The philosopher of animal liberation considers a remarkable book which chronicles the history of bestialityby Peter Singer / April 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2001 issue of Prospect Magazine
Not so long ago, any form of sexuality not leading to the conception of children was seen as, at best, wanton lust, or worse, a perversion. One by one, the taboos have fallen. The idea that it could be wrong to use contraception in order to separate sex from reproduction is now merely quaint. If some religions still teach that masturbation is “self-abuse,” that just shows how out of touch they have become. Sodomy? That’s all part of the joy of sex, recommended for couples seeking erotic variety. In many of the world’s great cities, gays and lesbians can be open about their sexual preferences to an extent unimaginable a century ago. You can even do it in the US armed forces, as long as you don’t talk about it. Oral sex? Some objected to President Clinton’s choice of place and partner, and others thought he should have been more honest about what he had done, but no one dared suggest that he was unfit to be president simply because he had taken part in a sexual activity that was, in many jurisdictions, a crime.
But not every taboo has crumbled. Heard anyone chatting at parties lately about how good it is having sex with their dog? Probably not. Sex with animals is still taboo. If Midas Dekkers, author of Dearest Pet: On Bestiality, is right, this is not because of its rarity. Dekkers, a Dutch biologist, has assembled a substantial body of evidence to show that humans have often thought of “love for animals” in ways that go beyond a pat and a hug. His book has a wide range of illustrations, going back to a Swedish rock drawing from the Bronze Age of a man fucking a large quadruped. There is a Greek vase from 520BC showing a male figure having sex with a stag; a 17th-century Indian miniature of a deer mounting a woman; an 18th-century European engraving of an ecstatic nun coupling with a donkey, while other nuns look on, smiling; a 19th-century Persian painting of a soldier, also with a donkey; and, from the same period, a Japanese drawing of a woman enveloped by a giant octopus which appears to be sucking her vagina and caressing her body with its limbs.