So, this one popped up on a “most popular” sidebar yesterday, which is not even a little bit surprising. If ever there were a click-baiting headline, “North Carolina Soldier and Wife Charged with Making Dog Porn” would be it.
But in clicking past the Huffington Post piece to some actual journalistic coverage, I noticed that the couple was charged with “crimes against nature,” an ominously euphemistic phrase that prompted some unsettling reflections on my part, and, eventually, an equally-unsettling conclusion: the people in question probably shouldn’t be punished for involving a dog in their sex life.
The biggest problem for me is that North Carolina’s crimes against humanity statue is short, old-fashioned, and almost hopelessly vague: “If any person shall commit the crime against nature, with mankind or beast, he shall be punished as a Class I felon.”
So, wow, okay. Yeah. You can tell that one was written in 1868, back when people just nodded grimly and knew exactly what you meant when you said “the crime against nature.”
But given that North Carolina case law has, at varying points in the state’s history, upheld that definition to include both giving and receiving heterosexual anal or oral sex, all forms of homosexual intercourse, cunnilingus, analingus, and “the inserting of an object into a person’s genital opening,” you can see where enforcing it — and defending its constitutionality — might be a problem in this day and age.
Which brings us to an interesting pass, with this little local interest story out of Raeford, NC. The distribution of pornography charge is one matter, but did a “crime against nature” occur? If so, what was it?
Because let’s be blunt here — if sticking an animal’s willy into something is a crime against nature, our entire farm industry has some serious problems. We jerk animals off, we stick big turkey-baster looking things into their vaginas; if we’re feeling old-school we lock them in a pen together and force them to mount one another. Consent does not really come into it, because hey, they’re just animals.
For that matter, we don’t usually ask their consent before killing and eating them, either.
So it’s tough to make a case against bestiality based on the idea that it’s wrong to treat the animal that way. I’m sure there could be zoophiliac interactions that were so traumatic they constituted animal abuse, just like there can be human sexual interactions that are so traumatic we call them abuse or assault, but that’s a question of force applied, not of the inherent act itself — and it would be an animal abuse charge, not a crime against nature.
Which leaves us with what — that it’s squicky that people enjoy doing something like that?
Sure. I’m on board with that — it is squicky. I am discomfited by the idea. But I don’t think it’s hard for any of us to see the problems with punishing private acts just because they make us uncomfortable.
If everyone involved is consenting (all the humans, that is, because we obviously don’t give a rip about the consent of animals in any other situation involving our power over them) and there’s no money changing hands, is there really a case to be made that bestiality is a “crime against nature”? Pretty much the only thing you’re legislating at that point is what people should and shouldn’t enjoy.
And sure — enjoying sex with a dog is pretty gross. But people feel that way about lots of other, more popularly defensible sex acts, too. You can’t really go around stopping harmless behavior just ’cause it’s gross.
Or you can — but you just might have to resign yourself to being a bit of a hypocrite.
Awkward to think about, isn’t it? Thanks, North Carolina. The news out of you always makes me feel a little weird.