Watching Equus and listening to Martin Dysart’s ponderings on the psyche about how and when something determines a catalyst for the emergence of passion within the individual, made me contemplate this aspect of consciousness for the first time.

As Dysart says: “Moments snap together like magnets forging a chain of shackles. Why?”

Sexual attraction to, and /or having sexual relations with, an animal is a definite no-no as far as all religions and most societies go.

Be that as it may, the practice continued through the ages – regardless of what was considered ‘normal’ and in spite of religious constraints. Could this attraction be of genetic origin? Is it a mutated strand of DNA that dominates whatever conditioning determines the ‘reasoning process’, which would of course include all the ‘moral’ values that religion and society establish? So then is this condition determined before such a reasoning process is formed in the individual?

For a definition and some background information here are some extracts from Wikipedia:

Zoophilia, from the Greek ζωον (zôon, “animal”) and φιλία (philia, “friendship” or “love”), is a paraphilia, defined as an affinity or sexual attraction by a human to an animal. Such individuals are called zoophiles. The more recent terms zoosexual and zoosexuality describe the full spectrum of human/animal orientation. A separate term, bestiality (more common in mainstream usage and frequently but incorrectly seen as a synonym; often misspelled as “beastiality”), refers to human/animal sexual activity.

….The two terms are independent: not all sexual acts with animals are performed by zoophiles; and not all zoophiles are sexually interested in animals.

….Philosopher and animal liberation author Peter Singer argues that zoophilia is not unethical if there is no harm or cruelty to the animal, but this view is not widely shared, with the majority opinion supporting the view that animals, like children, are not capable of informed consent.

…Bestiality signifies a sexual act between humans and animals. It does not by itself imply any given motive or attitude. It is not always certain whether acts such as kissing, intimate behavior, frottage (rubbing), masturbation, or oral sex are considered ‘bestiality’ in all cultures or legal systems, or whether the term implies sexual intercourse or other penetrative activity alone.

It seems that bestiality is not all that uncommon and is even legal in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. It is illegal in the UK (for penetrative acts) and much of the USA, Australia and New Zealand, whilst Belgium, Germany and Russia permit sexual activity with animals but strictly prohibit the promotion of animal-oriented pornography. The practice is also reasonably common, as Wikipedia describes:

Scientific surveys estimating the frequency of zoosexual activity, as well as anecdotal evidence and informal surveys, suggest that more than 1–2% — and perhaps as many as 8–40% — of sexually active adults have had significant sexual experience with an animal at some point in their lives. Studies suggest that a larger number (perhaps 10–30% depending on area) have fantasized or had some form of brief encounter. Larger figures such as 40–60% for rural teenagers (living on or near livestock farms) have been cited from some earlier surveys such as the Kinsey reports, but some later writers consider these uncertain.

Then there is the question in some minds if aspects of bestiality are better understood as ‘aberrations’ or simply as ‘sexual orientation’. Again to Wikipedia which has this to say:

The activity or desire itself is no longer classified as a pathology under DSM-IV (TR) (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association) unless accompanied by distress or interference with normal functioning on the part of the person. Critics point out that that DSM-IV says nothing about acceptability or the well-being of the animal, and many critics outside the field express views that sexual acts with animals are always either abusive or unethical. Defenders of zoosexuality argue that a human/animal relationship can go far beyond sexuality, and that animals are capable of forming a genuinely loving relationship that can last for years and which is not functionally different from any other love/sex relationship.

So it seems that bestiality is a fairly well established and accepted sexual practice, although in most cases those involved are not ‘open’ about this preference – much as gay folk behaved before ‘gay liberation’ enabled the opening of millions of closets.

But getting back to Martin Dysart and his insightful ruminations about the nature of passion and whether such a wondrous sensation should be curbed by psychiatry simply because society deems it ‘improper’ and not ‘normal’ behaviour. As he says about ‘normal’: “ a good smile in a child’s eyes all right. It is also the dead stare in a million adults.”

1973 isn’t all that far behind us and although society was still pretty liberal when Shaffer wrote Equus some thirty-four years ago, gay liberation was hardly as common as it is today and bestiality was probably regarded as much, if not more of an aberration than it is now, but what I keep harking back to are Dysart’s words that question the origins of this type of attraction in an individual, when he says:

A child is born into a world of phenomena all equal in their power to enslave. It sniffs, it sucks, it strokes its eyes over the whole uncomfortable range. Suddenly one strikes. Why? Moments snap together like magnets forging a chain of shackles. Why? I can trace them, I can even with time, pull them apart again but why at the start they were ever magnetised at all – just those particular moments and no others – I don’t know. And nor does anyone else.”