TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT - BONUS CHAPTER
THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMM: UNCOMMON SEXUAL DESIRES AND THE PSYCHOLOGY BEHIND THEM
by Dr. Justin J. Lehmiller
Throughout Tell Me What You Want, I've focused my attention on the most common sexual fantasies that emerged in my large-scale survey of Americans’ sexual fantasies--the things that many (if not most) of us have been turned on by at one time or another. In this chapter, we’re going to take a deep dive into some of the less common sexual desires.
However, before we start talking about people who get off on things like wearing fur suits, drinking breast milk, or dressing up like an infant, let me begin by saying that having an uncommon sexual fantasy is not necessarily unhealthy, nor does it mean that there’s something inherently wrong with the person who has it. Let me be perfectly clear about this: having an unusual sexual interest in and of itself is not a sign of a mental disorder or an indicator that anyone is at risk of harm if the fantasy were to be acted out.
It’s important to recognize that there are some very common sexual interests—such as spying on other people without their consent who are undressing or having sex (known as voyeurism)—that would be harmful if acted upon. At the same time, there are several uncommon sexual desires—such as dressing up like an animal to have sex (that is, being a furry)—that are harmless in both fantasy and reality. In light of this, when evaluating whether a given sexual desire represents a healthy variant of human sexuality and something that might be appropriate to act on, we need to ask ourselves two important questions that have nothing to do with how many people have that desire: (1) Is this sexual activity consensual or non-consensual? And (2) does this sexual activity pose an unacceptable risk of harm to one or more participants? When an activity is consensual and the risk of harm is acceptable, then there really isn’t justifiable cause for concern.
We're going to consider three different classes of unusual sexual interests in this chapter. All of them are similar in the sense that they represent the kinds of things that tend to provoke “OMFG!” and “WTF?” reactions from a lot of people who hear about them; however, they are very different from one another when it comes to the issues of consent and harm. To begin, we’ll look at some unusual sexual desires that are consensual and that aren’t necessarily harmful, either. These are the types of things that many people think of as “gross” or “weird” but that don’t usually offer major cause for concern. Next, we’ll explore unusual interests that are clearly non-consensual and/or that pose a great risk of harm to one or more partners—the sexual desires that shouldn’t be acted upon under any circumstances and that we as a society actively want to discourage. And finally, we’ll look at unusual desires that fall into a bit of a grey area in which it becomes challenging to make broad, sweeping statements about issues of consent and/or harm. These involve sexual acts in which context really matters—people may be okay with them under certain circumstances, but not others.
Before we move on, note that I include several participants’ descriptions of their sex fantasies in their own words. I know that readings these fantasies will provoke a range of reactions among readers, from laughter to shock to disgust to WTF? No matter your reaction, I encourage you to keep reading and to keep an open mind. If you do, you’ll probably never think about sexual desire the same way again.
Fantasies That Aren’t Common, but Aren’t Necessarily Harmful
The fantasies that we’ll consider in this first section generally fall under the umbrella of fetishism. A fetish is basically when one’s feelings of sexual arousal or pleasure depend upon the presence of a specific object, such as a certain piece of clothing, or non-genital body part. Below, we’ll take a look at three specific and uncommon fetishes that emerged in my survey.
Fun with Fur: Fantasies About Dressing up Like an Animal to Have Sex
Later in this chapter, we’ll talk about people who want to have sex with actual animals. For now, though, let’s focus on people who fantasize about having sex while dressed up like an animal—or, in other words, “furries.” You can think of these people as having a sexual fetish for wearing fursuits that resemble specific animals. In some cases, furries go as far as to act like a specific animal, such as by walking on all fours while barking, mooing, or meowing. I should clarify that furries don’t necessarily have to be animals, though—furries can really be based on any kind of anthromorphic character, including mythical creatures like dragons or anime characters like your favorite Pokémon (on a side note, I suspect Lickitung is the Pokémon of choice among furries who happen to be oral sex enthusiasts). Also, to be fair, I should say that being a furry isn’t always a sexual thing—for some people, being a furry is just a unique form of self-expression. In fact, it can become part of their identity, a “fursona,” as they call it. That’s a story for another book, though—here, we’re just going to focus on the sexual aspect of furry fandom, or the “furverts” as they are sometimes called.
