“SEX WITHOUT ALL THE POLITICS”? SEXUAL ETHICS AND HUMAN-CANINE RELATIONS

Chloe Taylor

In “Rethinking Bestiality: Towards a Concept of Interspecies Sexual Assault” (1997), Piers Beirne describes watching a work of pornography titled Barnyard Love, which depicts humans having sexual relations with a variety of species of animals. As Beirne observes, the ways that the different species of animals responded to sexual interactions with humans varied drastically. At one extreme, small animals such as eels and hens clearly suffered greatly, and in at least one case died, due to the sexual uses to which humans put their bodies. In the middle of the spectrum, large quadrupeds such as cows and horses appeared to Beirne to be bored by their sexual interactions with humans, continuing to eat, defecate, and urinate even while humans manipulated their genitals. Beirne is cautious in assuming that he can interpret these animals’ body language, however, and suggests that the apparent indifference of these animals “might actually have been calculated detachment on their part, a coping strategy for numbing the pain inflicted on them by yet another of the myriad ways in which their lives are routinely invaded, inspected, and disposed of by humans” (1997, 318). At the other extreme, however, were dogs, who were “engaged in sexual activities with women” in the film and “seemed energetically to enjoy such human attention” (318). Beirne writes, “To me, at least, it did not seem possible that such canine enthusiasm could be trained by off-camera training designed to suppress more genuine emotions of grief and pain” (318).

Beirne’s account indicates that anyone considering the welfare of animals will recognize the immorality of sexual relations between humans and small animals such as eels and hens. Dogs, however, appear to be the “hard case” from an ethical perspective. As Peter Singer’s infamous review, “Heavy Petting” (2001), makes clear, a utilitarian approach will not allow us to categorically condemn sexual relations between humans and dogs. Singer writes,

[S]ex with animals does not always involve cruelty. Who has not been at a social occasion disrupted by the household dog gripping the legs of a visitor and vigorously rubbing its [sic] penis against them? The host usually discourages such activities, but in private not everyone objects to being used by her or his dog in this way, and occasionally mutually satisfying activities may develop. (2001, n.p.).

Contra Beirne’s and Singer’s assumption, at least one account of human-canine sex suggests that dogs who engage in sex with humans must be rigorously trained to do so. A 2013 interview with a sex-trafficked woman who trains puppies to have sex with women includes the following account:

There are special dog farms in many countries that train dogs to [have sex with humans]. I personally work as a trainer in such farms in Germany, Belgium, and Sweden. They employ me to help the dogs get used to the human female. After about half a year of concentrated effort, the dogs fuck like devils... . I also have two dogs living in my cottage and they have never fucked with other dogs, only with humans. Often the clients will bring dogs of their own, these are of course trained dogs, too. (Zalupin 2013)

Although the woman interviewed observes that she “loves” the sex with dogs, it is unclear how the dogs feel. The fact that it takes “a year of concentrated effort” to get the dogs to “fuck like devils” suggests that bestiality does not come naturally to them. Nevertheless, the dogs can be trained to engage in bestial acts with a vigor that even a critical viewer such as Beirne reads as enthusiasm, while chickens, eels, and cats cannot.

It is perhaps because of this performance of enthusiasm that dogs are today the most common species choice of zoophiles. Moreover, the characteristics that zoophiles claim make them prefer nonhuman animals to humans—playfulness, affectionateness, non-judgmentalness, loyalty, and unconditional love—are particularly characteristic of dogs. Sexual relations with the more aloof cat are relatively rare; this is likely because zoophiles (who distinguish themselves from “bestialists,” or people who have sadistic sex with animals) want at least the appearance of consent and enthusiasm from the animals with whom they have sex. Zoophiles consider themselves animal lovers, and want to believe they are in relations of reciprocal love. Dogs accommodate these desires of zoophiles more than any other species. Within a broader consideration of the ethics of human- animal sexual relations, human-canine sexual relations are thus worth dwelling on, both because these are the cases in which the immorality of the relations is least obvious, and because they are one of the most common forms that bestiality takes today.

I will argue in this chapter that the medicalized and identity-based categories of “zoophile” or “zoosexual” mask the particularities and politics of which humans are having sex with which animals. It is significant that the people having sex with animals are overwhelmingly white and male, that the animals they are having sex with are domesticated, and that the most popular sexual partners are canines. Any adequate account of the phenomenon of zoophilia, I argue, must interrogate the power relationships entailed in domestication, and in human-canine relationships in particular, as well as the kinds of privilege involved in white masculinity that result in the gendering and racialization of zoophilia. Contra Singer and the discourses of zoophiles, I contend that the apparent performance of pleasure and thus consent on the part of dogs is insufficient for understanding whether sex between humans and dogs is exploitative, and masks structures of privilege and domination. What is necessary is to analyze the structure of domestication as a power relation that produces the (apparent) sexual consent of (some) domesticated animals, as well as the kinds of privilege that enable (some) humans to experience such consent as reciprocal love. This privilege is first and foremost human privilege within relations of domestication, but it also intersects to a considerable degree with male privilege and white privilege.

Ecofeminist scholars have criticized masculinist approaches to animal ethics, such as Singer’s utilitarianism and Tom Regan’s theory of animal rights, in a number of ways that apply to Singer’s analysis of bestiality. Ecofeminists have argued that these approaches are extensionist, with the rationalist, white, male, able-bodied and -minded human remaining at the center (the obvious bearer of rights and moral consideration), even as the circle of moral consideration expands outward to include other beings in virtue of their bearing similarities to the man at the center (Cuomo 1998). Ecofeminists have also argued that the clear desire of male animal ethicists such as Singer to distance themselves from charges of emotion and sentiment indicates that they remain embedded in a masculinist rationalism that has historically justified the domination of animals, as well as the domination of women and people of color, and so is unlikely to be the means to animals’ salvation (Donovan 1990). Moreover, while Singer and Regan compare speciesism to racism and sexism, or see these as analogous forms of discrimination, they do not see these oppressions as interlocking. In contrast, ecofeminists have argued that the logics that result in the domination of women, the cognitively and physically disabled, people of color, and animals are not analogous but interconnected. Building on these insights, in this chapter I argue that the exploitation of animals by zoophiles is part and parcel of a male sex right that has resulted in the exploitation of women and, as feminists have argued, has done so along axes of ability, race, and class. In this chapter, I will thus turn an intersec- tionalist feminist lens on the phenomenon of zoophilia, to show why a utilitarian analysis of the phenomenon is inadequate.

 
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