Defending the Indefensible: Bestiality in Erotica #censorship #erotica #paypal

…if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.

Why defend freedom of icky speech? Neil Gaiman, 2008

This week, I’ve seen a lot of authors, publishers and others turn on their own kind. I’ve read a lot of statements that look like this: ‘I’m all for free speech, but PayPal is doing the internet a favor by banning this disgusting crap.”

Today, I decided to approach this from a different angle. I don’t have too hard a time defending the validity of most of what PayPal has decided it won’t process sales on. Like Mark Coker, I really can’t see what is particularly obscene about fictional descriptions of incest. Unlike Mark, I find it very easy to defend fictional rape in erotica. Probably because I have, on several occasions, written it. I find the ban on under-age sex very problematic. At a gut level, I find the concept of sexualizing children, even fictionally, very disturbing. On the other hand, this blanket ban also precludes perfectly defensible coming of age stories. It puts YA writers in a position where they cannot write about adolescent sexual experience – which pretty much means they aren’t able to address the real-world experience of being an adolescent in their fiction.

For me, fictional bestiality is by far the no-go area I have most problems with. It’s a gut level thing for me. I am just so utterly squicked out by the idea of sex with animals, I find it hard to assess it rationally.

So, because I believe that NO fiction should ever be banned, or put beyond the reach of grown up readers willing to read, I have set myself the challenge of justifying why I think that even the fictional taboo I personally have the most problems with, should be available to willing readers.

These days, the vast majority of erotic fiction that contains the taboo of bestiality comes in the form of were-animal erotica. There are probably a number of authors who write these books who are mortified to think they’re even writing bestiality at all.  But I want to examine the history of the ways in which we have represented congress with animals and why we do it.

The folklore, mythologies and religions of many cultures have represented sexual intercourse between animals and humans.

In Hindu mythology, humans are portrayed as having sex with animals. These animals are believed to be earthly incarnations of gods. (Bestiality and Zoophilia: Sexual Relations with Animals). This is also the case for many Native American, Canadian and Inuit tribes all have tales of humans marrying animals. These are spirit animals, and congress with them was believed to afford the lover a foot in both the material world and the spiritual one. (Studies in the Psychology of Sex). Many Aboriginal peoples are proud to consider themselves the descendents of these pairings.

Greek and Roman concepts of bestiality or zoophilia have their roots in the cult of Dionysus, in which orgiastic behaviour was seen as a way for man to transcend the earthly plane in a state of ecstacy. (The shadow of Dionysus: a contribution to the sociology of the orgy).

Mythology has it that seven unwed maidens as year were sent to the Minotaur for his feast. One assumes that their ‘maiden’ state was important to the whole event. He apparently consumed their virtue, and then consumed them.

Zeus came to Leda in the form of a swan, seduced her (or raped her, depending on the version) and she bore him two children, Helen and Polydeuces. The pictorial versions of it we see today are from the Renaissance, and it is generally believed that this is when the story became eroticized.

The Lamia are supernatural snake-tailed women, who seduce young men and feed on their blood. I once did write a story about them.

Dream of the Fisherman's Wife by Hosukai

Asia also has its share of zoophilic mythology.  A particularly popular one is depicted by Hosukai in the famous woodcut ‘Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife’ and has evolved into the meme we know today as ‘tentacle sex’. Oh, wait, I also wrote one of these.

And, of course, we must come to fairy tales. The Beauty and the Beast is a particularly interesting one. There really can be no ‘Beauty’ without its opposite.

Most of these exemplars of ritual and mythological bestiality have something in common. They are about a type of sexual ecstasy that becomes transcendent of the specifically human world. It is about man entering a magical realm with the aid of an animal.

I suspect that these stories of the past, just like the were-animal erotica of the present, are using the metaphor of congress with beasts to examine two things: man’s relationship with the natural world and man’s acknowledgement of the animal within himself.

Just writing this post, I realized that I have also written stories that have bestiality in them. If I count lamias and sushi. And you know what? I was surprised. But I think they are both worthwhile stories.

Hey! you say. Most of these books are just about women ‘doing’ dogs. Well, that may be true. And personally, I won’t indulge in those particular literary masterpieces myself, but if you ban them, you will also be banning some very interesting and enlightening explorations of who we are and how we separate ourselves from the rest of the species on our planet.

One of the strongest recurring elements in modern erotic were-fiction is the longing for sexual experience past the cool web of civility.  And yes, it is often represented with the characters in their human form, but actually, it is incidences of when it is represented with the were-being in beast form that both the taboo and the heat really arise.  Because animals don’t ‘behave’ or have human laws to bind them. They are driven by instinct, just as we are. I think they are all simply incarnations of us, fictionally torn apart into the rational and intellectual side of ourselves, and the other, instinctual, non-rational side.