It may surprise you to learn that 9% of my survey participants said they had fantasized about dressing up like an animal to have sex at least once before. Of course, it’s important to point out that a lot of people have active imaginations, so the simple fact that someone has had a given fantasy before doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to act on it or that it’s a major turn-on for them. In other words, having an unusual fantasy doesn’t necessarily mean anything other than that someone fantasizes or daydreams a lot. If we instead look at how many people reported being a furry as a strong and recurring interest, it was quite rare. In fact, just 1.1% said they fantasize about being a furry often, hence why it’s discussed in this chapter.
So what’s the sexual appeal of being a furry? That’s hard to say definitively because there isn’t really any research on it; however, I suspect that much of the appeal comes down to the fact that wearing a head-to-toe costume like this results in a state of what psychologists call deindividuation, basically meaning that you temporarily lose your sense of self. This might allow people who are otherwise socially anxious to shed their insecurities—to lose their emotional baggage and temporarily become someone—or something—else. There’s a lot of research in psychology finding that when people wear masks and costumes, it completely changes their demeanor and allows them to engage in behaviors that they might not otherwise contemplate, including behaviors that may be considered taboo or deviant. Of course, it’s also possible that the appeal stems from the fact that being in a costume deindividuates their partner, thereby turning them from a person into a sex object. Either way, deindividuation might allow one to feel fewer moral qualms about the sex acts they are participating in, thereby allowing them more freedom to explore their sexuality.
Alternatively, some might be into this activity because they’re aroused by having a partner who is wearing a costume, perhaps because costumed partners generate a sense of mystery or anonymity—after all, anyone could be under there, so there’s a sense of novelty and surprise here as well.
Generally speaking, furry fantasies are consensual in nature and, aside from the costumes, they engage in pretty typical sexual activities (although I must say that in researching this book, I stumbled upon some furry porn that gives the term “doggystyle” a whole new meaning!). As a result, while rare, it’s hard to view furry fantasies as anything other than harmless.
Age Play: Adult Babies and Diaper Lovers
Rather than dressing up and acting like an animal, some people find it arousing to dress up and act like a human infant or to be treated like one. This sexual interest is known as infantilism and, sometimes, it includes wearing and maybe even using a diaper, in which case the terms diaper lover or diaper fetishism would be appropriate.
How many people have this fantasy? Eleven percent of my participants reported having fantasized about this at least once before, while just under 3% said they fantasize about it often. Thus, it’s certainly rare, but according to the numbers from my survey, it’s about three times more common than furry fantasies when looking at how many people have frequent fantasies about it.
Infantalism fantasies often have a BDSM component to them. For instance, there may be elements of dominance and submission, with the person acting like a “baby” being dominated by a “mommy” or “daddy” figure. There may be a humiliation component as well, such as this bisexual male participant in his late teens described: “In my fantasy, I wish to be treated like a baby and made to feel humiliated. It always starts with me being caught having wet the bed and then being forced into diapers as a punishment. Then, the punishment just gets more and more humiliating. I'm made to wear baby clothes, suck on a pacifier, receive a spanking, among other things. The idea of people talking down to me and using baby speak to me is particularly arousing. By the end of the fantasy, I in some way am only seen as a baby by everyone around me. No one sees me as an adult, which is extremely frustrating and mortifying for me.” As you can see in this example, infantilism often includes numerous BDSM activities, such as punishment and humiliation. Also, it’s worth noting that what many people find arousing about infantalism is simply the role-playing aspect. Indeed, sometimes no sex takes place at all in these fantasy (and real-life) scenarios, just like in the sample fantasy in this paragraph.
