A Thought Experiment

Consent is one of the biggest talking points when it comes to the “validity” of sex with animals. You could consider “animals can’t consent” a slogan when it comes to those who oppose zoo ideas. But that’s always been one of the least interesting arguments to me. The truth of the matter seems so obvious it’s practically redundant to even explain why. Of course animals can consent. They can have their consent taken away, or ignored, but that doesn’t diminish their capacity to give it. If you’re playing fetch with a dog, you might not have had a conversation outlining the bounds of the game, you might not have said “I consent to playing” to each other, but by you throwing the object and them retrieving it and bringing it back, it’s clear that both parties are consenting to the game. So what’s the issue when it comes to understanding this same idea when it comes to sex?

I think a lot of the times when someone says “animals can’t consent,” it’s because that’s what they think they’re supposed to say. It exists to shut down a conversation with an infallible blanket statement. But, that’s boring. And not only that, but trying to argue against a point they consider to be common sense isn’t going to get either of you anywhere. So instead, I like to reframe the conversation around consent to more specific examples. It’s something that I’ve done with many people uncomfortable with the idea of bestiality, and I’ve always found so long as they’re willing to talk about it, it produces some really interesting conversations. So, I thought it might be fun to try and go over my little thought experiment, as well as what I look for when talking with people about it. The conversation is posed around a sliding scale series of questions, asking whether or not different actions would be considered non-consensual when it comes to a scenario. Each new question takes the situation to a more involved level, and the goal is to figure out at what point the person you’re talking to flips from something being appropriate to inappropriate. With this information, you can better address their real concerns, as opposed to just trying to go against an unhelpfully nebulous concept. If you’re someone who’s constantly in the trenches debating this probably won’t be any new information to you, but hopefully at least you have a new tool in the tool belt. And if you’re someone who’s not a zoo reading this, try and play along! Answer the questions yourself, and see how each one makes you feel. So, let’s get into it with the first question!

“You’re watching TV, and your dog starts to hump a pillow on the floor. Is that rape?”

We start at the very bottom of what people would consider bad. Dogs naturally have a sex drive, and will relieve that urge when they feel like it. Anyone who’s grown up with intact dogs will know that. Here, there’s been no connection between the person watching TV and the dog expressing their sexuality. There’s pretty much no way to see this as non-consensual (aside from maybe the dog using the pillow non-consensually). If someone says that this is already inappropriate, you’re likely talking with either a child who doesn’t understand sexuality, or someone so anti-pilled that they will say no to you pretty much no matter what you say. At that point, it’s not worth having the conversation. Assuming, however, that they’re a real person, they’ll say no, the dog humping the pillow is not rape. So you move on to the next stage.

“You’re watching TV, and your dog starts to hump your leg. You decide not to stop them. Is that rape?”

This question is all about physical contact between the human and the dog. It’s hard to argue that the human and the dog are engaging in any sexual capacity. And yet, the dog is expressing sexuality using the human. If anything, the premise of this question makes it seem more like the dog is the one taking advantage of the human. If someone says that the human in this situation is raping the dog, most likely the issue that they’re hung up on is a mixture of mental capacity and morality. The dog isn’t smart enough to know that that action is “wrong” and so by allowing them to do it you’re taking advantage of their ignorance. Of course, this is all predicated on the idea that an animal expressing their sexuality at all is wrong in the first place. If talking to this person, the best thing you can do to try and get at the root of their issues is to try and show examples of how animal sexuality is natural, and that there’s no harm in that expression. On to the next point.

“You’re watching TV, and your dog starts to hump your leg. You decide to shift the angle of your leg in order to help them get better purchase and enjoy it more. Is that rape?”

The kind of sexual expression is the same here, but at this point there’s a level of mutual engagement that’s going on. You’re both mostly just kinda doing your own thing, but at this point the human in the scenario has actively encouraged or aided in the animal’s endeavours. The key point here is the active role the human has taken. If people say that this point is where it becomes inappropriate, it’s likely that their issue is the human action in the situation. Clearly this is still not a human focused scenario, but at this point since the human has aided in it, it’s wrong because they’re “encouraging it.” Still, based off of any kind of real definition of rape it’s a pretty hard sell to claim that’s what this is. Compared to the last scenario, what’s really changed from the dog’s point of view? That they’re having a slightly better time mounting? Perish the thought. That they noticed the human’s adjustment and appreciate the assist? The dog already seemed eager enough that they were the one who initiated with the human in the first place. Let’s move on.

