Many species of animals are homosexual; only human animals are homophobic

March 8, 2012 | By | 22 Replies More

At Slate, Will Oremus reminds us that many species of animals are homosexual, though very few are exclusively so.  There is no evidence that any animals other than human animals are homophobic:

Not as far as we know. Homosexual behavior has been documented in hundreds of animal species, but the same does not hold for gay-bashing. For starters, few animals are exclusively gay. Two female Japanese macaques might have playful sex with each other on Tuesday, then mate with males on Wednesday. Pairs of male elephants sometimes form years-long companionships that include sexual activity, while their heterosexual couplings tend to be one-night stands. For these and many other species, sexual preferences seem to be fluid rather than binary: Gay sex doesn’t make them gay, and straight sex doesn’t make them straight. In these cases, the concept of homophobia simply doesn’t apply.


Category: Bigotry, Sex

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (22)

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  1. Adam Herman says:

    I don’t get it. There is no heterosexual recreational sex in animals other than primates. The female goes into heat, the male mates with her. What instinct causes same sex coupling in animals, while preventing heterosexual coupling in animals out of their season?

    The last sentence of the summary even says that animals can form lifelong homosexual bonds but not heterosexual bonds. Huh? Sorry, but this really sounds like pseudoscience motivated by politics. If this is baloney, it does no favors for the movement for gay rights.

    • Actually, there do seem to be other species that engage in sex for fun—dolphins, for instance. And I think you’re giving that last sentence too narrow a reading. Male-female elephants also bond. I think he meant that the male elephants that bond only have heterosexual sex as one-night-stands—which certainly happens among humans as well.

  2. Adam Herman says:

    I did some further reading since my first comment. It does appear that there is a greater variety of sexual practice in the animal world than I had thought, but most of it is among males and it’s not at all clear that the motivation is sexual attraction. Some scientists think so, others still believe it’s dominance. Being a dog owner, I’ve seen the latter in action. My female dog mounted a male that was annoying her just to show that she was boss. I mean, it COULD have been something really kinky by a spayed female, but Occam’s Razor and all that. Then there’s the video of an elephant boinking a rhino, which would imply that bestiality is natural as well. Or the rabbit mounting the cat on youtube.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      I hadn’t before considered inter-species sex as “bestiality” when human animals aren’t involved. If only other animals had churches to condemn such practices …

    • As ridiculous as it sounds, we still have to bear in mind that there are people who believe human sex for pleasure is a perversion.

      I was reminded of a scene from Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” (the book—I didn’t see the film) where the women who are being “trained” as handmaids are shown porn. The “instructors” make a point of highlighting the faces of the women in these films and suggesting that “this is not the face of pleasure—this is pain.” The implication being that everyone had been lied to about the pleasure of sex.

  3. Karl says:

    So what basis does a human animal use to judge the behavior of any other animal on the planet be they human or elephant?

    If a bull elephant decided to kill a bunch of people should that animal be put down? If so, why?

    Do you feel justified to condemn anyone be they a priest, or not, who has a homesexual tendency because someone they regarded as trust worthy sexually assaulted them as a child? Why do you accept those who want to change the long held beliefs of the church but condemn those who struggle within themselves?

    Should a human animal ever struggle with their sexual identity or just blow all caution to the wind and do whatever feels either best or natural to them?

    Should they be certain to try out all of the possibilities before they come to a decision of their own?

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Karl: I would expect that a priest should be smarter than an elephant. If not, it would be better for Catholics to go to the zoo on Sunday mornings rather than to go to church.

  4. Karl says:

    I didn’t ask you to evaluate what constitutes a smart priest or a smart elephant.

    I asked what is the basis for evaluating the behavior of any animal on the planet.

    Please explain to me how it is that the smarter animals are the ones in the zoo?

    Even more basic, who gets to decide just what the “smarts” are in the matter?

    Does having smarts mean one survives and evolves?

    Does it also mean one uses what ever influence they have to spread their own values, opinions and ideas?

    I’m not going to blame Catholic in general for the mistakes of some of their leaders.

    I’m also not going to blame Atheists for mistakes made by foul mouth derogatory leaders that push for the demise of those they mock.

    But I will blame those on both sides that protect those in the leadership positions of any organization that make their living off of the attempted silencing of the opposition by the use of inflammatory rhetoric about anyone’s intelligence or lack thereof.

    • Niklaus Pfirsig says:

      1. In 1916, in the town of Erwin Tennessee, a five ton circus elephant was executed by public hanging after killing her handler.

      2. Actually the smarter animals are in the wild, as they managed to avoid capture.

      3. being smart is an evolutionary advantage. It is not the only one.

      4. Actually, if you are smart, an effective way to gain a personal advantage is through disseminating values and moral rules that you don’t abide by, broadcasting opinions designed to divide and incite anger against others and nurturing ideas that create a loyal army of obedient followers to protect you.

      5.The problems with the Catholic church is secrecy and a lack of accountability. Predatory criminals actively seek out organizations where thet can rise to positions of trust and authority protected y secrecy and unaccountability. Keep in mid that rape, even Mann gegen Mann rape is about power and domination not so much about sexual gratification.