So what’s the psychology behind the desire to dress up or act like a baby? For certain individuals, there may be a Freudian sort of explanation. Indeed, some studies have found that men who had negative relationships with their mothers are more prone to fantasizing about sex with someone who acts like their mommy. Thus, there is sometimes a connection to be made to one’s own childhood experiences. For others, however, there might not necessarily be anything in their past caregiver relationships underlying it—instead, it may just be a unique way that someone with an interest in BDSM finds to express their desires. Also, it’s possible that there’s overlap here with the motivations behind furry fantasies: any type of costume or role-playing offers an escape from your sense of self, which may allow one to explore sexual desires they might otherwise find difficult to express.
Like furry fantasies, adult baby/diaper lover fantasies are usually consensual in nature and don't necessarily involve high-risk sexual activities, let alone any sexual activity at all. Again, this is another fantasy that, while rare and widely perceived as weird and disturbing, is quite harmless.
Come Again? The Underground World of Body Fluid Fetishes
Body fluids can become fetish objects, with ejaculate (both the male and female kind) being the most common. However, it’s possible for people to become aroused by a number of other fluids or secretions. In my survey, I found that this included everything from breast milk to urine to blood to feces to vomit. The vast majority of both men and women I surveyed said they had never fantasized about any of these fluids, and the number who reported fantasizing about them frequently was vanishingly small in most cases. For instance, just 2% or less of women said they fantasize about one of these fluids often. The same was generally true for men, although 4% of guys said they often fantasize about breast milk and 5% about urine.
What do people fantasize about doing with these fluids? In the case of breast milk, people often want to drink it, or feed it to others. For instance, a straight woman in her thirties described her favorite fantasy as “I let my partner breastfeed while touching him.” She probably would have gotten on well with the “mostly straight” man in his thirties who told me his biggest fantasy was “to nurse from a lactating woman during sex.” Some research has found that men who want to be breastfed as adults are more likely to have seen their mothers breastfeeding at a young age. That said, it’s important to note that breast milk fetishes aren’t necessarily about having “mommy issues,” rather, the truth is that they are often an extension of infantilism fantasies—after all, what could be more baby-like than drinking straight from the nipple? They may be related to BDSM fantasies, too, such as a woman who wants to be “milked” by a dominant partner, or a submissive man who wants to be force-fed milk.
Consumption is often a theme in urine fantasies as well, as a thirty-something “mostly straight” guy described in this scenario: “I'm having a sexy shower with my wife. After washing each other sexually for a long time she says she needs to pee. I tell her to just do it now and she shyly agrees. I feel her stream hit my leg and before she can respond, I drop to my knees, putting my face and open mouth into her stream. She is shy and embarrassed as I fill my mouth and drink some of her urine. She finishes and I stand back up, kissing her with a mouth full of her pee, she reluctantly accepts, but enjoys the taste, kissing me rabidly before dropping to her knees and asking me to return the favor.” What’s the appeal of being peed on or drinking someone else’s urine? For some, it’s just the fact that it’s a novel or taboo activity. For others, though, it’s that urinating on someone is an act of humiliation, which means this is sometimes an extension of broader BDSM interests. Fascinating, isn’t it, how BDSM can manifest itself in so many different ways?
Of course, it’s important to note that any time people exchange bodily fluids, there’s a potential risk of transmitting bacteria and viruses—and contrary to popular belief, this is even true with urine. Once thought to be sterile, recent research has found that urine does indeed contain living bacteria. That said, if the partners are disease free and already having unprotected sex, then swapping bodily fluids like breast milk or urine is unlikely to create a significant additional risk. Now if partners are coming into contact with each other’s blood or feces, that’s a whole other story because there’s far greater risk with those body fluids.
Two of my participants described their biggest fantasy of all time as “bloodplay.” One of them, a bisexual woman in her late teens, said that this involved “being tied down and cut with a knife while they lick the blood off.” Similarly, three other participants described their favorite fantasy as “vampirism,” which focused on letting someone else drink one’s blood. We can’t say for sure where these specific fantasies came from, but social learning theorists would probably argue that Twilight and True Blood might have served as inspiration by portraying bloodsucking in a highly seductive light.
