Late to the party as usual, I recently started playing a little game called Dragon Age: Inquisition, a stellar endeavor in videogame storytelling, and a goddamn work of art as far as I’m concerned. Also, it has butts. In my play through I opted to romance Dorian, the gay necromancer from Tevinter, but I then learned to my delight that had I not opted to romance Dorian, he would have begun a background romance storyline with a massive, intimidating Qunari mercenary called the Iron Bull. I found this aspect of the story both hilarious and charming, but after discussing it with my lunchtime friend, Dillon from Goldburgers, he remarked blithely, “that is definitely some kind of bestiality.”
This statement perplexed me a bit. Sure, Qunari aren’t human and have some distinctly un-human features, but they’re far from the first or the most exotic humanoid fictional race to acceptably get it on with humans. Even people who have never seen Star Trek know that Captain James T. Kirk has banged no shortage of space babes. In virtually every high fantasy novel, some human or other gets into it with some elf or other. Why does no one think of these human/non-human relationships as bestiality? In the context of non-human but sentient races, what defines bestiality, and does the concept even apply? Which people may we acceptably bang and why may we bang those people and not others? These are the real questions.
Needless to say, the problem with bestiality as it applies to real life is the issue of consent: animals—which are at a substantially different level of intellect than humans, and besides that, cannot communicate with us—are incapable of consent. This reasoning is more than significant enough to establish that bestiality is 100% Not Okay in reality, but in the case of non-human fantasy races, this is almost never the issue. Such narratives generally rely on the assumption that both partners are of comparable intelligence and have the ability to communicate with one another. There are, however, other parameters that could conceivably categorize a fictional inter-species relationship as bestiality, and these considerations differ widely based on the universe in question.
The first is biological compatibility. In some cases two species—though sentient and even seemingly similar—may not have similar enough bodies to function sexually. This might be the case with something like a merperson and a human: assuming that a merperson’s life cycle is more similar to that of a fish, any kind of sexual contact with a human would presumably be disagreeable for both parties. This does not necessarily have anything to do with the ability to produce children (though that could be a cultural factor) it simply means that sexual contact may be an unbridgeable gap. It seems to me that this issue should come up with alien races far more often than it actually does, considering that two species who evolved on entirely different planets are likely to be even more dissimilar than two who evolved on the same planet, but I suppose wish fulfillment fantasy as a worldbuilding element can never be underestimated.
The other issue would be cultural paradigm: do members of Sentient Species A consider members of Sentient Species B to be “lesser” for some social or moral reason? Are there cultural rules that say having sex with another species is disallowed or frowned upon? Perhaps in spite of being otherwise compatible, one species engages in behaviors that the other considers abhorrent, or perhaps one race has subjugated another and reduced them to the status of “animals” from a social perspective.
In the case of the Forgotten Realms universe, for example, drow consider humans to be a “lesser race” and though the intensity of this opinion varies from one group to the next, many drow consider sleeping with humans to be on par with bestiality. This is in spite of the fact that humans can consent, and are even biologically similar enough to drow to produce children with them. On the other hand, drow sleeping with dragons is apparently acceptable, as Jarlaxle has done it twice, and drow have a history of sleeping with dragons in their cultural mythology. Granted, the dragons have a humanoid form they can take, but it is illusory and temporary, and dragons are certainly far more biologically dissimilar to drow than humans are.
It seems that both of these considerations would apply in a universe like Narnia, where the animals are both intelligent and capable of speech, but still look like ordinary animals. They are comparable to species like elves or Qunari, insofar as they can definitely consent but are biologically non-human, yet getting busy with a talking beaver would be just as morally objectionable to most people as getting busy with an ordinary beaver. This is because we already categorize beavers as “animals” and whether or not that animal can express interest in sex would make little psychological difference to us. Furthermore—depending on the exact mechanics of who is doing what—sex with a talking beaver may not even really be feasible or pleasant.
So with these parameters in mind, how reasonable is Dillon from Goldburgers’s assertion that a human having kinky BDSM sex with a Qunari would count as bestiality? Both parties can certainly consent, and express in several occasions that both are happy in the relationship. Though certain elements of their biology (horns) differ superficially, they have the same arrangement of genitalia (yes, this is canonically established) and whether or not they are genetically compatible isn’t really relevant, since they are both men and couldn’t reproduce anyway. As for cultural norms, though the Qunari are seen as a mysterious and somewhat exotic race to humans, the Iron Bull has sex with enough other people throughout the game to suggest that there is no firmly held taboo against it. Sounds like giant dudes with horns just aren’t Dillon’s thing. What a shame.
As it turns out, the philosophical notion of what does and doesn’t constitute bestiality is more subjective than I have been previously forced to consider on a daily basis. It’s a given when humans are the only species in our category of intellect, but it’s easy to see the sort of social problems that would arise if we were not.