As humans, we tell stories to each other in very complex ways. Not all stories are for all ears. But we really need to learn to respect the way we tell each other.  Otherwise, one day, we will wake up to a world that has no stories at all.

  22 comments for “Defending the Indefensible: Bestiality in Erotica #censorship #erotica #paypal

  1. March 3, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Beautifully said.

  2. March 3, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    Very well said; an enlightened piece on a subject few are comfortable discussing. Although I’m not a huge fan, I want to preserve the right to be should my taste become more deviant in the passing years. I don’t have to like everything I come across on the web, but if I am to call myself a true patriot, I must stand and defend other’s rights to believe and express themselves in the way they choose.

    Wasn’t it Zeus that often appeared to women and coupled with them in the forms of animals?

    I have, effective today, cancelled my paypal account. In addition, I plan to boycott Amazon as well. Let them go join the ranks of Walmart, censoring their customers and claiming ‘family values’ while their corporate greed does more damage to families than any dirty picture ever could.

  3. March 3, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    I personally know two women and one man who’ve had sex with animals. How do they get to process their experience? How do they communicate it? Fiction is an ideal medium for exploring the ‘what ifs’, including the ‘what if’ that the experience wasn’t icky. After all, a non-fiction memoir that didn’t have an approved conclusion would be just as banned as fiction…

  4. John Hill
    March 3, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    I wonder if there is a parallel issue to censorship that, if not addressed, will give strength ot the pro-censorship camp. Namely, we, as writers, have a responsibility to produce high quality literature. Our narrative banks must grow to encompass good structural habits and inspirational themes. People, we got to write good. And talk good too. A difficult topic, and bestiality is one, cannot be addressed in any format if the examples are giant, steaming piles of bad writing. Our initial responsibility, before we can adequately defend our freedoms to tackle anything we care about.

    • March 3, 2012 at 9:23 pm

      I think the problem with this is that ‘writing good’ is a very subjective thing. The proponents of literary censorship seldom care how well or badly a piece is written if it contains something that they feel is detrimental to the ‘public good’.

      I really wish it was simply a matter of being able to display compelling artistic merit, but PayPal probably wouldn’t recognize artistic merit if it strapped on a dildo and fucked them up the ass.

    • March 3, 2012 at 9:26 pm

      I disagree. Literary merit should honestly have nothing to do with it, and should not force self-censorship. Literary merit is simply a historical fig leaf that says that “filth” and “obscenity” can be banned. We don’t need loopholes like “obscenity” in free speech and the realm of ideas.

      • March 3, 2012 at 9:36 pm

        I would certainly say that literary merit is subjective and something of a fig leave, but I don’t think it follows that anything should be banned that doesn’t contain it. However, that is the mechanism at play in the Miller Test, and that is what is currently legal framework that allows all of us the right to write what we do without fear of litigation.

        Ultimately, however, I am a writer. And if literary merit wasn’t a goal I aim for, I probably wouldn’t write. That being said, many people like to read and write material with no pretense of literary merit at all. And that’s just fine by me.

        • March 3, 2012 at 9:43 pm

          Oh, I understand it’s the Miller Test. I just think the Miller Test is a cop out. But maybe that makes me an extreme absolutist on free speech. ;-)

  5. March 3, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    I have no problem with the bestiality stories in the sense that I feel people should be free to write about such things. I don’t think they have to be “good,” which is a subjective measure anyway. All of us dislike something out there that has been deemed “good” or “great” by some authority (please don’t make me watch “Titanic” again!).

    I only disagree with the first paragraph. If someone is saying PayPal is “banning” anything, then they are wrong. I know I may be in the minority here. The problem is not (necessarily) PayPal, the problem is that Smashwords went “all-in” with PayPal. And I’ve said this before, that it is in PayPal’s Terms of Service that PayPal cannot be used to purchase certain sexual materials.

    They aren’t telling anyone what to stock, they are saying what their service can be used for. Yes, I realize this results in *Smashwords* having to remove titles, but if they had an alternative payment method, they wouldn’t have to.

    I don’t agree with what PayPal’s doing, I’ve said before. It’s inconsistent enforcement at best, since the rule has been there since the beginning. If you have an account, you AGREED to those terms.

    • March 3, 2012 at 10:02 pm

      Two things, Eve. Perhaps ‘banning’ is the wrong word. Let’s change that to corporate and economic censorship, because ultimately what has happened is the selective exclusion of certain voices writing on certain topics.

      Now, if PayPal was offended enough by this material to exclude all the classic texts which also contain these themes, including both the Old and New Testaments, from payment processing, I’d be much more inclined to acknowledge that they do have a right to maintain a set of firm rules as to what material they are willing to process. The point is that it is not consistent. PayPal has not decided it will process no more sales of Lolita by Nabokov. They have been arbitrary and selective in where they have decided to apply their TOS and where not.