Three participants described their favorite fantasy as “scat,” a term that refers to deriving sexual arousal from feces. One participant (who declined to provide any demographic information) went as far as to say that they wanted to be “forced” to eat a partner’s feces. Another, a middle-aged woman, described something along the lines of a so-called “Cleveland steamer,” a colloquial term that refers to one person defecating on another’s chest during sex. Attraction to scat was one of the rarest interests in my survey (vomit fetishes were one of the few things that were even less common). Little is known about scat practices or desires because this is so uncommon, but some research suggests that the few who are into it also have a broader interest in BDSM and other taboo sexual activities.
It is important to highlight that activities in which there is oral contact with blood or feces will elevate the risk level of any sexual situation and, as such, would always be considered dangerous if acted out. For instance, Hepatitis C is virus that is rarely transmitted through sex; however, transmission becomes very likely with direct blood contact. Likewise, with feces, there’s a risk of transmitting other forms of Hepatitis, food positioning, E Coli, as well as several other infections.
Although bodily fluid fantasies generally involve a consensual exchange of fluids, it should be apparent that this is a fetish that straddles the line when it comes to the potential for harm due to infection risk. The specific level of risk really depends upon which body fluids we’re talking about and what people are planning on doing with them. For those who wish to act out consensual fantasies involving various body fluids, sexual health experts would generally advise taking precautions to minimize infection risk, such as watching only or using barriers to prevent direct contact.
Dangerous Desires: The Fantasies that Shouldn’t be Acted Upon
Let’s talk now about the unusual sexual desires that shouldn’t ever be acted upon because they are either non-consensual or are actively harmful to one or more partners. The first and perhaps most obvious of these would be the desire for sex with pre-pubescent children, or pedophilia. When asked whether they had ever fantasized about this, just under 6% of my sample reported having done so, with 2% reporting that they have fantasies about this often. I also separately asked people whether they had ever fantasized about sex with a minor, or someone under the legal age of consent. Minors include both pre-pubescent children, as well as those who have already gone through puberty. Far more people (18%) had fantasized about sex with a minor before, and 3.7% fantasized about it often. What this tells us is that it’s quite a bit more common for people to fantasize about adolescents who have gone through puberty—a sexual interest sometimes referred to as hebephilia—than it is for people to fantasize about pre-pubescent children.
It is a widely held belief that pre-pubescent children cannot consent to sex. As such, sex with children is something that is illegal throughout the entire U.S. and rest of the industrialized world, too. Pedophilia fantasies should therefore never be acted upon. Hebephilia fantasies are also illegal to act on in the U.S. whenever they involve sex with someone under the age of 16. Things get a bit nebulous when it comes to adults who are attracted to 16- or 17-year olds, though, given that the age of consent varies from 16 to 18 across the country. This means that an adult who has sex with a 16 year old might be a criminal and sex offender in some states, but not in others. In other words, whether a given sex act or fantasy is deemed problematic or is against the law is something that varies from one state to the next. As a general rule, sexual fantasies should never be enacted with someone who is under the legal age of consent in a given jurisdiction because, by definition, it would be nonconsensual.
So where do sexual fantasies about children come from? Research suggests that pedophilia may have a biological basis and that, to some degree, it may be innate, just like our orientation to persons of a certain gender. As clinical psychologist James Cantor has argued, there appears to be a “cross-wiring” of the brain in pedophiles such that when they see children, their brains register feelings of sexual arousal rather than feelings of nurturance. To the extent that this is true, it would explain why pedophilic interests are so resistant to change—they’re essentially “hardwired” into the brain. In addition to differences in the brain, research on pedophilies has documented several other ways that they differ biologically when compared to the general population, with pedophiles tending to be shorter than average and having greater odds of being left-handed. This pattern of biological correlates has led Cantor and other sex researchers to argue that pedophilia should be thought of as a sexual orientation. However, they are clear to say that just because pedophilia has the characteristics of an “orientation,” this does not mean that pedophilic desires are appropriate to act on. Likewise, an “orientation” does not offer any kind of excuse or justification for sex crimes committed against children.
