical norm in the dreamworld of myth, and operates still as a powerful symbol of the desire to reach beyond the confines of the possible or the acceptable. And yet, its one thing to read about animal-human sex in Yeats How can those terrified vague fingers push/The feathered glory from her loosening thighs? and another to think about, say, your neighbour getting down with Fluffy. Could he be? So what if he is? And what does Fluffy make of it? (As Wendy Doniger wrote in the LRB in 1994, What does the animal think about it? is the most interesting question in the area of bestiality.)

Joanna Bourkes Loving Animals is an exploration of the ethical possibilities and often grim reality of modern bestiality. Bourke focuses on the US and the UK (where 67 per cent and 51 per cent of people, respectively, have pets), and on the overwhelmingly favoured animal object of human sexual activity: dogs. (Apparently, male dogs are sexually more popular than female dogs, and both are followed in the rankings by male horses. The fourth most sexually favoured animal among men is female horses; for women it is male cats.) Her thesis is that while sexual interaction between human and non-human animals is very often abusive, it neednt be. Drawing on feminist and queer theory, she makes the case for a form of human-animal love that isnt merely free from harm, but is governed by reciprocity, respect and care. Taking this seriously can, Bourke thinks, help us understand what we owe our fellow non-human animals, and the sex humans have with each other.

First things first: is your neighbour getting down with Fluffy? Its hard to know how many people out there are having sex with animals, although its surely a lot more than chaste animal lovers might like to think. (The stigma attached to bestiality is so strong that even its practitioners internalise it; more than 40 per cent of people who enjoy sex with animals are reluctant to meet others like them, on the grounds that they are weird.) Nearly all studies of bestiality focus on people in psychiatric hospitals or prisons, where the rates of bestiality appear to be considerably higher than they are among the general population, or the members of online communities dedicated to the destigmatisation of bestiality.

There are some exceptions. In his study of American mens sexual practices in 1948, Alfred Kinsey found that 8 per cent of men claimed to have had a sexual encounter with an animal, and 17 per cent of those who lived in farming communities reported experiencing orgasm as a result of animal contact, a number that rose to 65 per cent in some rural settings. In his study of American women in 1953, Kinsey found that just under 4 per cent had engaged in sexual activity with an animal since adolescence; almost all these cases involved dogs or cats. In 1974, the sexologist Marilyn Story conducted a survey of students at the University of Northern Iowa, in which one in ten said they had had sexual contact with an animal; when she repeated the study in 1980, the number had dropped to just 3 per cent, presumably because Reagan wouldnt have approved. Some contemporary sex therapists claim that their urban patients are increasingly turning to their pets for sexual gratification, unable or unwilling to find it with humans.

Bestiality covers a wide range of acts, objects, fetishes, desires and motivations. While sex with companion animals dogs (canophilia), cats (aleurophilia) and horses (equinophilia) is the most prevalent form of human-animal sex, humans are also known to engage sexually with donkeys, goats, pigs, sheep, cows, chickens, turkeys, hamsters, dolphins, eels, octopuses and (less commonly) camels, deer, llamas, bulls, boars and gorillas. Sexual attraction to certain creatures is common enough to have a scientific name: mice (musophilia), birds (ornithophilia), spiders (arachnephilia), bees (melissophilia) and snakes (ophidiophilia). Bestiality very often involves genital stimulation penile penetration, masturbation, cunnilingus or fellatio performed on or by the non-human animal but it need not. Formicophilia is the condition of being sexually aroused by having small insects crawl on ones body, anolingis by licking lizards. Zoophilic voyeurs are aroused by watching animals, as in the case of one Mr Z Bourke refers to, who had a habit of masturbating in front of large dogs and peeping on them in neighbours homes. (Asked how he imagined the dogs felt about this, Mr Z said they probably enjoyed it.) Necrozoophilia is the sexual attraction to dead animals. Avisodomists penetrate the cloacas of birds, breaking their necks right before ejaculation.

As the last example suggests, bestiality is very often sadistic. Animal rape is common in the meatpacking industry; Bourke quotes a worker who explains that sheep are easiest, since you can pick them up by putting your hand up their ribcage, or up their arse. A veterinary survey of nearly five hundred battered pets found evidence of sexual assault in 6 per cent of cases. So-called crush films feature women in stilettos stomping live animals to death usually rabbits, puppies or kittens. Often the women verbally humiliate the animals as well.

