Amid international pressure over animal welfare, Denmark is now planning to make bestiality illegal.
The Nordic country remains one of the few European countries which still allows sex between humans and animals.
Most countries including Singapore, India, Australia and Canada have banned the practice. But the lack of such a law in Denmark has led to a rising underground animal sex trade there, in the form of animal brothels and pornography.
"When the rules have been tightened in the rest of Europe, there's a risk that Denmark will be considered a refuge for people with this proclivity," said Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Minister Dan Jorgensen on Oct 12 of the proposal to impose the ban.
"Animals have to be treated with respect and care and they have a right to special protection because they cannot say no," he added.
Here are four things to know about the controversial practice.
1. What is bestiality?
The word, derived from Old French and Latin, literally means "the nature of beasts".
When one behaves in a "bestial" manner, it means they have exhibited brutish behaviour, or have indulged in beast-like impulses and appetites.
In legal terms, it refers to sexual activity between a person and an animal. Correspondingly, the term zoophilia refers to an erotic fixation on animals that may result in sexual excitement.
2. Why is it controversial?
Aside from the unorthodox, cross-species nature of the practice, animal welfare groups have cited animal cruelty and abuse as a chief reason to outlaw bestiality and zoophilia.
The lack of consent from animals is another major factor. As Mr Jorgensen pointed out: "They naturally cannot say no to going along with it."
In a recent documentary, Danish animal rights activist Karoline Lundstrom commented: “I don’t think the Danish government is doing enough to protect the animals.”
Swedish Rural Affairs Minister Eskil Erlandsson also said when his country banned the practice in April: “There should be no doubt whatsoever that bestiality is unacceptable.”
Bestiality, however, has its fair share of defenders from the other camp. In a 2012 interview with the BBC, Michael Kiok, chairman of the pressure group Zoophile Engagement for Tolerance and Information (Zeta), said of Germany’s move to ban the act: “It is unthinkable that any sexual act with an animal is punished without proof that the animal has come to any harm.
“We see animals as partners and not as a means of gratification. We don’t force them to do anything. Animals are much easier to understand than women,” he added.
3. Where is it legal?
While most countries have outlawed bestiality, some do not have laws that ban the act. They include Finland, Hungary, Romania, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, the Philippines, Cambodia and Thailand. In the United States, the act is not banned in more than a dozen states and territories.
Countries like France, Belgium, Holland, Norway, Germany and Sweden banned the practice only in the last decade.
4. Bestiality in culture
- Several Greek myths depict Zeus assuming the form of an animal and seducing or abducting mortals. In one of them, the god transforms into a swan and rapes Leda, the daughter of king Thestius and mother of Helen of Troy. Depictions of this act have become a popular motif in Renaissance art.
- In 1976, Canadian novelist Marian Engel penned Bear, which tells of an erotic relationship between a female librarian and a bear. The Washington Post described it as "a startlingly alive narrative of the forbidden, the unthinkable, the hardly imaginable". Possibly Engel's most famous and controversial piece of work, the novel went on to win a Governor General's Award - one of Canada's most prestigious literary prizes.
- In Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (1972), a man falls in love with a sheep. Similarly, in Nagisa Oshima's Max Mon Amour (1986), a woman falls in love with a chimpanzee, and in Edward Albee's play The Goat, or Who is Sylvia (2002), a man falls for a goat.
- Madonna's Like A Virgin (1984): In the video for this classic, the queen of pop is seen prancing around Venice, while a panting lion prowls around. In one scene, a man in a lion mask carries her off to bed.
- Bloodhound Gang's The Bad Touch (1999): In the same bestial vein, the most famous line of this song goes: "You and me baby ain't nothin' but mammals/So let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel"
Sources: The Independent, Russia Today, The Daily Mail, The Free Dictionary, Merriam Webster, Watchdog.org, International Business Times, New York Daily Sun, IMDB, The New York Times, BBC, Part-Time Perverts by Lauren Rosewarne