Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Bestiality Definition:

A sexual connection between a human being and an animal.

Related Terms: Sodomy, Buggery, Peccatum illud horribile, inter Christianos non nominandum, Zoophilia

Bestiality was once also known as beastiality.

In the common law, sodomy and bestiality were grouped together as the most serious sexual offences and were simply crimes against nature for which this maxim was proposed: peccatum illud horribile, inter Christianos non nominandum: crimes so horrible that no good Christian would ever even give it a name (see also ubi scelus est id, quod non prosicit scire, jubemus (insurgere) leges, armari jura gladio ultore, ut exquisitis poenis subdantur infames, qui sunt, vel qui futuri sunt rei).

In law, the crime of bestiality has been defined in a number of ways. For example:

1909: "Bestiality can be committed by either man or woman and with any animal. As in sodomy, any degree of penetration is sufficient without proof of emission."1

1940: "The abominable and detestable crime against nature with mankind or beast."2

25 Henry VIII Ch 6

1942: "A sexual connection between a human being and a brute of the opposite sex."3

1954: "The abominable crime of buggery committed with an animal."4

1962: "The crime of men having carnal knowledge with beasts."5

1977: "An act of bestiality is not strictly limited to copulation per anum... An act of bestiality is a sexual connection between a man or a woman and an animal....."6

1990: "An individual who carnally knows an animal is guilty of bestiality."7

1998: Bestiality is anal or vaginal intercourse with an animal, by a man or a woman."8

2013: "Bestiality is undefined in the (Criminal Code of Canada).... A satisfactory interpretation of bestiality cannot be found in Canadian jurisprudence... In my view, bestiality means touching between a person and an animal for a person’s sexual purpose."9

One of the ongoing challenges of the law is to determine whether those caught engaging in bestiality are committing crimes and/or if on the facts, these defendants are in need of medical assistance with a mental disorder: (and for which there is now a medical term, zoophilia):

"In R v Higson, the defendant's interrupted attempt to bugger his pet Pyrenean Mountain bitch resulted in a two-year prison sentence. On appeal this was reduced to a probation order on the grounds that if upheld, no sensible scale for buggery of a human would remain and that it was the defendant not the dog that needed help."10

French: bestialité.


  • NOTE 1: Halsbury's Laws of England, Book 9 (London: Butterworth and Company, 1909), page 541.1
  • NOTE 2: Sanders v. State, 25 NE 2d 995
  • NOTE 3: State v Poole, 122 P. 2d 415, Arizona
  • NOTE 4: Osborne, P.G., A Concise Law Dictionary, 4th Ed. (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 1954), page 51.
  • NOTE 5: Saunders, John, Mozley and Whiteley's Law Dictionary, 7th Ed. (London: Butterworths, 1962), page 41.
  • NOTE 6: (People v Carrier, 254 NW 2d 38, Michigan Court of Appeals
  • NOTE 7: State v. Bonynge, 450 NW 2d 331 (Court of Appeals of Minnesota, 1990)
  • NOTE 8: R. v. Ruvinsky, 1998 OJ 3621
  • NOTE 9: R. v. D.L.W., 2013 BCSC 1327
  • NOTE 10: [1984] 6 Cr App R (S) 20. Case comment from Imogen, Jones, Beastly Provision: Why the Offence of Intercourse with an Animal Must Be Butchered, 75 J. Crim. L. 528 (2011)

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