No bestiality was never OK, you absolute rabid weirdo

Dear reader, there I was, minding my own business when it popped up on my Twitter timeline – the worst tweet. The most incredibly cursed take.

I tell you this now so you can look away if necessary. Please gird your loins or whatever.

I am so sorry.

So yes, this is just the most garbage thing to ask, but I guess I am going to answer it given my job description. (I have done this to myself.)

Whether or not it has always been thus, and everywhere around the world, the fact is that medieval European society, at the very least, was absolutely not ok with having sex with animals. You monster. At least since 314, the Council of Ancyra was announcing to Christians that they must not be “Defilers of themselves with beasts.”[1] If, however, you were gonna insist on being an absolute menace and having sex with animals, the council recommended the following penances:

“Let those who have been or who are guilty of bestial lusts, if they have sinned while under twenty years of age be prostrators fifteen years. … And if any who have passed this age and had wives, have fallen into this sin, let them be prostrators twenty-five years… And if any married men of more than fifty years of age have so sinned, let them be admitted to communion only at the point of death.”[2]

So yeah, bestiality is considered bad in the Christian context. Huge surprise. Wow. Can’t believe it. How strange.

While I am sure that is unsurprising to you, what actually makes it interesting is that medieval conceptions of “correct” sexuality find it unacceptable for all of the reasons that this person lists as reasons why it should be OK.

What do I mean by that? Well this weirdo first states that it should be fine to have sex with animals because you can’t get pregnant from it. This is precisely one of the reasons why medieval sexual conceptions reject bestiality. Real OG readers will be aware that any sex which cannot result in pregnancy is, of course, sodomy, and therefore bad. Why bad? Well sex in and of itself is sinful because it is linked to the fall of man. If Eve had not eaten the apple and got herself and Adam kicked TF out of the Garden of Eden, then sex would have been fine because it would have happened within a context of innocence. Adam and Eve didn’t know they were naked. They didn’t have a concept of shame. They could have been getting down and being fruitful and multiplying very happily and without any pain in childbirth.

What this biblical story is setting you up for is to see humans, with their consciousness and their relationship to nudity, as in opposition to and separate from animals who don’t have a sense of shame and wander around naked and have sex when they want to. Because of the burden of knowledge/consciousness humans relate to sex differently to animals do, which is to say, as a shameful thing because it is connected to nudity.

So sex is bad in terms of Christian thought, but you have to get people from somewhere, so it needs to exist so that you can get more people. Just because God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden doesn’t mean he took back the whole “be fruitful and multiply” thing, after all. Humans, therefore, are divinely compelled to make other humans and that means sex. To mitigate the sinful nature of sex, the Church Fathers (who more or less wrote the rules for Christianity sometime between the third and seventh centuries) and medieval theologians agreed that you need to a) be married, and b) only be having the kind of sex that can lead to procreation. Anything else is sodomy, which is bad.

You better believe that’s some sodomy

St Augustine lays it out for us in his Confessions, thusly:

“Those foul offenses that are against nature should be everywhere and at all times detested and punished, such as were those of the people of Sodom, which should all nations commit, they should all stand guilty of the same crime, by the law of God which hath not so made men that they should so abuse one another. For even that very intercourse which should be between God and us is violated, when that same nature, of which He is the Author, is polluted by the perversity of lust.”[3]

So one of the things that actually makes sex with animals bad is the very fact that you can’t get pregnant from it. It is therefore completely illogical and therefore sinful to be having sex that can’t result in pregnancy. The idea that you can’t get pregnant from sex with animals is therefore not a get out of jail free card. It’s the reason it is a problem in the first place.

Now having said that, for medieval theologians all sodomy is bad, because of the whole no pregnancy thing. But sex with animals is the very very worst possible thing because it means that people are going out of their way to act not just against God by having sex, but against nature as well. It means that humans are blurring the clear line between themselves, as beings with a consciousness, and animals who are a separate category without the faculties to reason.

Thomas Aquinas is very clear on this saying that humans sin that “the most grievous and shameful error is that which is about things the knowledge of which is naturally bestowed on man, so in matters of action it is most grave and shameful to act against things as determined by nature. Therefore, since by the unnatural vices man transgresses that which has been determined by nature with regard to the use of venereal actions, it follows that in this matter this sin is gravest of all. … the most grievous is the sin of bestiality, because use of the due species is not observed. Hence a gloss on Gen. 37:2, “He accused his brethren of a most wicked crime,” says that “they copulated with cattle.”[4]

For those who aren’t used to Aquinas’s syntax, essentially what he means is that humans because of their nature as knowledgeable beings bloody well know what they are doing when they have sex. If humans therefore choose to have sex with animals then they are doing something that makes no sense. You can’t have children from it, so you are just going out of your way to do sex in a lustful, illogical, and therefore immoral way.

While Aquinas thought that bestiality is the worst possible sexual sin, he was in no way alone on this one. The Penitential of Theodore, for example, assigns the worst possible penance for bestiality in its range of penances for sex, announcing that, “Those who commit fornication with…a beast … for the remainder [of their lives are] dead to the world…”[5]

Gerald of Wales, a twelfth century cleric and writer, was also extremely not down with sexually abusing animals, saying, “How unworthy and unspeakable! How reason succumbs so outrageously to sensuality! That the lord of the brutes, losing the privileges of his high estate should descend to the level of the brutes, when the rational submits itself to such shameful commerce with a brute animal!”[6]

In other words, pretty much all medieval theologians were onboard with the whole not having sex with animal things because it makes no sense. If sex is only OK because you might have kids, then it can never be thought of as a logical (and therefore acceptable) sexual practice. Bestiality practitioners are therefore abandoning the reasoning capabilities that they sacrificed their innocence for when they choose to engage in it.