But sexual interaction between humans and animals can, at least on the face of it, be non-violent. In the 1960s Margaret Lovatt lived for six months with a young male dolphin called Peter as part of a Nasa project to teach dolphins to speak. The pair grew extremely close. Peter would often get sexually aroused and rub himself against Lovatt, disrupting their language lessons. Eventually Lovatt started to masturbate Peter: It would just become part of what was going on, like an itch just get rid of it, scratch it and move on (a sentiment not confined to women who have sex with dolphins). After six months, the project was decommissioned and Peter was sent to a lab in Miami where he committed suicide by closing his blowhole. In Wet Goddess (2010), the journalist Malcolm Brenner gives a semi-fictionalised account of his love affair, as a college sophomore in the 1970s, with Dolly, a bottle-nosed dolphin (Brenner published part of Wet Goddess in Penthouse at the time). Brenner says that Dolly courted him for months leaving her enclosure by squeezing through a gap in the boards to get closer to him, rubbing herself against him, getting angry when he resisted until one day he gave in to desire in the open water. (Since you were wondering, Dolly was horizontal, Brenner was vertical.) Brenner recalls the feeling of merging with her, becoming one creature that was making love with himself.

Richard von Krafft-Ebings Psychopathia Sexualis (1886) introduced the distinction between bestiality the practice of having sex with animals and zoophilia or zooreastie: the pathological love of, or sexual desire for, animals. This allows us to draw a distinction, however blurry, between those people who have sex with animals out of convenience or opportunism (bestialists), and those for whom animals are a strong or primary sexual preference (zoophiles). Zoophiles, Krafft-Ebing said, were evolutionary throwbacks, and typically the children of unwed mothers. Gaston Dubois-Desaulles Bestiality: A Historical, Medical, Legal and Literary Study (1905) concurred that zoophilia was a sign of serious mental disorder, but observed that men who had sex with male animals were much sicker than those who did it with females; in the latter case there was no inversion but only anomaly in the choice of consort. (In other words, better to be a straight zoophile than a gay man.) In 1980, zoophilia got its own entry in the American Psychiatric Associations Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders under Paraphilias: The act or fantasy of engaging in sexual activity with animals is a repeatedly preferred or exclusive method of achieving sexual excitement.

Today, many zoophiles embrace the label, but insist that it describes a sexual orientation, like homosexuality or bisexuality, rather than a psychosexual pathology. Sometimes, zoophiles compare themselves to trans people, as in the case of one zoo who describes himself as a Rottweiler, but I have the body of a human. Zoos do not embrace the comparison with paedophiles, another group whose members like to fashion themselves as a persecuted sexual minority. (However, the North American Man/Boy Love Association, a notorious paedophilia advocacy group, has proclaimed its solidarity with zoophiles.) Zoos generally claim to love and care for the animals they have sex with, and that they are loved, cared for and desired in turn. (Again, many paedophiles make the same claim about children.) Mark Matthews is one of the leaders of the zoo movement. In 1994 he published The Horseman: Obsessions of a Zoophile, a memoir about his romantic and sexual encounters with horses. Bourke quotes Matthewss description of his first sexual encounter with his pony, Cherry:

They made slow love, using their whole bodies in foreplay, rubbing against each other, caressing with hands, lips, noses, teeth, using all that each had to use; then, when his testicles and penis ached with arousal, he entered her and they rocked on their feet in blissful harmony I love you, little girl. Im in love with you. Youre so sweet, so funny, so oh, Cherry, my darling! He hugged her neck, hung her head over his shoulder, rubbing his cheek against her sleek coat.

Bourke charitably observes that despite the lack of literary flair and the soft porn mannerism, the emotions Matthews was struggling to convey were real enough. When Cherry died Matthews was grief-stricken. Eventually, he fell in love with another mare: I feel a warmth and companionship that I can trust. No games, no power plays, just honest affection.

Bourke begins by discussing the case of a man in Washington State who died after being penetrated by a stallion the case that made me (and perhaps a whole generation of sickos) interested in zoophilia. In the early hours of 2 July 2005, a 45-year-old Boeing engineer and divorc named Kenneth Pinyan was dropped off at a hospital near Enumclaw, Washington. Medical staff wheeled him in only to find that he was already dead. The night before, he had joined a group of men who regularly met up to get drunk and have sex with a horse owned by James Michael Tait, a truck driver. Taits horse was apparently not in the mood, so the men wandered naked onto a neighbouring farm, where they were anally penetrated, each in turn, by a stallion they had nicknamed Big Dick, actual name Strut. The stallion mounted and penetrated Pinyan, perforating his sigmoid colon; doctors later ruled the cause of death as acute peritonitis. (The erect penis of a stallion is on average between two and two and a half feet long.) A thirty-second video of the fatal act the men had shot hundreds of hours of footage, eventually seized by the police quickly spread through the seedier byways of the internet. Zoo (2007), a documentary shown at Cannes and Sundance, alluded to the film but declined to show it. (Ive watched it; I would strongly suggest you dont, unless youre thinking about having sex with a stallion.)