Another problematic sexual desire due to its nonconsensual nature is necrophilia, a term that refers to attraction toward human corpses. Necrophiles are usually drawn to those who are recently deceased, as opposed to, say, decomposed bodies; however, there are some extremely rare cases of people being attracted to skeletons and using bones as sex toys. It’s important to note that most necrophiles are not murderers; instead, they often try to work in settings where they can have unfettered access to bodies, such as in a morgue. Alternatively, some may hire a prostitute to “play dead.” However, there are a few who commit murder in order to have sex with the dead, persons known in the scientific literature as homicidal necrophiles.
Necrophilia was among the rarest fantasies reported by my participants. Just 3% reported having ever fantasized about it, and less than one-half of one percent said they fantasized about it often. Only one of my participants said it was their favorite fantasy of all time, a bisexual male in his late teens, who described his fantasy scenario as follows: “I'm in a morgue. A corpse of a young man is lying on the table, naked. He had hanged himself, and his lips are still blue. I kiss them, they're cold and hard and smell like decay already. I kiss his whole body, tracing the ligature marks around his throat and pry his mouth open. Rigor Mortis is still strong in this one, but I'm in control. His mouth is as wide open as I could manage, and I cautiously thrust my dick into his mouth. So cold and dry. Living it up I try again and it feels so different from anything I've ever felt before. Rolling him over, I guide my penis against his asshole and it's so tight it's painful at first. I fuck him until I'm about to cum and when it happens his cold hole is warm and wet and tight.”
So where might fantasies like this come from? As you probably noticed in this man’s narrative, there was a theme of domination—indeed, he described his desire to be “in control.” This is consistent with other research I’ve seen on necrophilia finding that the most common reason reported for these desires is to have a partner who will not resist or reject you. This suggests that many necrophiles may have difficulties establishing healthy relationships with the living, and that this may be why they gravitate toward the dead. However, note that in viewing necrophilia as a variant of BDSM, this act violates all three elements of the “safe, sane, and consensual” mantra espoused by the BDSM community. In light of this, necrophilia is not something that many who are into BDSM would be likely to find appealing or would be accepting of because it’s just not consistent with the values of the community.
The third fantasy we’ll consider here is one that is consensual, but is considered problematic because of the great risk of harm it poses. Specifically, we’re talking about fantasies that involve giving and receiving sexually transmitted infections (STIs), most commonly HIV. Colloquially, this is known as bug-chasing—for those who want to receive an infection—and gift-giving—for those who want to transmit an infection to others. One of my participants, a fifty-something man who identifies as bisexual, said that his favorite fantasy of all time is bug-chasing, which he described as having anal sex in a bathhouse with several men, one of whom happens to be HIV positive. Essentially, what people like him are doing is fetishizing infections. This might stem from the feeling that intentionally seeking out an STI—especially one like HIV, which is deadly—is the ultimate taboo. Alternatively, it could just be because some people find that the riskiness of this activity heightens their sexual excitement. Fantasies about giving and receiving STIs were even less common than necrophilia fantasies, with just about 1% of my participants saying they’d ever fantasized about transmitting an STI and 2% saying they’d fantasized about receiving an STI. Less than one-half of one percent said they fantasize about either of these things often, making them among the rarest desires I documented.
I observed several other rare fantasies that would fall under the category of non-consensual and/or harmful. Briefly, a few of the other notable ones include frotteurism, or the act of rubbing one’s genitals against a non-consenting stranger in a crowded public setting, such as on a subway. Eighteen percent of my participants had fantasized about this before and 2.1% fantasized about it often. Frotteurism is a form of sexual assault because it involves touching another person sexually without their consent; however, the victims often do not realize it is happening because it typically occurs in crowded places where lots of people are already bumping into each other and “frottage” can be mistaken for an accident.