“You’re watching TV, and your dog starts to hump your leg. You figure that’s probably not a great thing to hump, and so you move your hand into the same position and allow them to hump that instead. Is that rape?”

In this scenario, the dog is performing exactly the same action as they were previously. Just humping a body part of entirely their own volition. The thing that’s introduced here is that this is something most people would definitively call a “sex act.” At this point, you’re giving what scientists would call a “homie handjob.” However, there’s still no element of expressed sexuality from the human. There’s no implication that they’re getting off from this in any physical way. The thing that might cause someone to flip on this question is just a label. This “feels” more like it’s a sex act, but in reality nothing is different from the last question. This is a really important point. If someone said that everything up until now wasn’t rape but this is, you can call them on the fact that this is the same as the last question. But, if they don’t say that this is wrong, then they’re saying that giving animals handjobs is okay. Frequently, this is a place where the conversation starts going one way or the next when running this hypothetical. People are challenged by their beliefs and either start to waiver, or get really hostile. Both are positive reactions. They show the person is really thinking about it. Assuming the conversation is still going, you can move on to the next statement.

“You’re watching TV, and your dog starts to hump your leg. You figure that’s probably not a great thing to hump, and so you get down on your hands and knees and give oral sex to your dog. Is that rape?”

Much like the last question, this is mostly just a gotcha. There’s practically nothing different that’s happening, and there’s still no human element to the act. Instead, you’re offering a different body part to help out with the dog’s urges. A squishier body part, sure, but the only difference with this point is that the act is more vulgar than before. Similarly to the last question if someone’s issue arises here, it’s very easy to point out that in this situation the dog is doing exactly the same thing as within the last two questions, it’s just that it feels more like a sex act now, and that by no means does that automatically make it non-consensual. A surprising number of people have put up their red flag here, considering the similarities between this question and the last, but I think that’s partially because they can see where this thought process is now headed.

“You’re watching TV, and your dog starts to hump your leg. You figure that’s probably not a great thing to hump, and so you get down on your hands and knees and the dog mounts and penetrates you. Is that rape?”

At this point, not only are we finally introducing the element of human sexuality into it, but we’re at actual by the book sex. This is the top of the totem pole in the idea of what is and isn’t appropriate. Pretty much everyone that I’ve gotten to this point to has ended up admitting that either sex with animals isn’t actually all rape, or that their argument against it has absolutely nothing to do with consent.

There’s plenty of other places you could take this, from talking about more human initiated scenarios, to talking about female animals and the ways that they can consent, but those would be their own entire lines of questions to get into, and they deserve more than a paragraph to go over. The brief version would be, if you’re talking with someone and they say something like, “Well, I’ll give you that male dogs can consent in this specific scenario, but (whatever) is still wrong!”, you can absolutely adapt this strategy to try and break down barriers in that regard as well. Just remember, the goal is baby steps to try and figure out exactly what specifically their problem is with the concept.

Another important thing to remember is that not everyone is going to be having conversations in good faith with you. It’s not like you can just pull this out of your bag and try and convince someone right out of the blue. It takes two people to have a conversation, and if the person that you’re talking to is just sending you shitposts and telling you to kill yourself, this probably won’t be an effective tool for you. We’ve said this a lot before in the magazine, but it bears repeating. Nobody else is entitled to your time or energy. If you don’t want to talk to someone, or don’t feel like a conversation is going to be healthy for you, just don’t do it. You always come first.

For those of you that do argue a little bit more, or just for those of you that like little thought experiments, I hope you enjoy this one. It’s something that I think really illustrates how clearly animals are able to consent to sex in the same way that they can consent to any other activity. And even if the person you’re running this through with disagrees, it can help to at least get you to the heart of the issue, and move past the more generic deflections.

Because we all know that animals clearly have the ability to both give and revoke consent. And I’m so over hearing the same line over and over again.

Article written by Tarro (March 2023)

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