In Val Camonica, Italy, there is a 7,000-years-old engraving on stone of a man having sex with a donkey. The taboo against sex with animals, or with people of the same sex, hadn’t developed yet. How that taboo was fabricated is a fascinating story.
Hammurabi’s code (1750 BCE) had no rules against any way people had sex. Single, married, or divorced Babylonians cross dressed, had solo sex, queer sex, wet dreams, zoo sex, and did sex work in their temples. They used birth control & abortion. Those who couldn’t afford sex workers or spouses, or find lovers, had sex with animals. Laws offered no moral judgments about sex acts, per se. They were made to protect property rights and punished infringements.
Hammurabi assumed that people had sex for pleasure. For him, sexual pleasure was good — a normal part of life. His code contained 68 sections on family & women. There were seven on priestesses. Women’s rights were still important. His was a different world. No one was arrested teens for fornication, worried about queer sex, paid fines for nude sun bathing, harassed moms for nursing babies in public, humiliated kids for playing doctor, or threw 6-year-old boys out of school for kissing 6-year-old girls.
In 14th and 13th century BCE, Hittites began peppering their laws with the word “abomination”. They often used it to describe theft, murder, and a number of sex acts. For example, it was taboo for parents to have sex with their kids or with certain animals. Some animals were emblems of Hittite upper-crust families. Sex with a family’s totem could sap a family’s strength. Pigs, dogs & cows were ancient family totems. No one could have sex with them. They executed men who had zoo sex with totemic animals. But it was okay to have sex w/sheep, mules and horses.
But sex play was still very important. Law II, Number 196 of the Hittite Code tells a lord what to do if two slaves enjoyed a sexual abomination — katta watzi — with each other. He was to make them live in separate towns, but to keep them from feeling sexually deprived, he had to provide each with a sheep! The big loophole in the Hittite sex code for all people was Law II, Number 190. There was no punishment if a ghost seduced someone into forbidden sex or for anyone under the power of magic spells. People who could tell a good story got off scot-free.
The Israelites were even more severe than the Hittites. They wrote their Tanaka in the 12th century BCE. For their men, taking on the role of women was an abomination, so was having sex with animals. According to Leviticus, 18:23, it was an abomination for men or women to have sex with an animal.
But further west, in ancient Athens, a sex partner could be same sex, the other sex, or another species. Athenians approved bestiality, queer sex, sex toys, & solo sex. Oral sex was degrading—slaves and sex workers did it for citizens. Sex with a dog was more disgraceful. But Pasiphäe's lust for a bull sent by Poseidon, as well Zeus' incarnations of eagles, swans, and bulls to seduce women, belie a fascination with bestiality.
In ancient Rome things were pretty much the same. Caligula married his horse, as did Celtic Kings. The horse personified the land for them & kings were also wedded to their land. But Caligula may have had something else in mind. He made his horse, Incitatus, a consul.
Fornication, queer sex, solo sex, and zoo sex were also natural functions for Indigenous People in the pre-Columbian world across the Atlantic. Like eating, sexual pleasure was important for relationships, health & entertainment. It was neither sin nor shame as it became for Christians. There was also much more tolerance for variants in sexual orientation and gender role than in Europe.
The Moche, like other Indigenous people, enjoyed all kinds of sex, from anal sex to queer sex to zoo sex. None was unnatural or sinful. Sex play was far more accepted in the New World than in the Old. They gave each other hand jobs and had anal sex, bestiality, coitus, intergenerational sex, oral sex, queer sex, and solo sex. They also had sex with their gods and in religious rituals. No one felt guilty about it — or burned at the stake for it.
Things changed drastically in the Christian era. Christians had a phobia about all sex, including procreative marital coitus, which was also a sin, if only a small one. Sodomy was any kind of sex that was non-procreative & led to ejaculation. That included bestiality. Sodomy became a much greater sin than coitus in marriage. In the second century, church fathers Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria declared sex play broke “Natural Law” if it couldn’t make offspring. So good Christians could not engage in sodomy or have sex if infertile, pregnant, or menstruating! The notion was, of course, a big mistake—animals have lots of non-procreative sex!
Clement of Alexandria’ idea of “Natural Law” was based on Aristotle (d. 322 BCE), the Epistle of Barnabas from the year 130, and the musings of Ulpian in the third century. They all agreed that only reproductive sex occurs in nature — an entirely false notion. Barnabas, for example, knew so little about zoology that he forbade eating rabbit because they were so slutty that their bodies opened a new sexual orifice each year. Also, no eating hyenas: they changed gender every year. And no weasel, they conceived and birthed pups through their dirty mouths. These ancient guys’ confused and ignorant guesses about animal sex led to global bans on non-reproductive sex, especially sodomy.
