What’s Wrong with Pedophilia and Bestiality?

Pedophilia and bestiality: sex by an adult with a child and sex by a human with an animal. Most people consider the former to be disgusting and the latter to be twisted. Both of these activities are illegal in many countries. And that’s the way it should be, right? We all feel that both pedophilia and bestiality are wrong. But why is that exactly? What is it that makes us so creeped out by the thought of an adult having sexual intercourse with a child? Or the noise of the neighbor enjoying the companionship of his dog a little too much? And in what way do both pedophilia and bestiality differ from rape? Aren’t they ‘just’ rape, but disguised in a different form? Let’s take a look at these questions.

I believe that – as it is with all matters in life – you have to come to understand why it is that you find something right or wrong, and that you should not just take society’s word for it. After all, there are many societies in which gay marriage is believed to be morally wrong or even illegal, but that doesn’t imply that gay marriage is in itself morally wrong or illegal, right? Of course not. It is morally wrong or illegal because the society in which it is morally wrong or illegal made it so. And so it is with pedophilia and bestiality. However, in contrast to gay marriage, there might be more compelling reasons to make pedophilia and bestiality wrong and illegal.

Let me ask you the following question: what is it that you find so repulsive about grown up men (and women) having sex with (little) children? Responding with, ‘They are children!’, is not an argument; merely a shout of disgust. A better – but still unsatisfying – response would be, ‘Children aren’t outgrown yet. Therefore an adult who has sex with a child does not have intercourse with a “complete” human being, only with some entity that has the potential of becoming a fully developed human being. And it is not until someone is having intercourse with a full-grown member of his own species that he is engaged in a “normal”, or “morally right”, endeavor’. But that’s nonsense, right? That would imply that sex with any person who is not believed to be ‘fully developed’ according to the moral rules of society would be an act worthy of condemnation. Also, if you make this claim, you might be asked to answer the question of when it is that someone is fully developed; when someone has ‘reached’ his full potential as a human being. When he has reached the ‘normal’ IQ-level? When her breasts are ‘sufficiently’ matured? When he has got the ‘right’ amount of hair on his chest? These measures seem utterly arbitrary and incapable of explaining our repulsion with pedophilia, let alone bestiality.

The reason why we find sex by adults with children – and sex by humans with animals – inappropriate (to say the least) is because we believe that the someone, or the ‘something’, we have sex with should in potential be able to assent to you and itself engaging in the sexual transaction. Note the prefix ‘in potential be able to’. Why is the addition of these few words so important? If we would skip them, the act would still be worthy of our condemnation, right? If you engage in whatever kind of relationship with another person (whether this is trading collector-cards, selling a motorcycle or having sex), it is always ‘appropriate’ to make sure that both parties agree to the deal, right?

That’s true, but somehow we find pedophilia and bestiality to be different from – or even ‘more wrong’ than – rape. Thus, it cannot only be the absence of mutual agreement for entering into the sexual transaction that explains our repulsion with both pedophilia and bestiality. No, it is the fact that a child or an animal does not even possess the capability of making a conscious decision to enter the deal or not. They don’t even have the sense of consciousness required to deliberately consider the ‘pros and cons’ of having sex with a person. And where in the case of rape, the rapist doesn’t take into consideration the intentions of the person being raped, the case of pedophilia and bestiality is different because children and animals might not even have – or at least not to the same extent as human adults – the potential to consciously reflect on the situation they’re in, and hence to decide whether or not to engage in a (sexual) transaction. And it this absence of potentially being able to consciously reflect on the situation, of consciously (ab)using another living creature while knowing that it is – in principle – incapable to consent with ‘the deal’, that we as a society seem to find more inappropriate than the act of don’t paying attention to another person’s intentions. And that’s why we think that the former should be punished more severely than the latter.

But what do you think?

Written by Rob Graumans

5 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with Pedophilia and Bestiality?

  1. You wrote: “…children and animals don’t even have the capability of having any intentions.”

    What evidence do you have to back up the above statement? I seriously doubt most people believe that children and animals are incapable of acting intentionally.

    If children and animals cannot consent to sex, then neither can they consent to anything else, and so you should explain why it is that we condemn pedophilia and bestiality yet do not condemn most other things not classified as abuse which people do to their children or pets. And why do we allow animals to have sex with their own kind?

    • Hi Ethan,

      Good points. Thank you for that. First of all, I must say that I don’t have any evidence to back up the claim you mentioned. Hence I deleted it. Also, I didn’t intent to say that ‘children and animals don’t have the capability of having any intentions.’ What I meant to say was that children and animals might not have the capability to consciously reflect on the situation they’re in. Hence they might not be able – not even in principle – to consent consciously with whatever act – such as sexual conduct.

      Regarding your second point: you raise a good question. I think the reason we condemn pedophilia and bestiality – yet not such things as children playing soccer, for example – is that the consequences of the former are (much) more severe than the latter. Hence it could in principle be possible that we find it wrong that children are unable to consciously consent in having sex, yet have little problem with children being unable to consciously consent in activities that do not violate the integrity of a human being. I admit that this might be a slippery slope. Yet, cases such as pedophilia and bestiality show that there are instances that we consider to be obvious cases of violation of integrity.

      What do you think about it?

  2. In what sense and to what extent can a nonhuman animal consent to anything else (e.g., being bathed, played with, used as a K-9 unit, being locked up in apartments or small backyard as a pet, etc.)? Princeton ethicist Peter Singer agrees that while animals cannot consent to sexual behavior the way humans can, this objection raises an unfairly high standard that could be leveled at practically any behavior on an animal; however, animals have the capability to give a behavioral analogue to consent (such as a wag of the tail or the dog initiating humping on a visitor’s leg).

    Like pedophilia, one might argue, so too is bestiality by its very nature incapable of ever getting informed consent of at least one participant. Unlike nonhuman animals, however, children ordinarily will grow to a more fully developed cognitive state and can regret their prior consent; indeed, they may be traumatized or physically hurt by the memory. An appropriately high standard would be reasonable here. Given that nonhuman animals possess less in the way of cognitive ability (even when the nonhuman animal is a full-fledged adult) than normal human children and that they will not possess cognitive abilities of adult human beings at some future date, the standard of informed consent fails.

    • Dear Arthrun,

      Thank you for your well argued for comment. As I understand you correctly, you say that pedophilia and bestially are not on a par, because animals – in contrast to children – will never reach a stage in their cognitive development at which they can deliberate about the choice of having sexual intercourse. This is a fair reply, and it can explain why the wrongness of pedophilia is different from the wrongness of bestiality.

      One could say, however, that the cases of pedophilia and bestiality are still the same in principle – despite your argument. Because we might condemn bestiality because it involves intercourse between a human being and an entity that is incapable of informed consent – irrespective of its future potential to do so. The same goes for intercourse between an adult an a child – not looking at its potential of future informed consent. Given that we (humans) know about this incapability of informed consent on the part of an animal of child at the point we proceed to intercourse with them, we proceed to have intercourse knowing that cannot consent to this act. In this sense, one could say, that the case of pedophilia and bestiality are the same.

      What do you think of this?

  3. Everything.
    Bestiality brings you down to the level of that animal.
    Pedophilia negates all the years you have accumulated since you were a child.

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