      So sexual predators are drawn to positions where they can find victims, greedy fraudsters seek the secrecy of corporate boards, public commissions and elected office.

      Atheism, unlike churches, doesn’t have followers unquestioningly listening to charismatic leaders. Atheists tend to be skeptics.

      6. Inflammatory rhetoric of any kind, is strategically used to incite emotionally charge speech, not to silence it.

    • Niklaus,

      Just a note about Catholic collusion. A couple years back I did some research into pedophilia in all churches and discovered that it is roughly at the same level in any denomination. Catholic celibacy is not the issue. The single difference is, only the Catholic Church actively suppresses the truth and protects the pedophiles. In every other denomination, the result is—they call the police, the jerk gets arrested and tried.

      I’m sure there are many reasons for this, but the central one seems to be power. The Catholic Church refuses to admit any other authority and continues to assert that this is an internal issue and acts as if that has validity in the present world.

      Just sayin’.

  5. Adam Herman says:

    Whether you call it bestiality or not, interspecies sex does occur, therefore it is natural. Rape is also a common practice in the animal world, which also makes rape natural.

    I’m with you on gay issues, but we have to be careful about trying to shoehorn science into supporting our politics. Treating gays as human beings with the same rights as all of us would be the moral choice even if they “chose” to be gay or it was somehow unnatural.

    • Karl says:

      Adam, with this kind of logic you have removed the basis for the moral nature to almost any kind of law.

      If natural law is simply based upon animal behavior which can have wide variation based upon whether the animal is seeking pleasure, to avoid pain, or to simply survive harm to the individual animal you have just made it impossible to judge anything that impacts anything other than the individual animal.

      There is an entire side to moral law that deals with how the individual animals behavior affects the survival of the entire species.

      Why are posses still legal activities in many parts of America?

      It almost sounds as you lean towards a libetarian view of laws/behavior that has little concern for any existing laws that have tried for yers to strike a balance between how individual behavior can not be separated from its interaction within any given culture.

      Anyone that wants that doesn’t recognize how the individuals impact their culture for the good or the bad are just plain stuck on their own individual pleasure, pain or survival in one form or another.

    • Karl,

      Cultures change. From past posts it seems that you have a concept of moral law that is immutable, which does not take this fact into account. Unless what you mean is to suggest that moral law must be brought to bear to prevent cultures from changing.

      That would be unrealistic at best.

      Prior to WWII, a great deal of sexual conduct was ostensibly regulated by law with the idea that such standards maintained the good of society. Upon closer scrutiny, that “good” was secured at the expense of the well being of many individuals who could not alter their intolerable situations because the law forbade them. Partly, society refused to recognize the validity of their need.

      Cultures change. In retrospect it seems obvious that the laws in question were in place to maintain an economic status quo that benefited one segment of society at the expense of another. (In the 1920s through the end of WWII the chief objection leveled against birth control was not that women were going to suddenly indulge in unregulated sex but that they would “shirk their patriotic duty” and refuse to have as many children as the nation needed. We’d had declining birth rates for decades and somehow letting individuals decide this issue for themselves was seen as a threat to the commonweal, not so much on moral grounds but on economic grounds. So much for your moral law.)

      What turned out to be the real consequence, however, was that women suddenly had options previously denied them. This is where I start to have problems with moral law that dictates predestined roles for people. That’s not morality, that’s the effects of the market. Women did not have to be dependent on men and could live lives which frankly men had been free to live all along.

      Yes, the impact of the individual on the community was real, but that doesn’t mean it was immoral. You’re going to tell me I must live a certain way because I was born with a given set of genitals? That I must surrender any ambitions or dreams I might have as a human being in order to satisfy the sensibilities of people who don’t know me and at least half of whom aren’t similarly constrained? To hell with that. That does not represent moral law.

      Cultures change. Certainly in response to what individuals do, especially if enough of them do something. But also in response to many other factors. When I went to high school a person could get very seriously hurt if he or she announced that they were gay. They didn’t threaten anyone, it was just the fact that they made the dominant group uncomfortable. They kept hidden as a result and lived a facade in order to survive.

      Where’s the morality in that?

  6. Adam Herman says:

    cultures change, and the liberalization of sexual attitudes has been a good thing. But there are always tradeoffs. Increase in STDs, unwanted pregnancies, illegitimacy, and the decline of marriage(not due to gays, due to the behavior of heteros).

    Anytime a society experiences new freedoms, there will always be those who can’t handle it and behave irresponsibly. As someone who leans libertarian, my attitude is more freedom for all, and those who can’t handle it will either learn from their mistakes or do something stupid enough to get themselves killed. Where I clash with conservatives is obvious: many of them want to cancel the sexual revolution. Where I clash with liberals is that they seem to want to give people more freedom then save them from the consequences of using that freedom unwisely. But that’s not real freedom, that’s just a different kind of paternalism. I’d actually take the conservative version if I had to pick.