In the fourth century, Augustine of Hippo amplified the teaching on Natural Law. Sodomy was worse than rape because it wasn’t reproductive. He borrowed his ideas of good vs. evil from pagan Manichaeism. But he ignored the Manichaen preference for sodomy because, unlike coitus, it didn’t reproduce the physical world, which was evil. Many remember him for his "incalculable influence" on forming church doctrine. In fact, because of him, millions of millions of us, from bators to queers to zoophiles remain shameful about our sex lives.
In 325, Emperor Constantine declared Catholicism the one true church of the empire, embraced Augustinian views of sexuality, repudiated Rome's diverse sexuality, and insisted all non-procreative sex, including sodomy, was sinful. All sex outside of marriage became sinful. Emperor Theodosius declared Catholicism the state religion in 381 and made it illegal for anyone to belong to any other religion. He forbade — on pain of death — any worship at pagan shrines. By compelling all people to become Catholic, Theodosius made it, ipso facto, criminal as well as sinful to indulge in solo sex or sodomy.
In the sixth century, Justinian (d.565) incorporated papal Natural Law into civil criminal law, even though many claimed that his wife, Empress Theodora, who as a striptease dancer in her youth used a “gimmick” of bestiality — having geese peck grain from her vagina. (As empress, she became a Christian prude, arch-conservative, and saint.)
In the seventh century, the Hindus of India wrote down their Kāma Sūtra, a how-to guide to their kāma shāstra. The kāma shāstra was 2,800 years old and was all about the blessings of fulfilling sexual desire with orgasm, with women, men, self, or animals. It was one of the three basic aims of Hindu life. But around the same time, Theodore of Canterbury, like bishops all across Europe, composed penitentials for priests to assign penance for sexual sins from fantasy and fornication to queer sex, solo sex, wet dreams, and zoo sex. Priests in Middle Ages used penitentials to list every possible sex sin during confession. During colonial times their views would dominate even the Hindu world.
Things got considerably worse for Christian folks who had sex outside of marriage: Pope Innocent IV's 1252 bull, Ad extirpandum, gave the Holy Office of the Inquisition permission to torture "sodomites" to gain their confession. After confessing it, the church executed non-conformists!
The teachings of Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) had amplified Natural Law to this deadly degree. He was remembered as a scholar, but Aquinas had definite limitations as a thinker: non-procreative sex was worse than rape because it didn’t make babies! Society still bears the burden of his ignorant anti-sex rationales.
Nicolas Eymeric wrote Directorium inquisitorum for Pope Gregory XI in 1376. It gave Catholics the license to kill “any heathen who violates natural law” by cross dressing or other signs of sodomy. Spain brought its Inquisition to the New World under its auspices. Sodomites were now “subhuman” & liable to execution & slavery, which led to genocide in the New World. Christopher Columbus enslaved and murdered Taino on the grounds some were "sodomites". He executed his own sailor, Juan de Luxan, for "sodomy". Francisco Pizzaro (d. 1541) grounded his execution of Atahualpa on the Directorium, which the Inquisition used to call for death of all sodomists. Vasco Núňez de Balboa (d. 1516) fed the two-spirited guys who had sex with his conquistadors to his dogs.
During the crusades, Christians also made excessive sexual accusations about Muslims. Cardinal Jacques de Vitry published his Oriental History in about 1225. He claimed Muhammad was a sexual wanton who popularized queer sex and zoophilia. Muhammad’s followers were even more perverse:
Sunk, dead & buried in the filth of obscene desire, pursuing like animals the lusts of the flesh.
The myth went that crusaders discovered sodomy in the east and brought it home.
Pope Clement VI went so far as to claim the Black Death of the 14th century miraculously represented God’s wrath. The Almighty was punishing the world for its sinfulness—especially of “sodomites”. Savonarola tried to revive stoning & public burning at the stake for queer sex or bestiality in 1495 Florence.
Make a pretty fire, or two or three, there in the square, of these sodomites. …make a fire that can be smelled in all of Italy.
His bloody career came to an end in 1498 when the city hanged him and publicly burned him for attacking the pope, the Medici — and the “sodomitical” sons of Florence.