      So as someone recently said to me, this is not a legal issue. This is a case of corporate thuggery.

      You are also ignoring the very concrete reality that there are virtually NO alternatives to paypal for certain types of microtransactions and those that exist are exerting the same sort of TOS in the same irrational way.

      These authors have been left with NO alternatives, Eve. Good thing you don’t write this stuff, isn’t it? You’re okay. For now.

      • March 3, 2012 at 10:17 pm

        I’m fine with calling it corporate censorship, and I’ve admitted from the start that it’s inconsistent. I’m not sure that can be helped. PayPal’s TOS says “certain types” of things, and for good or ill, they get to decide what that is for their service. So yes, they can decide that “Lolita” is okay while other things aren’t.

        Alternatives may be hard to come by, but they are there. You can have someone send you a check or money order and then send them the book. No one has a right to make sales, electronic or otherwise. Another alternative is to make it available for free. You don’t have a right to get paid for your work (although if you can, good on you).

        No, I don’t write this stuff. It doesn’t interest or excite me, so I don’t. I have written non-human stories with weretigers and such, and have probably come close to the line.

        Look, I’m on the side of free speech. I think PayPal is inconsistent at best, bullying at worst, and as far as I know, their claim about doing this b/c of the CC companies above them is false. I’m glad people are protesting PayPal (I don’t have an account, so my leverage against them is to … continue not having an account) and I hope they change their policy.

  6. March 3, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    A year ago I would have thought I could never write about bestiality. Then I wrote Amadan na Briona, a retelling of the classic Celtic myth. In it I found myself playing out the dark sexual undertones found in many faerie stories, including forced sex with men with the heads of animals who communicated in grunts. My line is underage, and that’s as much a matter of taste as anything. I don’t find anything particularly interesting about teenagers, their minds haven’t developed enough and they haven’t had enough life experience to develop a psyche I’m interested in toying with.

  7. March 4, 2012 at 12:00 am

    You tell someone something is forbidden and they’re going to get curious about it. That’s just how it is, that’s how we’re wired. As Big Ed says above, the “what if” is important. It’s probably one of the most important aspects of erotica, allowing us to safely explore what may or may not excite us in a venue that will not leave us with wounds of the head, heart or body.

    In The Wild Hunt, my main character has sex (dubious consent sex even, gasp!) with a forest god in half-stag form. Leda and the Swan has always been one of my favorite myths and I’ve toyed with writing something along those lines…not just a werecreature in human or half-form but something with the shape of a full animal. These are ancient and compelling concepts, and they’ve been around long enough that I’ll just go ahead and say that they will probably be eternal– no matter what the censors may think of it.

  8. March 4, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    I agree with you, but I wonder whether a “defense” isn’t an unnecessary admission that the other side has a good argument. When you’re charged with a crime, the government has to prove your guilt. You’re not assumed guilty. You don’t have to defend yourself at all.

    Similarly, things should be assumed publishable—whether cookbooks or bestiality stories. The onus to convince should be on the side that wants to ban.

    You challenged yourself to defend the banning of fictional bestiality (what about non-fictional accounts of bestiality?) because you have a gut reaction to the act of bestiality. Another challenge might be to come up with a good argument about why you should ban this type of writing. (I find that’s often the harder argument to make!)

    Good series of posts recently.

    • March 4, 2012 at 1:29 pm

      Well, you’ve got an excellent point. When I chose the title, I did it in a slightly tongue in cheek way but also in the sense of defending a thesis.

      I didn’t write this post for people who already believe that there should be no censorship of books. I wrote it for people who are on the fence and try to persuade them that even material they may find very offensive has a provenance and a history, and that to curtain that freedom is to limit ourselves culturally.

      You are, of course, right as far as I’m concerned. No writer should have to defend their reasons for what they write. But when I write, I do find that I require justification of myself. I don’t shove what I consider offensive stuff into my work unless I feel I can justify my reasons for doing it. I need to be satisfied, on a personal basis, that the content is there for a reason and serves a purpose. And I’m fairly certain that a lot of other writers do this too.