Pinyans death outraged the locals in Enumclaw, a small, horse-loving city in the middle of farm country; the men who went there to be serviced by the stallions were generally, like Pinyan, outsiders who met on zoophile internet forums. The mens activities brought a bad light to the close relationship many [Enumclaw residents] had with their animals. What was worse, the men couldnt be prosecuted for anything more serious than trespassing, since bestiality hadnt been illegal in Washington since 1976, when it was inadvertently decriminalised along with consensual sodomy. In this, Washington was moving in step with the gradual reduction of the severity of legal punishment for bestiality across the US and Britain since 1945. That trend has since been reversed, in large part because of what happened in Enumclaw. In 1990, a handful of US states classed bestiality as a felony; by 2017, the number was 42. After Pinyans death, Senate Bill 6417, which made bestiality a Class C felony, was quickly passed in the Washington State Senate, though some senators refused to sign it on the grounds that bestiality was too repugnant even to think about.

If a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death, Leviticus 20:15 commands, and ye shall slay the beast. Today, few if any legal jurisdictions take that second clause seriously. This wasnt always so. In early modern Britain, animals were tried along with humans for bestiality. In 1677, Mary Hicks, a married working-class woman, was brought before Londons Central Criminal Court on the charge of having sex with her dog. The dog was brought into court and set on the Bar before the prisoner. He immediately started wagging his tail, and making motions as it were to kiss her, which was taken as dispositive evidence that the charges were true. Both Mary and her dog were found guilty; she was made to watch the dog be hanged before being executed herself. In 1758 a Royal Marine was initially convicted of buggery upon the body of a she-goat but later pardoned because he was judged to be next to an idiot. The she-goat was executed, though, on the grounds that she had led him on. In another trial, involving a man and his donkey, neighbours swore to the donkeys virtuous character, insisting that she had never given occasion for scandal. The man was convicted, the donkey set free.

As these cases show, the reason bestiality was considered bad wasnt that it violated animal innocence. Animals could be as guilty, or more guilty, than their human counterparts of crossing the supposedly inviolable boundary between human and other species. Bestiality was seen as a crime of miscegenation, not as a crime of abuse. As Bourke notes, the authors of Washingtons new anti-bestiality law had to be careful to distinguish the abuse they wanted to criminalise from the routine practice of animal husbandry, which involves the sexual arousal and genital manipulation of animals. In 2015, Farmers Weekly carried an Eight-Step Guide to Artificially Inseminating a Dairy Cow, which instructed readers to make sure the cow is appropriately restrained (using what the industry calls a rape rack) before loading an AI gun with semen. The guide continues:

Prepare the cows vulva with a paper towel and put on a full-arm glove and lubricant Insert your arm into the cow After locating the cervix, use the elbow to exert downward pressure on the vagina. This will part the lips of the vulva for the AI gun The semen should be deposited into the short chamber of the uterine horns Deposit the semen slowly, by counting five, four, three, two, one.

Karen Davis, the president of United Poultry Concerns, calls husbandry sexually abusive in essence. To avoid accidentally criminalising it, anti-bestiality laws target human intent rather than action. In Washington, sexual interaction between humans and animals is now prohibited when it is for the purpose of sexual gratification or arousal of the person, but not otherwise. In other words, its fine to violate an animal in order to produce milk or meat, but its not OK if it turns you on. Animal liberationists demand an end to all sexual violation of animals, whether for economic or other ends. But the overlap between bestiality and husbandry, and our uneven response to these practices, suggest a particular squeamishness about the use of animals to satisfy human sexual desire. Perhaps our fundamental problem with bestiality isnt what it does to animals but what it does to us: that bestiality, as Kant said, degrades the human animal.

Peter Singer, the philosophical lodestar of the animal liberation movement, came out for bestiality in 2001, in a review of Midas Dekkerss Dearest Pet:

The taboo on sex with animals may have originated as part of a broader rejection of non-reproductive sex. But the vehemence with which this prohibition continues to be held, its persistence while other non-reproductive sexual acts have become acceptable, suggests that there is another powerful force at work: our desire to differentiate ourselves, erotically and in every other way, from animals.