Another non-consensual fantasy is telephone scatologia, the act of making an obscene telephone call—or in the smartphone era, the act of sending obscene photos or messages through texts. A common way this plays out today involves straight men sending unsolicited pictures of their penises to women, a phenomenon colloquially referred to as “dickbombing.” This can be a variant of more general exhibitionistic tendencies because it’s often motivated by a desire to shock and offend the recipient, and it’s the shocked reaction that these people usually find arousing. However, this could also be another case where social skills are lacking and senders fail to recognize what is and is not appropriate sexual behavior. Thirteen percent of my participants had fantasized about making obscene phone calls/texts before and 1.8% fantasized about it often.
Grey Areas: The Most Debated Sexual Desires
To round out this chapter, we’re going to talk about people who fantasize about incest and sex with animals. These fantasies fall into a grey zone in the sense that they’re somewhat more difficult to categorize than the other fantasies we’ve considered in this chapter. I know that many of you are wondering how I could possibly say this because these issues seem pretty cut and dry. To that, I say please hear me out because, I promise you, things are not quite as simple as they seem at first glance.
Incest: The Ultimate Sexual Taboo
Believe it or not, 1 in 5 of my survey participants reported fantasizing about incest at some point before, with incest defined specifically in my survey as “sex with a blood relative.” While this number is probably shocking to many of you, I should clarify that very few (just 3%) said they fantasized about this activity often. As I mentioned earlier in this chapter, it’s not unusual for really deviant or taboo fantasies (such as incest) to pop into someone’s head on rare occasion. We shouldn’t make too much of this because a one-off fantasy doesn’t necessarily signify a strong interest, let alone a desire to act on it. What is unusual is to have a fantasy about incest all of the time, or to have it as your favorite fantasy. As a recurring sexual interest, incest is indeed quite rare, so that’s why we’re talking about it here.
Among the few participants who said incest was their biggest fantasy of all time, I found that it took several different forms, from having sex with one’s own blood relatives to watching sex between people who are related (such as identical twins, an act known in the porn world as “twincest”). So in some cases, people aren’t necessarily fantasizing about engaging in incest themselves, but rather watching other people doing something taboo. Most of the incest fantasies my participants described focused on sex between close relatives, such as father and daughter or brother and sister. For example, a straight man in his twenties described his ultimate fantasy to me simply as “having sex with my mother or sister.” Although this guy had never acted on his incestuous desire, other participants had, such as a bisexual woman in her thirties, whose biggest fantasy was to continue a sexual relationship she currently has one of her parents: “My fantasy is to continue my relationship with my father, and to get married, because we are in a consensual relationship, and have a very deep love for each other that few people can really understand.”
By contrast, others’ incest fantasies focused on extended family and sometimes even on non-blood relations, such as step-parents, step-siblings, or other family who are related by marriage only. In fact, this kind of incest is perhaps most popular, as evidenced by the fact that “step-mom” and “step-sister” were two of the ten most popular search terms on the popular tube site Pornhub in 2017! One example of an extended family fantasy from my survey comes from a straight man in his twenties. He labeled his favorite fantasy as “incest” and described it as sex with an aunt to whom he was not biologically related: “My favorite sexual fantasy has to do with fucking my aunt. She is my aunt by marriage but I have known her since I was young. I came across some naked pics and a couple videos of her being a freak. I never looked at her the same again and have had a fantasy of fucking her ever since.” As you can see, “incest” is something that can mean very different things to different people depending upon how they define it.
Like voyeurism and exhibitionism, incest is widely prohibited by law throughout the United States; however, the exact nature of incest laws varies considerably, and this is where we start getting into the grey zone. For instance, in some states, sex and marriage between siblings and cousins is permitted, whereas in others, it is not. Likewise, in some states, sexual contact with someone to whom you have a step-relationship is considered incest, whereas in others, it is not. The question therefore really becomes: what exactly is incest? It turns out there’s not a lot of agreement.
