The nature of animal minds, animal mental processes and structures, and animal self-awareness, perception, emotion in animals, and "map of the world", are studied within animal cognition and also explored within various specialized branches of neuroscience such as neuroethology.In the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), zoophilia is placed in the classification "other specified paraphilic disorder" Zoophilia may also be covered to some degree by other fields such as ethics, philosophy, law, animal rights and animal welfare.However, a number of the most oft-quoted studies, such as Miletski, were not published in peer-reviewed journals.

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The derivative noun "zoosexuality" is sometimes used by self-identified zoophiles in both support groups and on internet-based discussion forums to designate sexual orientation manifesting as romantic or emotional involvement with, or sexual attraction to, non-human animals.

Some zoophiles and researchers draw a distinction between zoophilia and bestiality, using the former to describe the desire to form sexual relationships with animals, and the latter to describe the sex acts alone.

Zoophilia is a paraphilia involving a sexual fixation on non-human animals.

Bestiality is cross-species sexual activity between human and non-human animals.

The terms are often used interchangeably, but some researchers make a distinction between the attraction (zoophilia) and the act (bestiality).

Three key terms commonly used in regards to the subject — zoophilia, bestiality, and zoosexuality — are often used somewhat interchangeably.

Although Krafft-Ebing also coined the term zooerasty for the paraphilia of exclusive sexual attraction to animals, as a value-neutral term.

Usage of zoosexual as a noun (in reference to a person) is synonymous with zoophile, while the adjectival form of the word – as, for instance, in the phrase "zoosexual act" – may indicate sexual activity between a human and a non-human animal.

Exclusive desire for animals rather than humans is considered a rare paraphilia, and sufferers often have other paraphilias The first detailed studies of zoophilia date from prior to 1910.

Peer reviewed research into zoophilia in its own right started around 1960.

The percentage of males who reported sexual interactions with animals in 1974 was 4.9% (1948: 8.3%), and in females in 1974 was 1.9% (1953: 3.6%).