For Singer, the taboo against having sex with animals, like the practice of killing and eating them, is a sign of human speciesism: our tendency to think of animals as our inferiors, less deserving of moral consideration. While some acts of bestiality are clearly wrong, and should remain crimes Singer gives avisodomy as an example sex with animals does not have to be cruel. Who, he asks,

has not been at a party disrupted by the household dog gripping the legs of a visitor and vigorously rubbing its penis against them? The host usually discourages such activities, but in private not everyone objects to being used by her or his dog in this way, and occasionally mutually satisfying activities may develop.

Here, as elsewhere in his moral philosophy, Singer identifies pleasure with well-being: the dog enjoys having his penis rubbed by the human, and perhaps the human enjoys it too in which case they are both better off for it. The word consent doesnt appear in the review, perhaps because Singer tacitly identifies it with physical pleasure: if an animal enjoys sex, it must have chosen to do it. The right-wing shock jock Rush Limbaugh reasoned similarly when he insisted that Strut, the horse in the Enumclaw case, had consented, since he had an erection and mounted the men. If the horse didnt consent, he said, then none of this would have happened.

The conflation of pleasure and consent is commonplace in rape apologism. Its at work whenever an orgasm or an erection is taken as proof that someone consented, even when they insist that they didnt or, as with young children, when they are incapable of meaningful consent. In a New York Times op-ed, Singer and Jeff McMahan defended Anna Stubblefield, a former Rutgers philosophy professor who had been convicted on two counts of aggravated sexual assault against a 29-year-old man with severe cerebral palsy under her care. They argued that either the man (known to the court as D.J.) had the cognitive capacity to consent, in which case it was difficult to believe that he was forced to have sex against his will, since hed had an erection and didnt struggle; or he did not have the capacity to give or withhold consent, in which case it was less clear what the nature of the wrong might be, as it seems reasonable to assume that the experience was pleasurable to him. Either way, D.J.s erection exonerated Stubblefield, or at least mitigated the wrongness of her actions. She was not a sexual predator but an honest and honourable woman in love.

Bourke is not unsympathetic to Singers claim that the taboo against bestiality expresses a commitment to human exceptionalism. She quotes Derridas line that men have given themselves the word [animal] in order to control a large number of living beings within a single concept. But she is rightly sceptical of Singers equation of pleasure, consent and well-being. She discusses the work of Gieri Bolliger and Antoine Goetschel, who point out in a paper of 2005 titled Sexual Relations with Animals (Zoophilia): An Unrecognised Problem in Animal Welfare Legislation that while zoophilic relationships can be mutual, in general animals have to be trained into having sex with humans. Even self-identified zoophiles often groom animals: bribing them with food, constructing specialised barns, halter breaking, acclimatising them to human penetration with dildos, injecting them with hormones. Such conditioning, Bolliger and Goetschel write, not only infringes the free sexual development of an animal, but runs the risk of creating a strong dependency of the animal on the human. Thus the violation of an animals sexual integrity does not depend upon the question of what an animal feels during a zoophilic act. Reading this, I thought of the account of father-daughter rape in the anonymously written Incest Diary (2017), in which the author confesses to having desired, and desiring still, sex with her sadistic father, who began raping her when she was a young child. The issue isnt that the author didnt want it, or that she didnt derive pleasure from it, but that her father made her into a creature who wanted it, and now, as an adult, cant stop wanting it cant, that is, be free of him.

For Singer, sexual desire is a sign of equality; the taboo against having sex with non-human animals shows that we think they are beneath us. That he can think this reveals his ignorance of even the most rudimentary feminist insight. Sex can be as much about degrading and dominating as elevating the other. This is indeed why so much bestiality is, to use Singers word, cruel, and why so many feminists have made a connection between the abuse of animals and the sexual subordination of women. In the same year that she acted, against her will, in the cult pornographic film Deep Throat (1972), Linda Boreman was forced to perform in a silent 8 mm stag film variously released as Dog 1, Dog Fucker, Dog-a-Rama and Dogorama, in which she has sex with a dog. In her memoir Ordeal (1980), in which she describes the physical and psychic abuse she experienced at the hands of her producer and husband, Chuck Traynor, Boreman wrote: I am able to handle almost everything that has happened to me in my life But Im still not able to handle that day. A dog. An animal. Ive been raped by men who were no better than animals, but this was an actual animal and that represented a huge dividing line. Nearly all bestiality porn features animals and women, very often black women, in humiliating positions. Bourke observes that animals, like women, are particularly vulnerable to abuse within the privacy of their own homes. Domesticated animals and women alike struggle to seize control over their reproductive systems from men to have or not have children on their terms and perform large amounts of uncompensated labour under male control. As Carol Adams wrote in her feminist classic The Sexual Politics of Meat (1990): Meat-eating is the re-inscription of male power at every meal.