The other big question is why incest makes most of us feel, well, icky. When asked why incest is wrong, the primary reason most people give (other than that they just think it’s gross) is that inbreeding produces high rates of birth defects. However, if that’s the primary rationale against incest, then what’s the rationale for prohibiting incest between two members of the same sex, or incestuous relationships involving a woman who has already gone through menopause? With reproduction out of the picture, does that change your reasoning? It’s fascinating to see how state laws have tried to account for the fact that this biological rationale doesn’t apply in all cases. For example, in Utah, first cousins are permitted to marry if both are age 65 or older (or if both are at least 55 and one is infertile). As you can see, there’s actually a legal sliding scale for the acceptability of incest depending upon whether reproduction is possible.
I hope you can see now whey I placed incest in the grey zone. To be clear, I’m not arguing that incest is a healthy sexual interest or that it’s something people should be practicing because it’s easy to think of examples in which incest is non-consensual and harmful, such as when children become the objects of sexual desire by any family member. That’s clearly wrong—and illegal. At the same time, though, it’s easy to think of examples that are consensual and where it’s hard to make a convincing case for harm, such as when adult step-siblings fall in love. Because we don’t have a universally agreed-upon definition of what incest actually is, it’s simply very difficult to make blanket statements about whether incest fantasies are always good/bad or healthy/unhealthy.
I suspect that the narrower the definition of incest is—think sex between immediate family members who are blood-related—the more likely it is that most people would be on the same page in terms of how they feel about it (in this case, most would disapprove). However, once you start expanding beyond this (e.g., relations between cousins, step-siblings, etc.), there’s bound to be a lot of debate and disagreement. In other words, where people draw the line on incest is very subjective and varies a lot from one person to the next.
Zoophilia: Fantasies About Sex With Animals
Like incest, many of you will be surprised to learn that about 1 in 5 of my participants said they’d fantasized about sex with animals before. Again, however, just because a deviant or taboo sexual thought has popped into your head before doesn’t mean you’re really into it or that you have any desire to act on that fantasy. When I looked at how many people described sex with animals as their favorite fantasy of all time, very few did so, just as we saw with incest and the other fantasies considered in this chapter. Thus, as a strong or recurring sexual interest, zoophilia isn’t common.
Among those who said it was their favorite fantasy, they were split in terms of labeling their desire as “zoophilia” or “bestiality.” Zoophilia is the term that’s usually used by persons who want to establish a loving and sexual relationship with an animal in which mutual pleasure is the goal. To give you a better idea of what I’m talking about, consider this fantasy, submitted by a twenty-something man who labeled his sexual orientation as “mostly gay”: “I am between two dogs whom I deeply love and care for. Usually the dog on the bottom is female, though sometimes male. The dog on top is male. Sometimes I imagine that my human partner is watching me while I am with the dogs. It is very important that the dogs love me, and I love them. During the act, the bottom dog (who is on her back) and I lick each other and kiss each other deeply while I penetrate her. She is deeply immersed in the act and mutually enjoying the sex. The dog on my back is engaged in anal sex with me, and his strong front legs are wrapped around my chest and he's holding on to me very tight, and acting rather rough, occasionally scratching me as he gets lost in the act. At the end of the fantasy, we all climax at the same time, the dogs very visibly climaxing.” Try re-reading this fantasy and replacing the words dog/dogs with person/people. If you do this, you’ll see that this individual is really transferring the same kinds of emotions and sexual activities you might see in a human context to an animal context. This suggests that zoophilia fantasies can often be thought of as having human-like relations with animal partners.
Bestiality, by contrast, is a whole other animal, so to speak. Fantasies about this usually involve persons who want to have sex with animals only for their own personal sexual gratification—there isn’t the same level of care and concern for the well-being of the animal partners as there is in zoophilia fantasies. For instance, consider this fantasy submitted by a man in his thirties who identifies as gay: “My main sexual fantasy revolves around being fucked in the ass by a dog or watching a man be fucked by one.” There’s no mention here of a loving or emotional relationship with the animal or any concern for the animal’s pleasure. Bestiality fantasies are all about gratifying one’s own desires.
