The Wrongness of Sex with Animals

Tony Milligan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


For sexual purposes, animals are off limits. But if we regard attributions of species membership as unimportant in familiar ethical contexts, then it may be difficult to explain why this is the case. Someone who is unimpressed by appeals to species membership as a basis for favoring humans over non-humans may remain similarly unimpressed by such appeals when sex becomes an issue. Species barriers may seem to be beside the point. Peter Singer’s (sometimes misrepresented) attitude toward human sexual relations with non-humans leans heavily in this direction. In a notorious book review where more was perhaps implied than said, Singer advanced the claim that, in the absence of any cruelty or physical harm, sexual relations with non-human animals would not be “an offence to our status and dignity.” And, insofar as we do not regard status and dignity as the main issue here, we may be inclined to agree. However, what follows will lean in the opposite direction to Singer and will argue that once we have set aside any consideration of status and dignity, we will still have significant grounds for ruling out familiar forms of sex with familiar, terrestrial, non-human animals under ordinary circumstances that fall short of the fictionally-extreme. However, the grounds in question turn out to concern something other than species membership simpliciter.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)241-255
Number of pages15
JournalPublic Affairs Quarterly
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2011


  • animals
  • sex
  • ethics


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