A lion family, British Library, Royal MS 12 C. xix, Folio 6r

But here is the kicker – one of the reasons that bestiality is considered so terrible is because animals cannot reason and therefore cannot consent to it. Animals, famously, were not cursed by God for eating forbidden fruit. They are still therefore running around most nakedly. Because of their innocence, they also mostly just have sex for the purposes of procreation. Now, there are some notable exceptions to the whole sex for procreation thing in the animal kingdom, most notably our good friends and group sex enthusiasts the bonobos, but also dolphins and orcas, and all the gay animals, just off the top of my head. Everyone else though? Mostly having sex in order to have babies and not thinking about it at all. Animals therefore do not want to have sex with your weird ass because they only really want to have sex in order to make babies and you can’t do that for them. So, if a person decides to have sex with an animal they are doing it only for themselves in order to do something sinful and despoiling an innocent. They are turning their back on their own rational nature and taking it out on animals that have no recourse to rationality, and yet abstains from sex except for an approved reason.

This also brings up yet another super weird part of these godforsaken tweets – the idea that our repugnance for inter-species sex is a result of “evolution”. Sex in and of itself, of course, is a bio/psycho/social phenomenon. As humans, we don’t do it purely for the purposes of getting knocked up. If everything that we did sexually was only for getting pregnant then our relationship to sex would probably be more like that of animals, i.e. we would largely only be interested in sex acts when we stood the best chance of getting pregnant and would mostly be interested in sex stuff that leads to pregnancy. The majority of us, however, are out here happily sodomying all over the joint much to the chagrin of Thomas Aquinas who is presumably watching you from heaven and VERY disappointed.

But let’s take that off the table and pretend that our sexuality was only informed by “evolution.” If that was true we would still not want to have sex with animals because it cannot get anyone pregnant. If it is only about evolution, then it only has to do with the survival of the species, and even medieval people knew that was not the case. The entire thing about consciousness is that it moved us beyond innocence, but also beyond doing things purely as a result of natural inclination. When we have sex we are making a choice to do so, unlike most animals. That is why all these theologians had to sit down and write out all the sex rules. Everyone is a bunch of perverts doing stuff that has nothing to do with evolution.

To sum up, this is just the most garbage possible take, and should have stayed in this person’s drafts and I need a drink.

Please be nice to animals. Medieval people were.

[1] John Fulton and Philip Schaff, “Canons of Ancyra”, in,  Index canonum: the Greek text, an English translation, and a complete digest of the entire code of canon /mu of the undivided primitive church, (New York : E. & J. B. Young, 1883), Canon XVII.
[2] Ibid., Canon XVI.
[3] Confessions iii, 8.
[4] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica: Second Part of the Second Part (Secunda Secundæ Partis), Question 154. The parts of Lust.
[5] John T. McNeill and Helena M. Gamer (eds.), “Excerpts From a Book of David”, in, Medieval handbooks of Penance: A Translation of the Principal “Libripoenitentiales” and Selections from Related Documents, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), p. 173.
[6] Gerald of Wales, The Histoy and Topography of lreland, (New York: Penguin Books, 1982), p. 75.

If you enjoyed this, please consider contributing to my patreon. If not, that is chill too!

For more on medieval sex, see:
On sex with demons
The Medieval Sex Apocalypse on Drinking with Historians
Doing it Right – A Short Introduction to Medieval Sex for Nerd Nite
Talking sex in the medieval times on Holly Randall Unfiltered
On “alpha” men, sexual contagion, and poorly disguised misogyny
On the plague, sex, and rebellion
On courtly love and pickup artists
That’s not what sodomy is, but OK
On sexualising the “other”
On Jezebel, makeup, and other apocalyptic signs
On Sex, Logic, and Being the Subject
The Medieval Podcast – Medieval Sexuality with Eleanor Janega
On the Objectification of Sex
On “the way of carnal lust”, Joan of Leeds, and the difficulty of clerical celibacy
On Dildos and Penance
On No Nut November
On cuckolding – a thing
On sex work and the concept of ‘rescue’
The history of penis in vagina as default sex at Bish!
Sex and the (medieval) city: social hygiene and sex in the medieval urban landscape
On women and desire
These hoes ain’t loyal – on prostitutes and bad bitches in medieval and hip hop culture

For more on the treatment of animals in the medieval period, see:
My fav [not] saints: St Guinefort
On the bull semen explosion, animal husbandry, and how medieval people were actually nicer to animals

Author: Dr Eleanor Janega

Medieval historian, lush, George Michael evangelist.

6 thoughts on “No bestiality was never OK, you absolute rabid weirdo”

    1. Ah – a great question, thanks for asking. A prostrator in this instance is a penitent. It is someone why has been assigned a penance and must be “prostrate” or constantly groveling as a result of said penance.


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  2. I thought the reason why the medieval church condemned beastiality was due to the concern of “polluting the human essence”, given how people back then had these crazy rumors flying around of half man half human hybrids.


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