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What’s the Difference Between Bestiality and Zoophilia?

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Updated March 15, 2010

Question: What’s the Difference Between Bestiality and Zoophilia?
Answer:

Many people confuse the terms bestiality and zoophilia. They are related, but different in important ways that let us be more clear about people's desires and behaviors. When we're talking about sexual matters that some people find offensive or distasteful, it's easy to want to stay vague and just throw all of "them" who do those things into one big group. But that kind of generalizing doesn't serve anyone.

Bestiality has always referred to the act of a human having sex with a non-human animal. The sexual activities may or may not involve penetration, but they are sexual behaviors done for gratification.

Zoophilia was first used in clinical literature by the sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing, who used the term to describe a human being who is sexually aroused or inspired by an animal. Today zoophilia is still used not to describe a sexual activity or behavior, but to describe the feelings of erotic or sexual attachment to, and/or a sexual preference for, non-human animals.

The easiest way to distinguish bestiality and zoophilia is to say that bestiality is a practice -- it's something people do. Zoophilia is a preference or experience, something people feel. Not everyone who engages in bestiality is a zoophile, and not all people who identify or would be classified as having zoophilia actually have sex with animals.

Another important distinction to make is that only having erotic feelings or fantasies involving animals is not against the law, whereas in many places, having sexual relations with a non-human animal is illegal.

Sources:

Krafft-Ebing, R. Psychopathia Sexualis New York: Paperback Library, 1965.

Miletski, H. Understanding Bestiality & Zoophilia Bethesda: East-West Publishing, 2002.

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