      • March 4, 2012 at 4:06 pm

        I’m a reader. I read my 1st book in 1948 and joined the public library. I acquired an adult card at 9 in 1953, I then read Kristin Lavransdatter. 4 years later I acquired my 1st girlfriend and read Lady Chatterley’s Lover on the subway to my Jesuit prep school….
        To the salient point, I learned over the years through fiction and non-fiction both the wonder that is the human imagination. I have books on archaeology, astronomy, cooking, mythology, physics and yes, even writing. I control what I read. I’m considerably older than most reading this post on this site. I remember when bookstores sold only books. One could also buy at second-hand stores. I now read books in hardcover, paperback and e-book form.Right now I”m reading a book on string theory (hardcover) and various other books in (pb) and e-book. I decide which delivery medium meets my needs. I decide what genre, of what author and where to buy it. I do my homework, if possible, before buying. I read some wonderful, thoughtful and thought-provoking writers who write dark erotica sometimes with non-consentual aspects. I mistakenly bought a book in this category and among other things described severe female degradation including enforced circumcision. I don’t buy that author any more.
        I have personally been in touch with some of these Indie writers. They are people who just want to express themselves for many reasons. I wrote a letter to RW of Australia with a link to a protest petition of Pay Pal’s greed and received a nice reply from the moderator/web mistress. “wow, a male romance reader.”
        I don’t like Pay Pal, period. Their charges range from 5-25% to customers. Why would anyone in the small-to-medium category even sign on with them? I personally think some book sources could done more. I don’t if this fight can be won but the world’s consummate misogynist apologized on the air yesterday for a reprehensible tirade against someone and then mocked her in the next breath. He is protected by the right to free speech. So is OUR right to write and read what we want.

      • March 4, 2012 at 10:09 pm

        I know we’ve been at odds on the PayPal aspect of this, but I agree with you here. No one should need to “defend” their work to anyone. If you want to write a story, write a story. No one has to read it. To me, it’s the reading equivalent of “it has an off switch.” However, if an author wants to explain why something was written, or why certain elements are in a story — I find that pretty interesting, usually.

    • March 4, 2012 at 1:41 pm

      I’ll take the Devil’s Advocate position for a moment: Why should we ban this type of writing? I can think of four justifications:

      1. Because humans are by nature weak at resisting temptation and self-control. If you show them something that is pleasurable but bad for them, a significant number will be unable to resist doing it. So you have to ban it so they can’t see it.

      This is, of course, a justification based on both sound Biblical traditions (Eve and the Apple) and the known fact that men cannot control their sexual responses around women (a standard rape defense and common cultural meme brilliantly explored here: http://www.alternet.org/story/154373/why_do_we_live_in_a_world_that%27s_petrified_of_women_who_love_sex?akid=8346.310393.u_D6Bc&rd=1&t=5)

      2. Because of desensitization. Studies with violence have shown that regular exposure to violence decreases the viewer’s sensitivity to it and increases their willingness to engage in it and condone it in others. Sexuality is similar enough that exposure to extreme sex will desensitize people and increase their willingness to engage in sexual acts that are harmful to themselves and others.

      This is of course a variant of #1, but with a greater psychological backing.

      3. Because material must have redeeming social merit in order to be allowed in public discourse. This is of course the flip side of the Miller test for obscenity. If something is obscene, it not only can be banned but *must* be banned to avoid the detrimental coarsening of our society.

      Seriously–think about the accepted Miller test for a moment. Something “can” be banned because it doesn’t have redeeming merit. That once again leaves it to personal disgust and not an objective principle. My rewording above establishes an objective principle about the harm and removes the discretion from “can” by turning it into “must.”

      4. Because our political and cultural order relies on individuals fulfilling the roles assigned to them. Failure to fulfill these roles would lead to chaos. Writing or reading material of this type encourages people to step outside of their assigned roles and therefore must be stopped.

      I don’t think I need to expand on who would be making this type of a justification.

      Okay… those were pretty weak, so maybe I suck at being a Devil’s Advocate. Your question’s a damn good one, though.

      And I think your question illuminates the basis for the ban: because some of us are very very afraid of open sexuality. That fear can be (partially) alleviated by suppressing its expression in others. A ban is just a tool to do so.

      • March 4, 2012 at 2:21 pm

        No, you don’t suck at all. You’re scarily good at it. That is quite some feat of intellectual acrobatics! Glad you’re on our side, Ed.

  9. March 8, 2012 at 2:03 am

    This is so poignant. Wyeth gave me the British Museum’s book of Erotica and it is ALL beastiality. Clearly this is a part of life on this planet that needs a voice somewhere.

    And thank you for defending it despite your own feelings about it. That is equally important.

  10. February 20, 2013 at 11:04 am

    Eve McFadden said: “No one has a right to
    make sales, electronic or
    otherwise.”
    Actually, yes they do. If someone has something to sell that belongs to them, then they have the right to sell it. Or do you prefer to grow your own wheat and grind your own flour before baking your own bread because you think no one has the right to sell you a pre-sliced loaf?

  11. June 27, 2013 at 1:36 am

    Eve McFadden said: You don’t have a right to get paid for your work.
    Really? I dare you to get managers and CEOs to tell their employees that. Should get rid of a few fatcats at the very least!

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