Holy Inquisitions kept excellent records. Sex trials in Aragon spiked between 1560 and 1620 to stop sodomy and priests from seducing confessees. They executed more than 80 men for anal and queer sex and nearly 80 for bestiality. All names are recorded.
Use of the confessional spread in the 17th century. Catholics had to confess, during Lent, all mortal sins including four sins “against nature”: bestiality, queer sex, solo sex, or any other kind of sex play that couldn’t make babies — or they had to go to hell. Folks feared hell, and the church refused to bury those who died without confessing mortal sins. Priests kept checklists on who confessed and asked everyone to examine their consciences often between confessions to be sure to spot anything they should feel guilty about and then report back. The only way for a sodomite to avoid hell was to confess queer sex, solo sex, zoophilia, or any other kind of non-procreative sex play, do penance and be reconciled with the church. So, people confessed many times a year in case of dying before their obligatory confession.
Protestants were as vicious as Catholics when it came to sodomy and the bestiality within it. Martin Luther (d. 1546) republished text from Georgius de Hungaria’s (d. 1502) Tractatus de Moribus, Condictionibus, et Nequicia Turcorum in his Libellus de vitu et moribus Turcorum of 1530. He broadened its accusations of Muslim anal sex, bestiality, queer sex, and castration of Christian boys. He may have rejected clerical celibacy, but he certainly advanced Catholic customs of homophobia, patriarchy, sexism, and corporal punishment along with anti-Semitism & Islamaphobia with his accusations of sodomy.
1642 Duxbury Massachusetts, Protestant authorities thought animals could consent to zoo sex. They hanged a teen, Thomas Granger, for sex w/a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves, and a turkey. He had to identify the sheep and watch their execution.
New Haven accused Thomas Hogg of bestiality in 1645, when a sow had a deformed piglet that reminded Hogg’s neighbors of the hang of his scrotum — which they often saw through his torn pants. They claimed that the pig got aroused when he touched it. Their evidence was flimsy, he was flogged for lewdness & let go. William Potter was not as lucky. His son turned him in for sex with a sow. His wife said she saw him have sex with a dog. Potter confessed to zoophilia all his life. He said it was his nature. They hanged him in 1662.
Courts needed proof that the accused penetrated the animal before they could sentence him to death. But they also severely punished any attempt. In 1681, Providence Plantations flogged Thomas Saddler of Portsmouth. He attempted bestiality with “a certain mare of blackish color”. They also branded him on the forehead with the letter P, for “pollution”. Then they banished him from the colony.
During the Age of Reason (1600–1899), a common alternative to the missionary position was sex with animals. A man might turn to it if he had no sex partners and spent a lot of time in isolation with his farm animals. Having to wait to marry or not being able to afford a wife led a lot of young men to turn to their animals for sexual release. Some women did it too. Most people tolerated it, and it was the butt of many jokes. But it was against the law.
In 18th century Europe, sex with animals was still a crime, but many women and men still did it. Angry relatives or neighbors exploited it for personal offenses. In Sweden from 1635 to 1754, for example, Royal Courts tried 14 women & 1,486 men for bestiality. They had about a third of them executed, sentenced a third to forced labor and/or corporal punishment, and acquitted another third. Nevertheless, many still got a kick out of it. For example, Andréa de Nerciat’s Le Diable au corps —The Devil in the Flesh of 1803 included a vignette about a lady having sex with a donkey.
Overall, 19th century Christianity was still a shame factory, making its members feel guilt about the many kinds of natural non-procreative sex play, and it still influenced governments to curtail sexual rights, woman’s rights, and civil rights.
Some, like Jeremy Bentham (d. 1832), argued to legalize sodomy. His Introduction to the Principles of Morals & Legislation argued queer sex and zoophilia, as crimes, invited blackmail & extortion, which could ruin a person — even when the accusations were untrue.
But Charles Darwin (d. 1882) overwhelmed the thinking of progressives such as Bentham. Darwin revolutionized ideas on evolution, but he imposed Victorian stereotypes, such as straight monogamy, on animal sexuality, in spite of the facts. Very simply: snakes don't marry, elephants do trunk jobs, male lions mount each other, and rabbits mount chickens. His The Descent of Man also promoted the false idea that animal females, including women, were inferior in body and mind to males, including men. And it was blind to any possibility of non-procreative sex selection, such as interspecies sex, queer sex, solo sex, and zoophilia.
In 1869, Pope Pius IX browbeat his cardinals to give in to his request for papal infallibility. Since then popes are infallible on pronouncements of doctrine. Their proclamations on birth control, queer sex, solo sex, women, and zoophilia, although medieval, are set in stone and irreversible forever. They will always be mortal sins for Catholics.
