Mature Content Warning!
Animal traits being incorporated into sex and sexuality is nothing new. People say that this trope in fanfiction is weird or creepy, but I say: look to your own kinks, people. What do you think all that vampire romance on your shelf is? Yes, horror, sci-fi, and fantasy novels have especially incorporated animalistic characteristics into sex. Whether it’s a vampire bite, becoming a werewolf’s mate, or sleeping with a centaur, people seem to constantly be looking to the animal kingdom in order to spice up their sexual fantasies.
So first let’s make some distinctions. Characters having animalistic traits and having sex is not the same as bestiality. Bestiality means that a character is having sex with an animal. By an animal we mean: A creature of a lower level of consciousness and thus unable to give consent. The reason I define animal this way and not simply as a different species is because in fantasy, sci-fi, or horror, there are many different sentient species that can give conformed consent. You wouldn’t tell Uhura that sleeping with Spock is bestiality. However, the line can get blurred in various ways and there are some things in fanfiction and in canon that have extremely questionable ethics when it comes to this particular issue.
One thing that I have found trouble with is the idea of what I’ll call “people animals.” This is something that I see only occasionally in fanfiction, but the fact that it exists at all and gets favorable reviews is disturbing to me. “People animals” are “people” with a low level of consciousness, thus making them similar to a cat or a dog, but they still look exactly like a human being. In these fanfics, these “people animals” will be bought as pets just like any other animal, and even treated like a pet by the owner, except that the owner will also be sleeping with their pet. Ummm… no, just, no. I don’t care if these creatures look human. If they are at the same level mentally as a cat, then that is bestiality no matter how you try to sugar-coat it.
Another problematic area is that of Furry characters and half-human half-animal creatures. I group these two together, because they both share the same problem. Furry characters are anthropomorphic animal characters, meaning that they are animals but act human, think like a human, and even look more human than animal. Think of characters like Daffy Duck or Mickey Mouse. Now these characters are more animal physically than human, but they are at an intelligence level of human and could actually give consent… so yeah. Try not to think of it as a cartoon character. Instead, think of a group of aliens coming to earth that look like rabbits, but they are actually intelligent alien beings. Lines here are blurred again because we associated the physical characteristics to that of an animal, but they are intelligent beings.
The same problem arises for half-animal half-human creatures. Centaurs or mermaids are part fish and horse. Technically, a centaur would probably have horse genitals, but the same problem arises as before: they are intelligent creatures fully capable of giving consent. And real non-fanfiction stories have basically said in many instances that these relationships would be okay. The one that easily comes to mind is in Doctor Who, particularly when the show depicts inter-species relationships between anthropomorphic cat people and humans. One episodes even shows a couple with their children, and their babies are literally just kittens. This again is something that weirds us out because of the physical appearance of these characters, but they are intelligent and able to give consent, so morally speaking there is nothing wrong with it. Now you could argue that since these creatures aren’t real (obviously) that people enjoying reading about sex between such creatures shows some underlining issues, but there may be much more to it than that so I can’t really make a judgment without hearing more from the people who enjoy such fanfiction. For now, all I’m saying is that reading smutty fanfiction with alien cat people seems not really all that different from sex with Vulcans or Kryptonians.
Next we get to what I consider one of the most interesting aspects of this trope: people with animal traits. People with animal traits appear in a variety of ways. Sometimes this is shown in a different species that has some animal traits, like vampires or angels. These animal traits are sometimes eroticized, such as vampires being able to smell pheremones or angels’ wings being sensitive during sex. Then there are other traits that are much more obviously sexual such as knotting. Knotting is something I have seen a lot in fanfiction recently. Knotting is when then penis swells and creates “a knot” so that the male cannot pull out of the female. This trait is often found in dogs and fanfiction that uses this explicitly sexual animal trait often also pairs other traits with it. These often incorporate social hierarchies such as the Alpha/Beta/Omega fics that seem to be pretty popular right now. I usually don’t find these fics problematic and it just appears as another kink to me. However, knotting can sometimes be a problem. Because of its obvious connection with reproduction, knotting fics also tend to incorporate the loathed tropes of male pregnancy or mystical pregnancy, which we already discussed are harmful to both women and men.
But there is something interesting here that I want to discuss. Something that could be potentially really interesting. The social hierarchies taken from animals and then applied to humans could be such an interesting social commentary on our own society. Though there are a variety of social hierarchies used in fanfiction, the one most often used is the Alpha/Beta/Omega, so that is the one I will look at here. This genre has several interesting features. It seems to explore a look at our world if we evolved from different animals—in this case canines—and how that effects how we live and view each other. Other ways these fics can be interesting is how they look at prejudice. There are numerous fics that I have read that have shown Omegas as a group looked down upon, or occasionally a reversal where Alphas are looked down upon for a variety of reasons. This allows the author to deal with discrimination and prejudice from a different angle, but still in a way that is familiar to us and could maybe shine a light on how we look at people in our own society. These social hierarchies also play into sex, usually having some sort of submissive and dominant. This could be harmful because of how these fics argue that biologically Omegas are naturally the submissive passive partners and Alphas are the aggressive dominant partners. The reason this could be harmful is that it can play into the sexist belief that women are biologically more suited to be the passive submissive partner, while men are naturally more likely to be the dominant aggressive one. But even in this, fanfic authors have managed to create an interesting commentary, either by having the female partner be an Alpha, by subverting gender all together in slash fanfics, or by simply showing Omegas fighting to break out of the negative stereotypes put upon them, reflecting the struggle of women and other discriminated groups to break out of such things are well.
Overall, animal traits and sexual kinks seem to be as old as Greek mythology, sometimes presented in problematic ways, and other times presented in ways that can say something about how we view our own cultural and society.