  7. Karl says:

    This is to sum up my point of view on most matters regarding human animals. People are born with a self centered approach to living and learning that is going to be initially focused upon their own needs, wants and interests.

    This means people will naturally tend to continue to associate with other people that basically tell them that their point of view is something they can agree with to some extent or another. People will associate less and less with people that find their point of view being relegated to a “secondary status” in the importance of their personal values.

    People frankly most people simply hold to the philosophy that states if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

    Where the problems arise is over physical and emotional “back” scratching that has implications for cultures that go way beyond personal and the limited interaction of just a few people.

    All the while people continue to maintain their focus and personal emphasis upon their own needs, wants and interests to continue to one degree or another.

    Some people never stop looking for people to stroke their point of view as being better than the point of view of people that have obviously chosen some other primary social status that has relegated others to a “secondary status” point of view.

    Thus it is that while we say we tolerate the behavior of others, actually we find it rather repulsive and phobic to consider that we might have found ourselves in the same situation under similar circumstances.

    Were all of the controversies arise is when the loss of toleration for the differences in other collective points of view results in concerted efforts to proselytize young people and children into your chosen primary point of view, by derogatory comments and actions towards those that you consider to be of secondary importance.

  8. Adam,

    I pretty much agree with your sentiments. Here is where I part company with the current crop of “conservatives” over this. More freedom sexually may well, and usually does, mean an increase in STDs. That’s biology. People will do what they do and maybe some deserve the consequences of their actions.

    But when we know that a little research and some funding will cure something, to actively repress said research and funding because one WANTS to cause people to suffer the consequences of their actions is just another form of social engineering and frankly both irresponsible and immoral as hell.

    As an example of something that requires no new research, take the Catholic Church’s attitude toward condoms in Africa. I find it criminal. To back their view of “morality” they help guarantee the spread of a deadly disease. Condoms may not stop it, but we know their absence allows it to spread unchecked. Saying that they’re worried about promoting promiscuity just allows them to be self-righteous at others’ expense.

  9. Adam Herman says:

    I agree about missionaries in Africa. It’s one thing to be against contraception because your religion commands it. all right, fine, don’t use it. But it’s another entirely to go to the worst possible place for that message and spread it.

  10. Karl says:

    If a “species” was homosexual it would die off in one generation.

    So much for survival of the fittest.

    How specific organism prefer their orgasms is a behavioral choice and does not make a “species” homosexual.

    Trying to say heterosexuals are members of a homosexual species is fraught with double innuendo. That could be considered an unconscious death wish as I see it.

    • As usual, this claim makes no allowance for variation within a group, nor does it address hermaphroditic species (what would they be? Homosexual, ambisexual, monosexual?).

      However, a simple way to look at the question is by separating out reproduction from individuated sexuality. To do this, one has to acknowledge that sex is for more than reproduction. This is something most people opposed to homosexuality in humans really don’t want to do, because that opens the door to the full array of sexual proclivities, none of which can be defined by the far more limited range of reproductive strategies.

      By demonstrating that homosexual behavior occurs throughout nature, the moralistic rung of the ladder is removed from the argument that such behavior is “unnatural” and moves the argument into the main arena of dispute, mainly the Yuck Response some people have toward certain human behaviors.

      I don’t want to drag all that out here, but let me posit a wrinkle to all this that I haven’t seen stated yet. Those who wish to deny that homosexuality is within the range of normal sexual expression do so generally by implicitly or explicitly pointing out that sex is for reproduction. Only. They make a big deal of it. (Note the current kerfluffle once more over contraception—that evading reproduction while having sex is somehow morally wrong.) If this were true, that sex was only for reproduction, then why has it become such a big deal for the very people throughout history who have set the standards making all but certain kinds of sexual expression a crime? I mean, if reproduction were really all there was to it, we wouldn’t have all this chattel bondage of women, jealousy, or exclusivity over partners. The traditional human response to sequestering sex partners within closely defined parameters far exceeds the requirements if sex were “only” for reproduction.

      But if we stop pretending like sex is just for that and admit that it has a whole range of expressive purposes, then its value as a personal means of such expression becomes clear and it’s no one’s business how you express it.

      Yes, I acknowledge that this also opens it up to a variety of activities for which there are sound reasons to place limits on, but we can be rational about that instead of acting out of the Yuck Response.

      Just a thought.

  11. Adam Herman says:

    I agree with that much, but behavior doesn’t necessarily imply a choice. Most people’s behavior is instinctive and it takes great discipline to change it. Humans are unique in that we can change our behaviors ourselves, but we aren’t so far removed from less intelligent life forms that we can just do it at a snap of our fingers. We can’t suddenly make a choice not to have an anger problem anymore, or choose to not be afraid of something we have a phobia about, or choose to end destructive behaviors that are ruining our lives.

  12. Adam Herman says:

    There are many sexual activities which are natural but considered wrong today(sex with 14-year olds being one example), and on in particular that is probably unnatural but considered the pinnacle of morality(monogamy).

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