What kind of animals do people with zoophilia and bestiality fantasies desire? As you can see in the table below, dogs and horses were the most commonly desired animals among my participants, a finding that is consistent with other research on this topic. In real life, dogs are the most common partners for zoophilies—at least those who don’t live on farms—because of convenience. Horses would probably be more common partners if they weren’t so expensive and were easier to house. In fact, in one study of men who have sex with animals, 17% of those who currently had a dog as a partner said they’d prefer to be with a horse instead. With all of that said, a small percentage of people fantasize about vastly different kinds of animals, including cats, sheep, non-human primates, and dolphins.
The vast majority of people who described zoophilia and bestiality fantasies in my survey were men. However, a few women fantasize about sex with animals, too, such as this twenty-something female who identified as heterosexual: “I want to have sex with some kind of male bear. An actual bear—a non-human animal. I especially love to fantasize about Yogi Bear (which is more of an anthropomorphic bear, but I would love to be with a real bear).” This example is particularly interesting in that this woman fantasizes about animals that take on human characteristics, like Yogi Bear. Apparently, Yogi isn’t just “smarter than the average bear”—he’s sexier than the average bear, too. Again, these fantasies aren’t necessarily always about real animals—they’re often about having the same kind of relationship you might have with a human, just with some kind of animal partner.
As you may well know, sex with animals is an activity that is against the law in most parts of the United States. However, there are 12 states that currently have no such law on the books, and the states that do have laws prohibiting sex with animals are split between considering it a misdemeanor and a felony. Thus, there’s quite a bit of variability in terms of whether sex with animals is considered a crime and, if so, how seriously it is punished. The most common rationale offered behind laws targeting sex with animals is that this activity is inherently abusive because animals cannot consent to sex. However, this is where we once again enter the grey zone. If you adopt the position that a person cannot do anything to an animal without its consent, you’ll quickly find that it’s difficult to defend. For instance, if sex with an animal is wrong on grounds that it can’t consent, then shouldn’t it be just as wrong to hunt, kill, skin, and eat animals? Also, consider that breeders sometimes sexually stimulate animals. Pig farmers, for instance, have found that if they use their hands to stimulate sows to orgasm during insemination, the sows end up producing litters with more piglets. People’s first response to hearing about this is usually to snicker, not to react with shock and horror because the sows haven’t provided consent. This suggests the somewhat uncomfortable conclusion that people are okay with humans sexually stimulating animals, but only if it means extra ham and bacon for everyone.
This consent issue becomes even trickier when you consider that, in reality, humans aren’t always the instigators when it comes to inter-species sexual encounters. For instance, perhaps you’ve had the experience of visiting a friend’s home and getting your leg humped by their very excited pet dog. Again, most people think this is funny, and most don’t categorize it as being sexual either. Of course, most of us discourage our dogs from humping us—and our guests—but what if someone doesn’t? And what if that person finds the experience to be arousing? Would we still argue that the animal has not consented and, therefore, that it was wrong on those grounds?
To be clear, I’m not advocating for inter-species sex, decriminalization of bestiality, or anything like that here. All I’m trying to do is analyze zoophilia fantasies through the same lens as the other fantasies we’ve considered in this chapter—and if we try to evaluate these fantasies largely on the basis of whether there’s explicit consent, it becomes pretty hard to do so and to remain logically consistent, especially if you’re someone who eats meat, wears leather, or uses any animal products. Maybe all of this is just to say that the lack of consent argument isn’t a very compelling one when it comes to arguing against zoophilia and bestiality.
What Should You Take Away From All of This?
In this chapter, we’ve taken a look at a lot of rare and unusual sexual desires—the desires that probably made many of you shake your heads and say “WTF?” If you had this reaction or felt uncomfortable reading about some of these fantasies, you’re not alone. This is a pretty normal reaction to hearing about uncommon turn-ons. However, I hope I’ve made the case that just because a desire is rare, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s harmful or that we as a society have to be worried about it. Again, the real keys to establishing whether a given sexual desire is healthy or unhealthy are the questions of whether consent is given and whether there is an unacceptably high risk of harm. As you can see, though, there’s some inherent subjectivity in these criteria, which means that things aren’t always as black and white as we might like them to be.
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