The Congress of the USA’s 1948 Miller Act, made it illegal to take in the mouth or anus the genitals of any other person or animal. The sentence was 10 years, or 20 if with anyone under 16. That same year, Alfred Kinsey reported that up half of all farm boys had some kind of sex with animals by the time they were teens or adults. He later found only up to four in 100 girls had sex play with animals — mostly with cats and dogs. But the taboo stood strong. Kinsey’s colleague Wardell Pomeroy warned youngsters who had sex with animals to tell no one, even their shrinks. Even most pros couldn’t handle the taboo.
That explains why, when I was a boy in the early, still agrarian 1950s, farmer families made friendly cunning jokes about boys and calves, which would suck “anything”. But in today's urbanized, college-educated culture, we question whether calves or other animals "consent" to suck or fuck with another species.
Hani Miletski published her book, Understanding Bestiality and Zoophilia in 2002. Vern Bullough, reviewed it in The Journal of Sex Research.
This is the best overall survey of bestiality that I have read. … Miletski, following the work of Mark Matthews (1994), believes there are two general classes of people who have sex with animals: (1) the "bestialists" who have had one or a few sexual contacts with an animal or use animals when a more "normal" outlet is not available; and (2) the "Zoophiles," individuals who prefer an animal as a sex partner, often forming deep emotional relationships with them.
Hani Miletski is a very brave soul and the publication of her book was very promising toward a broader understanding and toleration of zoo sex. She did her research within an online community zoophiles built in the 1990s. But members of that community shunned a member, “Mike Rolland”, for abusing animals. In retaliation, he formed the Animal Sexual Abuse Information and Resource Site in 1998 as payback to outlaw bestiality and zoophilia. By 2001, working with the Humane Society of U.S., he had gotten 30 states to formally outlaw it as animal abuse.
In 1999, Bruce Baghemil gathered studies to show hundreds of animal species have more non-procreative than procreative sex, and may indulge in interspecies sex. For a few examples, he showed that female porcupines get off by scooting along while dragging a branch between their legs; queer flamingo dads build nests twice as high as straight flamingos to raise their chicks; and female spotted hyenas mount each other, with their penis-like clitorises, Many other animals enjoy orgasm with non-procreative sex play. We’ve seen such un-straight behavior in 1,500 species so far. This alone should have voided the Vatican’s teaching on “Natural Law”, which it still invokes it to condemn birth control, queer sex, solo sex, and zoophilia. But the church has never been interested in science or honest facts.
Some folks have retained their common sense. New Jersey charged 42-year-old Robert Melia in 2006 with cruelty against animals for letting calves suck him. Superior Court Judge James Morley dismissed charges. Here’s an excerpt from the trial:
Prosecutor: The calf … thinks it’s about to get milk. Well, the calf doesn’t ever get milk. A reasonable juror could say that a man’s penis in the mouth of a calf is tormenting that calf. I mean, Judge, I think it’s fair to say that it’s an act against nature.
Judge: But the cow doesn’t know it’s an act against nature… any of us who have children know that children love to suck their fingers. They love it so much that they just won’t stop. [So we] give them pacifiers … I never had doctors come and say this torments the child. If we know that children just like to suck things, can we say that the calf, which has far less cognitive power than an infant, simply doesn’t enjoy doing the same thing!
Catherine Deneuve’s character falls in love w/a gorilla in The Brand New Testament. The 2015 film by Jaco Van Dormael hilariously ridicules Christian doctrine about gender and sexuality, including sodomy and bestiality. It’s definitely a must see.
But punishments for sodomy and other kinds of unapproved sex have been horrifying. Christians have cut sex organs off kids for solo sex, whipped and flogged adults for sex on holy days, burned people alive for cross dressing, imprisoned them for having sex out of marriage, drawn and quartered them for bestiality, maimed, murdered and sentenced them to hard labor for queer sex, stigmatized women for having kids without husbands, denied marriage to men who can’t get a hard on, women who can’t get pregnant, and stripped human rights of women for their gender.
Our sex taboos are 1,000s of years old and still haunt, even if we’ve forgotten their reasons. We know sexual pleasure strengthens us as families and individuals, but we let taboos screw up our sense of what is good, natural, normal, meaningful, or just fun. Ghosts of the history of sex dull sexual pleasure for all of us. Let us all exorcise these ghosts by understanding where they come from.