Zoophiles insistence that they are a persecuted sexual minority hardly makes them immune from these dynamics particularly the men. The men who gathered in Enumclaw were voracious meat-eaters who gave the horses they supposedly loved derogatory nicknames. One study found that women zoos cited emotional involvement as their primary reason for having sex with animals, while male zoos ranked it last their top priority was sexual expressiveness. Many zoos say they prefer having sex with animals because they are easier and more co-operative than humans. (In The Companion Species Manifesto, Donna Haraway rebukes those humans who indulge the fantasy that people, burdened with misrecognition, contradiction and complexity in their relations with other humans, find solace in unconditional love from animals. The impulse to portray animals as simple sources of unconditional love is abusive and based on lies.) Mark Matthews, who described having sex with his little girl Cherry in The Horseman, writes about women in the same book in ways that are so offensive that Bourke refuses to quote from these passages. It is important to remember, Bourke writes, that many zoophiles treat their sexual partners as of no intrinsic value or worth.

Could it ever be possible for a human to have ethical sex with a non-human animal? Bourke thinks it will require a different conception of sexuality specifically one that is neither phallogocentric or anthropocentric. She looks to adult-infant communication as a model for the way humans can, if they exercise sufficient care and attention perhaps of the sort that Iris Murdoch described as a just and loving gaze directed on an individual reality come to understand the needs, wants and preferences of a creature that does not share our language. It may be true, Bourke concedes, that we dont know what certain animals are thinking (do lizards like being licked by humans?) but usually when it comes to zoophilia, we are talking about sociability with species such as Canis familiaris, with whom we have closely co-evolved since between 9000 and 30,000 years bce. In the suggestion that companion species bear a special epistemic relation to humans, Bourke echoes Haraway, who wrote of her Australian shepherd, Ms Cayenne Pepper: We are training each other in acts of communication we barely understand We make each other up, in the flesh. The human-companion animal relationship, properly understood, Haraway says, is not about unconditional love, but about seeking to inhabit an inter-subjective world that is about meeting the other in all the fleshly detail of a mortal relationship.

It is true that humans can know a lot about their dogs, and dogs about their humans, and that some of us make each other up and the same presumably goes for other animals with whom humans live in close community. Goose tells me when shes hungry or wants to go for a walk, when she is happy, bored or worried, when her ball has rolled under the sofa, when she is wary of another dog, when she is convinced that the vacuum cleaner is trying to kill me, when she wants to turn around and go home, when she wants to be swept up and held and have her ears kissed. I read without effort the difference between her whimpers of pain and whimpers of petulant complaint. She knows when I want to play and (though she doesnt always care) when I need to work, when Im angry, when Im sick, when Im sad. If I accidentally step on her paw or her tail she is upset for a flash until I apologise, at which point we hug, my nose is licked, and all is forgiven.

There are many humans I find more opaque than this. Whats more, the idea that it is impossible to know what non-human animals are feeling or thinking can serve as cover for their exploitation, domination and extermination. Do we really know nothing of how animals, even animals as physiologically different from us as lizards or bats, feel about the burning of their forests, the melting of their ice floes, the contamination of their water? Or is it that we do know, and simply fear what acknowledging it would mean?

In sex of all things, where humans so often misconstrue what other humans want, where the temptation to project our fantasies and images onto the other is always pressing, where coercion and control figure all too easily can we ever trust ourselves to know, really know, what an animal wants? Perhaps one day there will be members of the animal species Homo sapiens who are able to have sex with other animal species in a way that has nothing to do with the will to dominate, fetishise or transgress. If so, I think, those people would be of our species, but not of our kind.

One thing I am undecided about is whether it was right to get Goose spayed. I have little doubt that, like most creatures, she has within her the instinct for reproduction. But I also know that Goose, like any human, is more than a bundle of instincts, that she has a sense of the good life that extends beyond the mere satisfaction of urges. When she is finally let out after a spell of confinement for example, after finishing her first season, when she had to be kept on the lead in case any entire male dog got to her she doesnt simply romp or run: she dances. What Goose loves most of all, I sense, is the feeling of freedom. Spaying her means, I hope, that her body will remain hers, that she will not have to repurpose it, weigh it down, for anyone else. After all, Goose is no more a creature of nature than I am.

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Amia Srinivasan What does Fluffy think? Pets with Benefits LRB 7 October 2021 - London Review of Books

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