Zoophilia/ Bestiality

What is Zoophilia?

Zoophilia is the paraphilia in which a person becomes sexually aroused by fantasizing about or engaging in sexual contact with an animal. Sex with animals is commonly known as "bestiality." Zoophilia is generally considered non-consensual sex because animals cannot give consent. Sexual acts with animals may also harm the animal because there may be no way for the animal to communicate if it is being injured. Some zoophiliacs drug, tie down, or use food to coerce animals into having sex with them. Bestiality is considered a form of animal cruelty and is illegal in many parts of the world.

Sex with animals is not as rare as one would think. In the Kinsey studies of the late 1940s, it was found that nearly half of all boys raised on a farm had had at least one sexual encounter with an animal- 17% of those interactions even led to orgasm. This practice is significantly less prevalent among females – 3.6% of the subjects in the Kinsey studies recalled zoophilic encounters.² It is important to state that zoophilic disorders are only diagnosed if sexual attraction and/or sexual relations with animals persists until after adolescence. This is a standard requirement in the DSM-V for diagnosing paraphilic disorders.¹

Reasons for Engaging in Bestiality

Individuals may engage in bestiality because they have difficulty forming healthy relationships with humans. Many of those who engage in bestiality lose, or have never had, a desire to have sex with humans. Alternatively, the animal may be used like a sex toy because it provides sensations similar to human sexual stimulation. In this instance, the animal is not viewed as a loving partner but as an object that can be abused for sexual gratification.

True zoophiles, however, experience genuine feelings of affection toward animals that are symptomatic of interpersonal sexuality. For example, one study using penile plethysmography found that one man experienced his strongest sexual arousing while viewing images of horses. For this study, researches attached a special device to the man's penis which allowed them to track the volume of blood in his penis. Then, they showed him a series of images and used the blood volume data to evaluate his degree of physiological arousal in response to each image. His arousal for images of horses was even stronger than it was for humans. Another horse-lover stated, in a first-person account, that feelings of romantic intimacy, not just physical pleasure, were an important part of his zoophilia.²

In the majority of cases, bestiality is not a complete representation of one’s sexual activity and is usually a phase or isolated incident experienced as an adolescent. These encounters can typically be chalked up to curiosity or inexperience.

Classifying Zoophilia

Zoophilia can be difficult to classify in relation to other paraphilias because there is very little research available. There are a number of reasons for this lack of research. To begin with, the relative rarity of zoophiles and the social stigmatization surrounding them make it difficult for researchers to find willing participants in their studies. Perhaps a more immediate obstacle, however, is the mainstream sociological trend of overlooking zoophilia. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD)³ and the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V)¹ make no mention of either “bestiality” or “zoophilia”. The omission of zoophilia from the DSM-V is particularly strange considering their stated criteria for including named paraphilic disorders. They say that such disorders must be relatively common, must cause serious harm to the afflicted individual or others, and must possibly be considered illegal. All of these standards apply to zoophilic behavior.

Although acts of bestiality are frowned upon by most cultures, it is interesting to note that not all U.S. courts have specific laws against it. Washington State, for example, only outlawed the practice in 2005 after a notable case: a 45-year-old man died from injuries he sustained while having sex with a stallion. Five years later, the court used the new law against a man who had kept four stallions and seven male dogs for sexual purposes. He received three years of imprisonment, and an acquaintance of his who had committed bestiality at the same location received three months in jail.²

If we apply the ETLE model for understanding paraphilias, we might consider zoophilia as a starting point for plushophilia and furry fandom. However, this model, and the general comorbidity of paraphilias, requires much more research.

Treatment for Zoophilia

Zoophilia is often associated with a variety of other paraphilias (sexual disorders). Therefore, the treatment for zoophilia is similar to that of other paraphilias. Treatment options include cognitive therapy, aversion therapy, and drug regimens.²


1. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. 5th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 2013. Print.

2. LeVay, Simon, Janice I. Baldwin, and John D. Baldwin. Discovering Human Sexuality. 2nd ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2012. Print.

3. WHO. "International Classification of Diseases (ICD)." WHO. World Health Organization, 2010. Web. 29 Jan. 2014.

Last updated 21 April 2014.

UCSB SexInfo Copyright © 2017 University of California, Santa Barbara. All Rights Reserved.