Sunday, June 03, 2007
Most dictionaries define bestiality simply as "sexual relations between a human and an animal".
Erotic Romance Publisher tend to incorporate a more speculative element by specifying that bestiality in fiction relates to sexual relations between a human and a non-sentient animal. This is yet another example of how words mean different things to different people. Within modern science most mammals and birds are considered to be sentient to the extent that they are aware and capable of emotions and thoughts. It must be assumed that what the publishers mean is that if a being is intelligent and self aware to the same degree as a competent autonomous human adult, they are counted as being able to consent to sex. In many genres this seems totally accepted such as science fiction where Bujold gives us the genetically modified canine women 'Taura' who has sexual relations and full romance (in 'Labyrinth' and 'Irresistible Forces').
However there seems to be a difference in genre-romance between what is bestiality in terms of an offense against a vulnerable being, and what is bestiality as a squick to the reader. As far as I can tell there is a general difference between readers of erotic and readers of mainstream romance on this issue, with erotic romance readers somewhat between the two. But generally speaking in romance if it looks like an animal, it is an animals, and so bestiality. Thus in mainstream romance both parties must be in fully human form during sexual intercourse to be fully acceptable.
Take for example amazon reviews for works with human females and monster males who bring a little of the beast to the bedchamber--accusations of bestiality are thrown around in the reader comments. In the case of Cast's 'Divine by Mistake' sexual intercourse occurs with both as humans but some fondling and masturbation of the human female partner occurs in centaur form. While in the Ravencliff Bride by Dawn Thompson a shapeshifter beast form is intangibly present during sex. All of these things only slightly blur the beast-human physical line and there is no question that all parties are sentient, but still make at least some romance readers uncomfortable because their emotional/disgust response it to animal shape alone.
Some authors choose the lightly-lightly approach in strongly implying things such as the werewolf being unable to pull out immediately after sex (one I used myself in 'Blue Murder' without an negative reader reaction so far). This sort of allusion is easily picked up by the reader 'in the know' but likely to be missed by those who would rather not know. This allows a little form blurring while still staying the 'monster lite' category with broadest reader acceptance. However, I would also expect that reader's who didn't read the blurb, don't have much basis for complaint (if the heroine is described as marrying a centaur, you think she'll never so much as touch any 'hairy parts'? I was disappointed that she didn't go far enough!)
Personally I feel that the appeal of the beast-monster is his or her 'otherness' and all this romance shapeshifting to allow sex in human form is coy and even dishonest. If you love the monster, you love him or her as a monster rather than trying to make him or her into a human. That doesn't mean you need rampant puppy love scenes in every werewolf romance but a few non-human features shouldn't come as to much of a surprise. I suppose the message to paranormal writers is, the ethical basis for bestiality rests on consent--but the squick factor will fall all over the place depending on the reader. There may need to be a new 'furry warning' on some of the paranormals coming out now.
It also seems to me that if that warning loses a few trad. romance readers it might well gain readers from the enthusiastic and largely untapped furry and taur subcultures out there on the Internet who are just waiting for a little action with the ears and tails left on....